Looking for Camino de Santiago advice? You’re in the right place! My pal Reagan did the entire 780 kilometer (nearly 500 miles!) trek and lived to tell the tale. Here’s how she did it:

Why did you choose to do the Camino?

Camino Di Santiago Advice

I’d heard about the Camino when I was younger, from the movie called The Way that stars Martin Sheen. So I was always interested in walking it one day, but honestly thought that I would do it when I was retired in my 60s. But, as luck would have it, it was at that point in senior year where I was trying to get a job and was being rejected from every place I applied to.

One of my college friends Julia (who also went to Mount Holyoke) said she was going to walk the Camino and I asked to join because I literally thought “Why not?! What else am I going to do this summer since I’m unemployed.”

 But in all seriousness, I felt that I needed time to contemplate what I was going to do after college. I’d just spent 20 years of my life in school, so finally being able to do nothing but walk for 5 weeks seemed like a good way to come to terms with adulthood.

I wanted free time before jumping into a career. 

Why did you want to do walk the entire Camino, instead of just a portion?

Camino Di Santiago Advice

I honestly wish I had done portions of it instead after the injuries and bedbugs, but Julia and I had a plan that we wanted to stick to based on a guidebook by John Brierley and felt that completing it would be a real accomplishment for us both.

We also both thought that since it’s so expensive to fly to Europe, it’s a lot easier to take the five weeks and do it all in one go rather than in segments. In hindsight, I probably should have planned for more rest days and extra travel but the 32 days it took us was just enough time.

Quick Camino de Santiago advice: Make sure to budget rest days into your schedule!

Which town was your favorite to stop in?

Camino Di Santiago Advice

There were so many, it’s hard to choose. After a while, they all started to blur. But I’ll say this: 

  • Best party town: Leon and/or Pamplona
  • Best Cathedral: Burgos
  • Best “bum-f-middle-of-nowhere” town: Tardajos (because it had the best Albergue!)  
  • Best “Provincial Town” or Most Quaint: Villafranca del Bierzo
  • Best Town Story: Santo Domingo de la Calzada,

The story goes, “there was this family of German pilgrims walking the Camino in the middle ages, mother, father and son; they stopped at a bar and the bar owners daughter fell in love with the son but the son did not reciprocate so she got mad and put a silver chalice in his bag and then accused him of theft. So they hung the son.

The mother and father continued on to Santiago and on their way back to pay respects at their son’s grave, they found him still alive hanging. The son told them to get the bar owner to cut him down. So they went to the bar owner and told him that their son was alive.

Camino Di Santiago Advice

The bar man replied, “Your son’s as dead as these hens I’m eating” and then the hens came alive. So the church in Santo Domingo keeps live hens and roosters in the monastery and in the cathedral itself. They were approved to do so by the Pope.”

Moral of the story that I took away was not to mess with women. That Barmaid caused all of this cause a boy didn’t reciprocate. Her name should be up somewhere, not a chicken. 

 Your least favorite town?

Camino Di Santiago Advice

There were two I think, one was Najera where there wasn’t much to do and not the best albergues. The other was this albergue a little outside of Triacastela that sounded good on paper (vegan/vegetarian dinner, hammocks, all ecological) but honestly, it was the worst just because it was where I got really bad bedbugs. There wasn’t much in the town either. 

Quick Camino de Santiago advice: at the first sign of bedbugs LEAVE your accommodations and immediately begin the clean up process. 

What was a major obstacle on your journey? 

Camino Di Santiago Advice

The biggest obstacle was the physical side.

I’ve always been a physically healthy person. I’d participated in sports all my life and I’ve never broken a bone or had any major physical injuries thankfully.

But, unfortunately, I pulled a groin muscle only a few days into the journey, so I had to take buses for a while along the way. It taught me compassion, especially for my grandparents who have a hard time walking and for those who need accessibility.

I learned a lot of patience and how to pace myself. The hardest part was just remembering that just because I’m not necessarily a fast walker doesn’t mean I can’t get to the same place as someone who is faster. It just meant that it took me a little longer. It was an interesting metaphor for my life as a dyslexic, that I just need that extra time and not everything is a competition.

Quick Camino de Santiago advice: know your limits and rest if you need to. 

Did you ever feel like just quitting the Camino?

Camino Di Santiago Advice

Oh my god, yes! like at least 2x a day I thought about it. Especially when my feet were throbbing.

