BikeRadar website of the week: The Path Less Pedaled

Russ Roca and Laura Crawford on their open-ended cycling adventure

Russ Roca and Laura Crawford are living their dream. They've packed in the daily grind of the and restarted life as full-time touring cyclists. They called their original tour — and website — The Path Less Pedaled, and will continue with a second tour, Big Adventure, Small Wheels.

The original tour lasted 15 months, from July 2009, and covered 10,000 miles throughout the US. The couple meet people and saw places their old lives would never have afforded them. As they put it on their website, “we took the value of our stuff and put it on the opportunity to live deeply, to follow our dreams, to create everyday adventures. We stopped wondering about the rest of the world, and went out to experience it.”

For most, this just isn’t practical. Perhaps they’ve too many commitments, or too many ties to home life. It may be just too big a step into the unknown to seriously contemplate. But it's exactly what this couple from Long Beach, California decided to do a little over two years ago and luckily they've decided to share their adventures with readers, making The Path Less Pedaled a resource for both daydreams and a starting point for planning more casual cycle tours.

Catching the bug

It was four and a half years ago when the pair first started out on short bicycle tours from their Long Beach apartment - and rued the end of every one of them. They read classic touring books, such as Barbara Savage’s Miles From Nowhere, which only increased their burgeoning interest in long-term touring. But it was the cloud of redundancy which made bike touring a serious proposition.

Russ Roca and Laura Crawford

“When Laura got the sense that she was going to be laid off from her job, we decided to take the leap,” Russ told BikeRadar. “It was a risk, but we were young, we didn’t own a house, or have children or pets, so we felt it was the right choice for us.”

To help finance their new life, they decided to sell everything they owned. But it wasn't just a money-making venture; it was a symbolic gesture of commitment to their new life. As Laura says in the first ever Path Less Pedaled post in April 2009: “For now, we are faced with the task of detaching ourselves from our stuff and our obligations, which, in all honesty, is as much a part of the project as the actual ride. It will give us the space to examine what’s most important to us and prepare us (mentally) to lead a very different lifestyle.”

Even on the road, they have retained something of a ‘normal’ life and do similar jobs on tour (Laura creates jewellery, Russ is a photographer) as they did in Long Beach. “Income is sporadic, but the freedom to travel is priceless,” says Russ.

The decision to uproot their lives has been a life-changing experience. Although there were drawbacks, nothing could make them go back to their old lives just yet. “The best aspect of life on the road is being able to follow where your curiosity takes you,” says Russ. “Our trip is open-ended, with no set route.  It changes constantly and we encourage our readers to tell us where to go, so it’s always an adventure.  We love stumbling into new towns, meeting new people and having amazing interactions.”

“But the hardest aspect of life on the road is the lack of a community of friends and neighbours who you see on a regular basis.  As incredible as it is to be constantly connecting with new people, it can be extremely bittersweet to say goodbye. After years in Long Beach, it was hard to pull up all of those roots and take a path that was so completely separate from all those people. But after travelling and living such a unique lifestyle over the past two years, we also know that we want to keep doing what we’re doing – we’re not ready to settle back down again just yet.”

New tour, new cause

They returned home earlier this year after 15 months on the road, but the time away hasn’t dampened their enthusiasm for touring. They are hard at work planning their next tour – Big Adventure, Small Wheels – where they will ride the folding, small wheeled Brompton. This compact, British-made bike has had a strong bearing on the theme of the tour.

The Brompton sets limitations in what they can carry, but its compact fold makes it the best option for their next tour

When they set off first time around, it was very much a personal journey; to get away from the rat race and test themselves physically, mentally and emotionally. As much fun as doing it all again would have been, the next tour needed a cause. That cause became a desire to “redefine the All-American road trip.” To inspire people to not only travel by bike, but by train too, and to show how easily the two can go hand in hand in modern life. They feel that in the US, bikes and trains are an either/or proposition. Many UK readers will relate to the difficulty in carrying bikes onto trains, with many companies restricting numbers to as little as two per train. There should be a greater freedom, and this is the message they’re trying to get across.

“We want to show our readers, as well as transportation, bike and rail advocates, how trains and bikes can be better used together,” says Russ. “They seem like an ideal pairing, yet there seems to be a big gap between people who advocate for rail and people who advocate for bikes.”

Aside from the first few weeks, they've made a conscious decision to not plan too far ahead. “We actually try to plan very little, so that we can be open to spontaneous interactions and opportunities,” says Russ. “Our website is essential to us with this method of touring – we often engage our readers to tell us where to go. It’s like having thousands of tour guides who want to share with you what is special to them about their city or state. We’ve met so many amazing people through our website and have discovered so many gems of places by suggestions from them. We also try to meet up with readers as often as we can. As I mentioned earlier, it’s hard to abandon a community when you set off travelling, so we have had to fashion a mobile community through our site.”

So what does the future hold for the pair? “That’s hard to say! Our single parameter about travel was to do it as long as it was still fun,” says Russ. “And so far, it’s still fun.”

BikeRadar readers: If you visit or own a cycling website that you feel is worthy of mention in BikeRadar’s website of the week, email a link to bikeradar@bikeradar.com or post it in the comments section below and we'll follow up with them for a possible profile in our latest column.

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