Reflections on Missoula and the Adventure Cycling Association

For the past four days, from Thursday June 6th, through Sunday, June 9th, I attended a Leadership Training Course for the Adventure Cycling Association (ACA) in Missoula, Montana. This course is designed to teach people how to be leaders of long-distance bicycle tours. These tours can be as short as a week-long tour of about 300 miles, which is short by ACA standards, but long by the standards of the average person. They can also be cross-country, which could last three months! The course is designed to help the ACA develop leaders for their own tours, as well as teach leadership skills to people who wish to conduct bicycle tours in some other kind of capacity.

The course was quite rigorous. One of the leaders said that it was a week-long course condensed into four days. However, I think the main reason it was rigorous was that the course was designed to stick to a schedule akin to the schedules kept on these long distance bicycle tours, where each day stats before 7 A.M. with breakfast and campsite cleanup, and ends at another campsite with dinner at 6 P.M., and sometimes other activities. The in between time would be biking and exploring on an actual bicycling tour, but in this course, it was leadership exercises and some bicycling.

Despite this rigorous program at the Adventure Cycling Headquarters, I was still able to get out and experience Missoula a bit. There were definitely some surprises. Missoula had a nice downtown with a neat looking river valley and mountains in the backdrop, which did not really surprise me at all. Missoula’s population is about 66,000, more than any town in Wyoming, and I thought Sheridan had all of these features with roughly half the population. What did surprise me was the surfing! Yeah, surfing! When people think of surfing, the typically think of California, or Hawaii. Maybe Florida, or Massachusetts surfing would not be a major surprise, but Montana, I would never have guessed. But apparently there is this one rapid, created in the Cark Fork River, where people commonly surf.



The other surprise was how lively the town was, especially when it comes to night life. Missoula is a college town, home to the University of Montana, but those students have left for the summer. However, the town was quite lively on Friday night. There were several areas where there were bands playing and people dancing, and in one place there were people drinking beer out in a parking lot and taking turns jump roping. In addition to that, Saturday morning featured more farmer’s markets than I thought it would be humanly possible for a town of 66,000 to support. One of the other participants in the Leadership Training Course referred to Missoula as a “mini Portland”.

At the Leadership Training Course, I couldn’t help but feel a bit conflicted. The main thing as learned here was that there was a lot more to putting together a long distance bike tour than I had really thought about. Most long distance bike tours involve primarily camping each night, and cooking food on a campfire. Both of which require a lot of gear, which needs to be carried by the bicycle riders. So, just like in backpacking trips, gear parking must be planned carefully and unnecessary items need not be taken along on the trip. Also, the route and campground accommodations must be carefully planned in advance. In these areas, the Adventure Cycling AssocIation does a really good job. Their maps are second to none, as well as their notes on services in each town on the route. If anyone plans to go on a bike trip across the country, I’d seriously recommend using their maps, or signing up for a guided tour.

Learning about all of their tour preparations and such, as well as meeting people who have the system of packed pannier bags and such down, made me realize just how inexperienced I really am at this stuff. The bicycle trips I organized with my friends were not nearly as far, and not nearly as well planned. I also have not had too much experience with cooking and camping. In essence, I learned that bing good at biking and having some good leadership personality traits is not all I need to be a good leader of bike tours. If I ever were to actually bike across the country, let alone lead a ride across the country, or bike the Lewis and Clark trail, as I love talking to people about, I would have to either learn more about this stuff, or be prepared to spend nearly $5,000 on hotels and restaurants. Or I can become good at convincing people to let me stay at my house, but being neither a drug dealer or a prostitute, well, that is not going to happen.

I also began to think about how much I may miss some of the other activities I love doing. Mostly, I am referring to social activities, and, well, partying. I may love to party too much to ever be able to give that up for 60 days. Well, it isn’t just partying. I don’t want to come across as someone out of that movie “Old School” that wants to join a frat well after college is over. But, I do like food variety, large social setting, etc. I guess in a nutshell, I am thinking of my urban nature. I mean, I am from New York and Chicago, and there is some kind of an adjustment to make to suddenly live a culture that represents the opposite, out in the woods in places like Montana.

I love bicycling though, and I do love being outside. I was tired of my desk job for a reason. It almost feels like there are two different version of me in conflict with each other. There is the me that just absolutely loves being on my bicycle, and cannot stand to watch a wonderful day with tons of opportunities to experience the outdoors go to waste inside the walls of an office sitting in front of a computer. This me stares at maps relentlessly and has been conjuring up ridiculous ideas for quite some time now.


There is also the me that prides himself in being out until 5 A.M., being the craziest guy at the party, and squeezing as much activity into a weekend as possible. This is the me that lives and dies by schedules, social arrangements, and wants to find out whose Friday night activities will be the craziest. In essence, it is an urban me vs. a wilderness me, a nightlife me vs. a daytime me, an indoor me vs. an outdoor me.

After the Leadership Training course ended at 2:30, we headed South and East, towards Yellowstone, and I reentered the camping world, finding a campground roughly 15 miles northwest of Yellowstone along highway 287. As I set up camp and everything, and continued to ponder the possibilities regarding long bicycle tours in the wilderness, I begin to think of my friend Allison, who I had just seen in South Dakota (and wrote about on this blog). She lives in Chicago still, but has recently taken some outdoors classes, and gone on some trips. She seems to really enjoy it, but still lives on the north side of Chicago, well, maybe northwest, but you get the point. Maybe she has the same conflicts as I have, between enjoying urban areas and all the amenities, and loving all of these outdoor activities. Maybe this is something that a lot of American wrestle with. Do we need to pick one direction or the other? Or do we find a balance? Hopefully I find these answers soon.


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