The first day was really the worst and there was a point where I thought about going to Finland with this Finnish couple I met, but once I got into the pace of it, it quickly becomes meditative. There was only one really bad day when I pushed myself too hard after only just recovering from my groin injury. I ended up in a field, lost and in a lot of pain in my leg.

To put it bluntly, I had a mental breakdown for a good 20 minutes before retracing my steps and finding Julia. But that was a moment when I was close to lying on the ground and calling it quits.

What made it bearable is seeing that I wasn’t alone. Later that day, I talked to fellow pilgrims and heard some worse stories about a guy who broke his leg or another had shin splints. There’s this great misery-love-company feel so you know that you’re not alone. My best Camino di Santiago advice is to remember that your pain is the same as the person right in front of you or behind you. You’re all in it together and everyone is there to support you. It’s what kept me going. 

Should you have prepared more?

Camino Di Santiago Advice

100% yes.

I definitely thought it was going to be easier than it was. I did do some research before hand, like reading a guidebook and watching a ton of youtube videos and movies, but in the end, I got lazy and went from “Couch to Camino.”

But from what everyone was telling me on the Camino, your first time is always the hardest cause everything is new. Next time, (some Camino di Santiago advice to heed) I’m packing a lot lighter and hitting the gym before I go. 

Quick Camino de Santiago advice: work up to all the walking you’ll be doing.

What kinds of people did you meet on the Camino?

Camino Di Santiago Advice All kinds of people.

It really was any and everyone you could think of. There were the more religious pilgrims, the retirees, the Americans, and a lot of Europeans: Swedes, Finns, Germans, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Italians, Brits, Scots, Irish, Norwegians, etc. As well as Koreans, Japanese, and Columbians.

There really isn’t a stereotypical Pilgrim because everyone is doing it at different stages in their life or for different reasons. There were for sure the hikers and those that were more outdoorsy, but a lot of the people I met were ordinary people who just got up one day and decided to go.

What I did love about it was the number of solo female hikers. I met a lot of women and it is one of the few trails where solo female hikers feel the safest. I never felt like I was in an unsafe situation and I was by myself plenty of times.

Camino Di Santiago Advice

But what I loved most about meeting fellow pilgrims was how open everyone was. I think because people are so open the experience and the hardship of the Camino, they are more open to talking to random strangers or sleeping in less than ideal places with 30 other people in the room. Everyone acknowledges each other on the Camino by saying “Buen Camino” no matter what language you speak. It has an “adult camp”-like feel.

Everyone is there for different reasons, whether it’s personal, losing weight, or just wanting to travel. You meet some really interesting people and I was able to have my own Camino-family that I met up with at the Albergue at the end of the day. They all watched out for me.

The best part of the Camino is the people you meet and make friends with. Even though we came from different places and backgrounds, we ended up bonding. At the end in Santiago, our Camino-family met up again spontaneously after having walked different paths. It was like seeing friends at a college reunion. I still keep in touch with some of them.  

Quick Camino de Santiago advice: be open to making friends (no matter how tired you are!)

Was there ever a moment you felt completely at peace?

Camino Di Santiago Advice

It’s hard to say.

I felt more at peace at the very end when it was done, but there were some moments that I really cherish, like moments when I was walking along beautiful scenery at sunrise or bonding with fellow pilgrims in an Albergue.

But the moment I remember best was when Julia and I got up at 3AM am to beat the 90+ degree heat and walked through part of the Meseta (flat-grass land area in Spain). We were by ourselves completely in the dark walking through this field, and above us, we could see the milky-way and all the stars so clearly. We were talking about college and making jokes and it was just a lovely moment. I mean, when in someone’s life time can you say you reminisced with a college friend while under the milky way at four in the morning in Spain!? 

Can you recommend a packing list for the Camino?

