Outdoors Blog

Boise couple sees ‘a thousand lives you might have lived’ on worldwide bike tours

Patrick and Rachel Hugens have biked around the world. Their first joint tour began in Cape Town, South Africa, before they were married. They revisited Cape Town on their most recent tour.
Patrick and Rachel Hugens have biked around the world. Their first joint tour began in Cape Town, South Africa, before they were married. They revisited Cape Town on their most recent tour. Provided by Rachel Hugens

Rachel Hugens’ post for theargonauts.com is titled “Dreaming of Doing the Absurd” — her recounting of a decision to do what now has become routine for the Boise nurse and bicycle tourist.

Travel the world by bike.

Hugens even met her husband, Patrick, while bicycle touring. The Hugenses, who live in Boise when not on their bikes, are 25 months into their latest round-the-world adventure, scheduled to end in October. They’ve visited 36 countries on this tour, touching Europe, Africa, Asia and South America. They were in Colombia last week.

“Traveling by bike is the ultimate freedom,” Rachel said via email. “On a bike, you become part of the scenery. The landscape is not framed by a window. Slowly, you can see snapshots of people’s daily lives and can interact with them.”

She has two favorite quotes she likes to use to explain her bicycle tours.

One is from Jimmy Buffett: “Go fast enough to get there, but slow enough to see.”

The other is from an unknown source: “Traveling lets you see a thousand lives you might have lived.”

“Warning,” Rachel says, “cycle touring can become addicting.”

Bike tourism is on the rise in the United States and around the world, according to the Adventure Cycling Association. The U.S. Bicycle Route System has grown 66 percent in the past two years and now has a presence in 24 states, including Idaho, and the District of Columbia.

Dennis Swift, secretary of the Southwest Idaho Mountain Biking Association, rode across the U.S. last year — from Seattle to Salem, Mass. Six people started the tour and three finished, riding 52 out of 56 days. They averaged about 60 miles per riding day.

“We took quite a few pictures — we didn’t keep our head down the whole way,” Swift said. “We got to meet different people. It’s the people that are probably most important.”

Swift also rode through the Basque Country with a group of Boise cyclists last year. He’s planning to participate in a Virginia bike tour this year.

“When you get older, your health is the No. 1 priority,” he said. “My mom had Alzheimer’s disease. They say what’s good for the heart is good for the brain, so riding and staying fit is sort of a priority in my life.”

Bicycle tourists have formed a vibrant online community through sites like crazyguyonabike.com, which hosts trip diaries for those pedaling all over the world (check out diaries from the Hugenses and Idaho’s Jacob Ashton), and warmshowers.org, which connects cyclists with people willing to provide hospitality. The Hugenses have hosted guests from Sweden, Britain, New Zealand, Germany and the U.S. through the program.

“In the past, you would not hear about people traveling long term by bicycle until they came back home and wrote a book,” Patrick said, also via email. “Nowadays, with social media, many people are blogging and it seems like more people are now cycling.”

Rachel set out on her first multi-continent bicycle tour in 1992. She met Patrick, who was on a similar trip from his home in Holland, in New Zealand in May 1993. They were around each other for four days. Patrick left for the U.S., where he planned to meet his family in Missoula, Mont. Rachel had lived there for five years and connected Patrick with some of her friends.

They met in Capetown, South Africa, in January 1994 and rode to Holland together. They got married in 1995 and celebrated with a “two-wheeled” honeymoon — five weeks cycling through Glacier and Yellowstone national parks.

To date, they have cycled together in 55 countries around the globe. They celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary early in this tour near the intersection of Europe and Asia.

The current tour began in Holland. Including the trip from Boise to Holland, the Hugenses have taken seven flights and two trains in addition to their bike travel. They’ll hop on a bus or in a truck when needed and they included a 12-day African safari in the journey, too.

“Traveling by bicycle forces you to visit the ‘places in between’ that many backpackers traveling by bus would pass by,” Patrick said. “Every time you make a roadside stop, you have the opportunity to meet people or see something new.”

The challenges, beyond the obvious mental and physical stamina required, include navigating visa requirements, food choices, language barriers, poor riding surfaces and boxing bikes for air travel, Rachel said.

There’s also the difference between their riding capabilities. Patrick, 51, carries more weight but still is faster than Rachel, 66. They carry food, cooking equipment and camping gear on their bikes. They camp some places and rent accommodations at others.

“We’ve learned to cycle alone together — each riding at our own pace,” Rachel said. “Patrick is a better hill climber, so he will give me a head start, then usually passes me and waits at the top. We are always within sight of each other.”

This is the third time that the couple have quit their jobs to tour. Rachel is a registered nurse; Patrick is an architect. Both regained their former jobs when they returned home in 2000 and 2007. They’re uncertain what will happen this time.

They’ve given themselves financial flexibility by paying off their home, commuting to work by bike and avoiding some of the bills that are staples for most (cell phones, cable TV). They travel with a $50 daily budget.

“Traveling changes your view of money and what it can do for you,” Rachel said. “... We’ve met some cyclists traveling long term on a $10 budget. They can travel as long as their money lasts, so they’re motivated to spend wisely.”

The fellow cyclists they meet mostly come from Britain, Germany, Spain, Holland, Australia or New Zealand, Rachel said. They did meet a group from Colorado on this trip.

“It would be nice to see more Americans out traveling to see that people all over the world are hospitable,” Rachel said.

Bicycle touring resources

▪  Boise-based Bike Touring News (biketouringnews.com) provides information about bike touring and offers online and brick-and-mortar stores (3853 N. Garden Center Way, Boise). Bike Touring News will host an informative event with cyclists demonstrating their touring setups at 6 p.m. May 16 at Catalpa Park.

▪  Crazyguyonabike.com offers more than 12,000 journals and articles written by bike travelers. It’s a great place to research a potential trip.

▪  Southwest Idaho Bicycle Camping on Facebook connects bicycle tourists in the region.

▪  The Adventure Cycling Association (adventurecycling.org) has more than 53,000 members and publishes bike routes nationwide.

▪  Warm Showers (warmshowers.org) connects more than 89,000 cyclists worldwide with more than 42,000 hosts offering hospitality.

▪  Women on Wheels (solofemalecyclist.com) provides information on bicycle touring and stories about women who have ridden alone.

▪  EuroVelo (eurovelo.com) offers a network of 15 long-distance bike routes that connect the European continent.

▪  Ride Idaho (rideidaho.org) is Aug. 5-12 this year, with a round-trip route that begins and ends in Ketchum/Sun Valley.