First off, bring less than you think. I have a packing list on my blog (among other bits of Camino Di Santiago advice) that I wrote while walking, but here is a brief list:

Camino Di Santiago Advice

(Note: You can buy the Seashell that pilgrims wear on their backpacks, along the Camino. A lot of stores sell them)

  • Backpack (between 30-40 Liters) 
  • Hiking boots and Hiking Sandals 
  • Water bottle (like this one or this one)
  • Trekking pole 
  • Sleeping bag (something light weight)
  • 2 shirts, 2 pants/shorts 
  • 2 pairs of merino wool socks 
  • 2 pairs of underwear/bras etc. 
  • Fleece
  • Wind breaker / Rain jacket
  • Hat
  • Swiss Army knife
  • Big safety pins (for hang-drying laundry)
  • Guidebook with maps
  • Sleep mask and ear plugs (there are snorers) or alternatively Sleeping Pills
  • Small First Aid Kit (filled with band-aids + a sowing kit + medical tape + Blister kit) 
  • chargers for Phone (plus converter) 
  • Camera 
  • analog watch 
  • Towel
  • Dr. Bronner’s Soap 8 fl oz (for body wash and shampoo)
  • Spray deodorant (that also acts as a body spray because everyone smells foul at the end of the day)
  • Diva Cup

Most things you can get at the pharmacies in Spain like sunscreen, blister kits, etc. 

The things I wish I had bought and highly recommend is a can of bed bug spray, flip flops or something to wear at the end of the day with arch support, and a whole bottle of Aleve (those achy muscles will thank you!) 

Quick Camino de Santiago advice: follow this list and pack lightly!

What was it like to finally finish?

It felt like nothing I’ve ever experienced before, except maybe when I was a competitive swimmer in middle school (a story for another time).

On the last day, when we entered into Santiago de Compostela, it took another hour just to get to the city center where the cathedral is (“the finish line”).

Once I saw the spires of the cathedral, I felt a surge within me and my body just went into this no-pain-mode. I literally ran to the front of the cathedral and fell to the ground. It felt like all this weight was off my shoulders, some what literally.

There really is nothing like it, to feel this sense of personal accomplishment. When you asked earlier about “a moment I felt completely at peace”, it was really following this moment. The whole next day, we hung out in Santiago and I felt like I had woken up from a yoga class – feeling relaxed and slightly sleepy.

I walked around kind of glossy eyed, but also so proud of myself for finishing something that I thought I physically wouldn’t be able to do. I imagine it’s what Michael Phelps or Simone Biles must have felt like when winning an Olympic gold medal.I don’t have an Olympic Gold Medal, but I do have a nice certificate with the distance I walked, as well as my Pilgrims Passport that has stamps from every place I stayed. 

Camino Di Santiago Advice

Camino Di Santiago Advice

In the end, my takeaway from the experience was that finishing the Camino solidified my belief that all things happen for a reason and that life is a journey we take day-by-day, it isn’t a race, everyone does it in their own time. We may not get stamps along the way, but it’s the accumulated experiences and people that step into our lives that are the most important. 

Camino Di Santiago Advice

Reagan – a Peregrino (Pilgrim), native New Yorker, and photographer who has a love for travel. She is a recent graduate from Mount Holyoke College and currently is working, like a typical Millennial, at a non-profit that supports Photographers, called Aperture Foundation. She hopes to one day live in Italy and ride a Vespa. Fun fact: she’s almost fluent in Italian, can play piano, guitar, and viola; and favorite bands include Coldplay, Iron & Wine, 1975, Fleetwood Mac, Lord Huron, and Fleet Foxes. You can find her blog here and her Instagram here.

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I used Affiliate links in this post. This means that if you purchase any products recommended, I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. It helps offset the cost of running She’s a Trip. Thanks! 

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Looking for things to do in Mongolia? Look no farther!

Mongolia is a country which alternates between beautiful, untouched countryside speckled with free-roaming cattle and colorful gers (yurts), and chaotic, bustling city filled with so many cars that there are laws dictating who can drive on what day of the week. And while it may seem intimidating or impossible to navigate, I learned from a Mongolian native about the places to go in the city.

Things to do in Mongolia

Here are a few tips and tricks to help you wander the busy and broken streets of Mongolia’s capital city: Ulaanbaatar.

General Advice for Mongolia

First things first: the current exchange rate of USD to MNT is (though it varies daily) approximately 1 USD = 2500 MNT. Understanding these numbers will help you save money while traveling.

Be sure to bring a jacket. Though temperatures may get toasty in the summer, if you ever venture outside (or above!) the city, the weather can get quite blustery.

best mongolian food

Mongolian Transportation Tips

The best from of transportation in Mongolia is your own two feet. If you’re obviously a foreigner, most taxi drivers will try to fleece you out of a few extra thousand tughrik, or tögrög (Mongolian currency). But, taxi rates are generally cheap to begin with, and being fleeced a few extra thousand shouldn’t hurt your wallet too much.

How to hail a taxi in Mongolia: stand on the side of traffic and hold your arm up at a 45o angle from your side. Taxis are mostly unmarked and drivers will not have a meter or GPS system. Some drivers might not know where it is you’re trying to go, but there are hundreds of taxi drivers and you can always get out and hail another one.

Where to Stay in Mongolia: Hotels and Hostels

Things to do in Mongolia

While I was in Ulaanbaatar, I stayed in a hotel called Zaluuchuud Hotel. At $55 a night, the hotel is a reasonable price, and it offers single beds, two singles, as well as doubles and queens. Each room has a mini fridge, an electric kettle, a desk, and TV. The hotel offers Wi-Fi for the whole building, as well as a complimentary continental breakfast. However, if the food offered isn’t to your liking, you can head to the café next door (Café Eder) for the cheapest breakfast I’ve ever had: 1 slice of crumb cake and 1 large green tea latté only set me back $3.

If Zaluuchuud isn’t your style, or you want to spend a little more money on a more luxurious experience, head over to the Lonely Planet .They’ve already compiled a list of high- and low- end hotels with their prices on their webpage.

What to Eat in Mongolia: Food

Places to eat In Mongolia

One of the best things to do in Mongolia is eat. You may have heard before that Mongolian food is 90% meat, and 10% fat. I’m here to tell you that this is very, very, very true. But vegetables still abound.

Ulaanbaatar is overrun with Indian, Korean, Japanese and Asian-fusion restaurants. There are hundreds of cafés that serve up a heaping bowl of udon soup for lunch, filled with beef, tofu, egg, and noodles – but be warned, you can’t ask for ingredients to be replaced or removed. There’s even a vegan restaurant now: Luna Blanca Restaurant. And if you start to feel a little homesick for some classic American cuisine, you can hit up a KFC.

WARNING:

  • Table service takes a very long time, so don’t try to eat in a hurry.
  • It is common for waitstaff to not serve you or bring the check until you flag them down and ask.
  • It is very difficult to ask for items to be removed or added to a dish. I don’t recommend trying.
  • In cheaper restaurants, menu items may be translated incorrectly (ex. Spring rolls with shrimp — there wasn’t any shrimp).
  • There is no gratuity for restaurant service.

Best restaurants in Ulaanbaatar:

(V!) is the symbol I use for vegetarian-friendly food.

Hazara ($$-$$$)

  • A higher-end Indian restaurant with some of the best Indian food I’ve eaten in my entire life.
  • What did I buy?
    • Masala chai
    • Samosas, aloo gobi, naan (V!)

what should I eat in Ulaanbaatar

The Green Zone ($-$$)

  • A hipster-friendly grill that serves omelets, burgers, and pizza to-order.
  • What did I buy?
    • Green tea (V!)
    • Cheese omelet, French fries (V!)

E-Mart ($-$$)

  • Though actually a Korean department store, there’s a wonderful food court with a selection of Korean food, gelato, and other goodies perfect for snacking on when going about your day.
  • What did I buy?
    • From the Korean restaurant:
      • Green tea, rice cake soup (V!), and kimbap
    • From the gelato cart:
      • Straciatella gelato (V!)
    • From the supermarket:
      • Sea buckthorn juice, Russian wafer cookies, Turkish chocolate cakes, green tea powder, Mongolian vodka (V!)

Best places to eat in Ulaanbaatar

The Bull Hotpot Restaurant ($$-$$$)

  • Located in the BlueMon center, this hotpot restaurant is always busy, especially as it has become more popular with tourists.
    • The BlueMon center also has a Korean restaurant, in case the Bull is too busy.
  • What did I buy?
    • Warm milk and honey
    • Bone broth, beef platter, vegetable platter, assorted noodles, dumplings
    • Soy sauce and garlic cucumber slices

But should you want to find some traditional Mongolian cuisine, go to Modern Nomads.

Best Things to do in Mongolia

things to do in Mongolia

Government Palace, Chinggis Khan, and a wedding party taking photos

Between meals, there are plenty of things to in Ulaanbaatar both in and outside of the city to help you experience local culture and history, as well as pick up some awesome souvenirs.

The Grand Chinggis Khan Square, or Sükhbaatar Square 

While in Ulaanbaatar, stop by the main city square. If you’re visiting Mongolia in the summer, you might stumble upon some goodies in one of the pop-up shops, or see the many statues and memorials erected there. On the north side the square is the Government Palace, where a large statue of Chinggis Khan sits. This square is often the location of many exhibitions, events, parades, and ceremonies.

Zaisan tolgoi, or the Zaisan Memorial 

Zaisan memorial tank

Zaisan memorial tank

During WWII and the Cold War, Mongolia was part of the Soviet Bloc. At the base of the memorial is one of the tanks that Mongolia sent with the Russians to Berlin.

Commemorating fallen soldiers of the war is a massive statue of a soldier holding a flag. One of the great things to do in Mongolia is to go see it! To get there, and take in the aerial view of the city it provides, you need to climb the 300 steps to the summit. Thankfully, at the halfway point there are a handful of tiny snack stands, should you need a refreshment.

At the top you’ll find a large, circular mural depicting images of friendship between Soviet Russia and the Mongols. There is also a magnificent view of the city from all sides, and a fire pit in the center, though it seems to more recently be used as a trash can.

things to do in mongolia

Ziasan memorial mural and fire pit (right)

Bogd Khan Museum, or Winter Palace of the Bogd Khan

things to do in Mongolia

This museum is home to four of the remaining residences of the eighth Jebtsundamba Khutughtu (spiritual head of the Tibetan Buddhism residing in Mongolia), who was later proclaimed Bogd Khan, or emperor of Mongolia. Try to find out ahead of time about tours in English, but there are placards about each exhibit in English in case you miss a tour. No photos are allowed without paying about $10 on top of the normal ticket price.

Gerelt Gudamj, or the Selfie Street (as coined by me)

things to do in Mongolia

An unofficial tradition, this street is closed to traffic each Saturday evening in the summer, and dozens of food stands open up on the street. There is often a performance or show occurring on a stage on the street as well. This is a perfect opportunity to sample the foods that the youth culture in Mongolia would eat fairly regularly (i.e. kebabs), though there are lots of novelty food stands as well (i.e. churros!).

Shangri La Mall

The fanciest mall in Mongolia, this towering mall and hotel is a great place to go to get away from the bustle of the city. It’s a sparkling clean, high-end shopping wonderland.

BlueMon Center

This building houses plenty of restaurants and a handful of embassies, but in the lobby you might find an art exhibition from local artists or universities

Mongolian Countryside

Things to do in Mongolia 3

If you can manage a trip to the countryside, do. You can escape the sounds of the city and breathe in the crisp, clean air while enjoying the vast expanse of prairie land, bordered on the horizon by tall, blue mountains, and dotted with roaming cattle.

The State Department Store

So now you’ve seen some wonderful things in the city, but you still don’t have a great souvenir to remember your time by? Head over to the State Department Store and shop around the cashmere section. Mongolian cashmere is one of the top exports from the country, and getting in in Mongolia is much cheaper than getting it in the US!

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Sarah is finishing her MS degree at the University of Maine, and is currently scrambling to find laboratory job. In her free time, she enjoys hang gliding, singing, sewing, cooking, and of course, traveling. After studying abroad in Copenhagen, she began to compile a grand list of countries/cities/regions to visit. She’s only seen 1% of that list in person: Copenhagen, Stockholm, Greenland, Paris, Madrid, Frankfurt, and most recently, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. She hopes to head down to Argentina next, followed by Iceland and maybe South Korea. Until then? Maine is a beautiful place to stay.

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The 4K for Cancer is as intense as it sounds: 4,000 miles, coast to coast, to raise money for a cure.

Riley (from theBikeDyke) and I met our first year at Mount Holyoke College through Project: Theatre, a student-run organization. We were in multiple plays together during our time there, but my favorite memory of her is from our rehearsals for 12 Angry Men. We were supposed to be building character rapport by looking into each other’s eyes without talking — but we couldn’t do it without laughing. I think we derailed the whole rehearsal.

Mount Holyoke College Class of 2015

Riley and I at our recent 2 year Mount Holyoke College Reunion

Riley also has the travel bug and has biked across America twice on a 4K for Cancer with the Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults.

I’ve always been so impressed by this (repeat!) feat, so I had to talk to her about it.

Here’s the deets on the 4K for Cancer:

What made you decide to ride your bike from coast to coast?

There were a number of reasons I wanted to bicycle across the country. The first was just plain old desire for an adventure, which bicycling from Baltimore to Seattle (and then Baltimore to San Francisco) inevitably would be. I spent the summer before my ride living in a cabin in beautiful Acadia National Park, teaching outdoor education to children, and I wanted to spend another summer primarily outdoors.

4k for Cancer Mount Rushmore

Riley and her team mates at Mount Rushmore

The previous year, my childhood best friend’s father had passed away after a lengthy battle with cancer, and I was looking for the most fitting way to honor his life. He loved being out in nature, and I think he would have loved the idea of bicycling 4,500 miles in one summer so I did the 4K for Cancer. The second bike trip was because I had caught the travel by bike bug and needed to do another trip or risk someday selling all my possessions and bicycling from city to city. I’m not sure it was the perfect remedy, as I wish I was on a bicycling trip right now.

How do you train for a cross-country bike ride like the 4K for Cancer?

4k for cancer thebikedyke

An unfortunate rule.

Ideally, you’d train with bike shoes and clip-in pedals so you can get accustomed to clipping in and out (and clipping out BEFORE you hit the brakes). You’d do a few 50-60 mile rides to prepare you for the days that we bicycle up to 115+ miles. You’d get used to drinking water while on the bicycle, become comfortable cruising 40+ miles an hour downhill, and try your hand at not fishtailing on messy gravel roads. I didn’t do any of that. I rode ~8 miles on two flat tires and bought my clips the day before I took off.

How many hours / miles did you cover on a typical day?

4k for cancer thebikedyke

A new state to cross off the list.

It definitely varied day to day. On average, we would cover around 60-70 miles, but could go as high as 120. Somedays, we’d get lucky and only have to cover 30-40 miles. The amount of time really depended on weather, terrain, and luck. One of those 35 miles day was up the steepest mountain I’ve ever bicycled up. That took a lot longer than going 80 miles through flat Nebraska with no headwind. Typically, we’d wake up at 5 or 6 and try to be on the road by 8 to maximize on daylight. We’d bike until it started to get dark, but we never bicycled when it was actually dark out.

How many states did you get to explore on the 4K for Cancer?

4k for cancer thebikedyke

The whole crew in the van.

On my last trip, I believe I went through around 13 states. Some states, you just pass through and others, it feels like you spend lifetimes in. There was a day where we bicycled through four states in total!

On my previous trip, I believe I hit 15 states. It’s a great way to really get to know a place.

What was your favorite state to ride through? Why?

There were so many states I fell in love with!

On my first trip, I was obsessed with Minnesota and Montana. Minnesota has such a friendly atmosphere, it’s just like how people describe, and lots of great coffee. Montana is the most beautiful state I’ve biked through. Bicycling to the top of the Sun Road in Glacier National Park is still one of the most surreal experiences I’ve ever had.

4k for cancer thebikedyke yellowstone national park

Having a great time at YellowStone National Park

On my last trip, I loved bicycling through Colorado, even though the terrain wasn’t the easiest and the weather wasn’t the nicest. There are so many bicyclists in Colorado, it felt like we were at home. One of my teammates from my first bicycling trip lived in Boulder at the time, so seeing him during my second trip was a really comforting and encouraging thing.

Was there a particular state or area that was difficult to bike through?

4k for cancer thebikedyke tennessee

Welcome to Tennessee!

I think all states have pluses and negatives, but hands down, Tennessee and Missouri were the hardest states to bicycle through. I’ve never had someone point a shotgun at my head while I was bicycling, and now I’ve had it happen twice! Let’s just say that a lot of people in those states are not fan of bicyclists, even though we were literally biking in a straight line on public roads. They seemed to really value their solitude in those places.

Can you tell us about a time when you felt overwhelmed or exhausted? What made you keep going?

4k for cancer thebikedyke

She got into a fight with the road and it won.

Sure! I would say that every single day I was exhausted and at one point or another (even though overall it was a blast!), but one day where I was really having a difficult time was bicycling up Trail Ridge Road, which is the highest paved road in the U.S. We had “climbing buddies” because the ride was so steep, which just means a teammate who sticks with you and makes sure you’re doing ok.

My climbing buddy had broken her thumb really badly the night before and was in a crazy amount of pain going up the mountain. We started to get really dizzy because of the giant altitude shift. I’m severely asthmatic, so I had to keep meeting up with the van and plugging in my nebulizer so I didn’t have a giant asthma attack. Then, a huge thunderstorm hit and we had no shelter to hide from it.

4k for cancer thebikedyke

A happier time on the 4KforCancer 🙂

4k for cancer thebikedyke

The 4KforCancer van

My number one fear is lightning, so I was petrified, but also really frustrated that we couldn’t finish the climb, because it was such a notoriously difficult ride and I really wanted to finish it. In that moment, my teammates and the people we met along the way battling cancer or who had lost loved ones to cancer kept me going on this 4k for Cancer. My team immediately sprang into action and began loading bicycles on top of the van and cramming 20+ people and all of our gear into a 15 passenger van. Some of my other teammates had hitched a ride with a park ranger, and I was impressed that they had beaten us up the mountain.

The view from the top of Trail Ridge Road was incredible- it looked like we were in a fairytale of some sort. It just didn’t seem real. It was a nice reminder that I was safe, I was surrounded by my teammates who were family. Everything was going to be ok.

4k for cancer thebikedyke

Goofing around on the road.

Was there ever a moment on the 4k for Cancer course when you felt totally at peace?

There were so many moments that felt like I was totally at peace.

One day, it was down-pouring and freezing and my climbing buddy Krista and I were for some reason totally in sync. The ride was really hard and a lot of my other teammates were having a difficult time, but for some reason, Krista and I were almost in a meditative state! The road we were on was super dangerous, and Krista’s back tire kept flinging mud up in my face. I ended up looking like I was covered in a million freckles, but they were all made from mud.

4k for cancer thebikedyke

Mud freckles

Near the end of the day, we reached the peak of the mountain and just coasted crazy fast down. It was one of those really rewarding days where you have steadily climbed for hours and you get to reap the full benefit by having this amazing downhill. At the bottom, we were absolutely freezing, but so happy. We took these photos on my phone of us just being so happy with how the ride went. We must have looked absolutely bonkers.

What kinds of places do you sleep on these rides?

4k for cancer thebikedyke

The 4KforCancer “Uniform”

We would sleep on the floors of churches, schools, YMCA’s, etc. I was one of the people on my team who coordinated housing ahead of time, which meant contacting previous hosts and asking if they’d be willing to let us crash again or cold-calling all of the potential hosts in a random town in the middle of America. Sometimes, we’d get really lucky and a church or organization would coordinate homestays for us! That was like Disneyland, because we’d get a hot meal and a hot shower and maybe even a bed and a chance to do laundry. The strangest places I slept on the 4k for Cancer were a firehouse (in the garage, next to the firetruck!), the Utah Jazz basketball stadium, and the barn of a rodeo.

How does a “bike road trip” differ from that in car?

It’s so different! When you’re in a vehicle, you don’t have to constantly be looking out for every piece of glass or vent in the road, you don’t have to expend an incredible amount of energy on big mountains, and you aren’t completely exposed to the elements. But, you have a much easier time stopping and talking to locals, going into shops and businesses, meeting other folks on the road, and you have a deeper understanding of the places you bicycled through, because you saw them at 15 miles per hour from sunup to sundown.

4k for cancer thebikedyke

The team with their bikes.

Even though it can be exhausting, you might be battling heat stroke or freezing because your clothing is soaked, or you might be caught in a headwind that makes you feel like you’re moving through molasses, I strongly prefer the latter. After bicycling 9,000+ miles, my executive opinion is that it makes for better adventures.

What advice would you give someone going on a 4k for Cancer or similar trip?

4k for cancer thebikedyke

The 4KForCancer Team San Francisco

4k for cancer thebikedyke

Friends for life.

Do it! Seriously, do it. Even if you think that you can’t physically do it, even if you are scared or anxious, do it. Your body will adjust to the miles, and you will become so accustomed to life on the road that you’ll be comfortable sleeping just about anywhere and wonder why you ever had more than three outfits to begin with. Even better, you’ll make true lifelong friends, because they will literally have been in the trenches with you. You’ll have a deeper understanding of who you are as a person and just how dang resilient you are. And you’ll have memories that will make you so glad to be alive.

You can find Riley on Instagram and Youtube. 

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