Amanda and her Salsa Fargo Plus Bike
We chat to Amanda Andros about the European bikepacking tour she’s currently sharing with her partner Chris, and find out which routes they’ve ridden so far, where they’re headed to next, and what motivates her to bikepack rather than tour more traditionally. Plus, Amanda shares some one-pot recipe ideas to help stay happy and healthy on the road…
During my own bike travels, I’ve often been welcomed into local homes as I ride; it’s always a pleasure to have a chance to reciprocate. Three months into their six-month European bikepacking tour, Amanda Andros and her partner Chris were passing through Bristol, so we found time to head over to tackle the Brecons Bash and chat about life, bikes, baking, and star signs…
Tell us a little about yourself… Where are you from and where are you going?
I grew up in the small town of Dauphin, Pennsylvania, with the Appalachian Trail close by. I’ve always been an outdoorsy person. Daily long walks and bike rides, preferably in the woods, were a part of my routine. The small, rural neighborhood I grew up in was full of kids and we had free-range of the valleys and access to the mountains full of trails and summer swimming holes. As an adult, I’ve jumped back and forth from Philadelphia and South Jersey and basically used my bike for commuting. My personality often reflects my astrological sign, as a Pisces, I prefer spaces where I can relax and decompress; for me these aspects are found in nature. Therefore, being outside and riding my bike is very therapeutic, often this is when I can gather my thoughts and come up with new ideas. Currently, I am riding Central Belter in Scotland, making our way to the Cairngorms Loop and maybe west, dependent on how the rain affects our mood. Our flexibility allows us to change our plans on a whim, ultimately allowing us to make the most out of this long-term trip.
What did you do in the leadup to your extended bikepacking trip in Europe?
Before the start of this trip, I worked in a small, scratch-made cafe called Constellation Collective, with an amazing group of inspiring, fun women. Every time I go into a cafe/bakery I miss them, but we keep in touch as much as possible and I know I’m making them proud. I’ve been bike touring on and off since the fall of 2015, when I left my job as a School Library Media Specialist. It was a scary decision at the time, but I knew I wanted a change in my lifestyle, something more flexible, and really wanted more time to travel and explore.
Can you share a general overview of the route you’ve knitted together so far and the distances you aspire to cover?
My partner Chris and I started our European bikepacking journey in Madrid, Spain on May 9th 2019. Our initial goal was to ride the Altravesur, a bikepacking route from Cadiz to Valencia. It was our first epic length off-road ride and it took 40 days, including a bout of illness thrown in to challenge us a bit more. We aimed to ride 50km per day with huge variations due to terrain, rest days, and time spent eating good local food.
After completing the Altravesur we rode a section of the Pirinexus from Figures to Perignon, then caught a commuter train to Nimes and rode through the Verdon Gorge to Nice, via a mix of dirt and asphalt, a 50-50 mix. Suffering along with France during the heatwave in July 2019, we flew to the UK to explore in a cooler climate. We got our hill legs settled on the South Downs Way, followed by laden bike exploration in the New Forest, then the Purbeck Bimble, and the Westcounty Way en route to Bristol. From there, we rode through the Brecon Beacons NP in Wales; the steep incline pushes were brutal, but the emerald green views of rolling hills from the top and sweet descents made our efforts totally worthwhile.
How are you planning your route? Is it as you go, or months in advance? Bikes, planes, and trains? Chasing good weather?
Once again, our route is very flexible and is constantly changing. We ride as much as possible, but sometimes connecting these bikepacking/dirt trails is faster when you hop on a train. We suffered for days in a record-breaking heatwave in France and decided to book a cheap flight from Nice to Gatwick, U.K. Basically, we scoured Google for areas that were cooler and the price was right.
Our first on-road bike touring trip around the United States was meticulously planned and the plans went out the window within a month, so we decided to keep our options totally open from now on. We like to take advice from the locals, because they often know the perfect routes and are really excited to share beautiful parts of their towns and cities. In the end, we like giving ourselves the option to wander, sometimes aimlessly.
Do you have much experience bike touring? And what did you learn that you’ve put into practice for this bikepacking-style journey?
Our first bike-touring trip was in the fall of 2015. We rode matching forest green Surly Disc Truckers, roughly 11,000 miles in a circuitous route around the United States, connecting many of the National Parks. That trip was mostly on-road as we filled our Ortlieb panniers to the brim, taking everything but the kitchen sink, making us super heavy. Throughout our trip we learned to pare down, minimizing our items, making the ride more enjoyable.
After a 2 month gig at a Christmas Tree Farm in North Carolina, we headed to SE Asia, touring mostly on-road, but adding some gravel and dirt along the way. At this point, we started getting frustrated with the cars and were curious about more off-road Bikepacking routes. In the summer of 2017, we rode the Green Mountain Gravel Growler Bikepacking route in Vermont on our trusty Surly Disc Truckers, which had over 15,000 miles on them at this point. They fared well, but we decided that a more appropriate mountain or gravel bike would have probably made the ride more fun. The purple Salsa Fargo’s won our hearts, thus beginning our off-road explorations. First up, the Appalachian Beer Trail in North Carolina where we discovered the art of riding a loaded bike on some pretty rough terrain. Riding trails and pushing the bike was hard work at times, but we felt more relaxed being away from the traffic and enjoyed being surrounded by nature. Ultimately, this ride encouraged our current European bikepacking journey. We learned that the roughstuff is worth it for the impressive scenery.
On a long trip, do you plan in many days off to stay motivated and healthy? How many riding days versus non-riding days do you think it works out at?
If we feel like we need a zero-day, we have no problems with stopping and resting. Long-term bicycle travel can eventually feel like a job, it can be wearing not only on the body, but also on the mind. We like taking breaks if we found a really cool area or if one of us is feeling drained or ill. It’s a little more complicated with our European VISA because we are allotted only 90 days, so we haven’t been taking too many rest days in the Schengen area. In the end, I would say on average we’ve taken about 1 rest or low milage day a week.
You’re travelling with your partner Chris. How does life at home transpose to life in a tent?
I am always full of wild ideas, and Chris is the one who works out the logistics most of the time. I have it pretty easy, because he is the daily navigator. I am in charge of the meal planning, cooking, trash (haha yep that’s a thing), and keeping track of items that could be easily lost. Basically, double and triple-checking that we didn’t leave anything at the campsite, Warmshowers host, or hostel. It all works because he really likes the challenge of finding routes, whereas I would probably get overwhelmed. I am pretty easy going, so I will most likely ride or walk my bike anywhere. We don’t really get any breaks from each other, so I think each of us genuinely enjoys traveling together. We’ve had some really physically and mentally exhausting days, but we usually rotate our freakouts (it’s not always butterflies and rainbows), so that one of us is there to talk the other one through the rough patch. In the end, our personalities compliment each other and we just love exploring the world together. He is truly my number one adventure partner. I think he would also agree that I am in charge of positive vibes!
Amanda’s quick and easy cookery class
My way of cooking on the road is simple… either a dish based on a grain, or a soup, usually served with a loaf of bread from the local boulangerie.
- Find a grain; pasta, quinoa, rice, couscous, something starchy
- Boil till almost ready
- Set aside
- Sautés some veggies in your oil of choice (we usually use olive oil)
- I always start with onions and garlic. Veggies that carry well include zucchini, peppers, small cabbage, green beans, potatoes, carrots
- Add-ins, eg can of beans, chickpeas, or tuna
- Throw in some local spice; (currently carrying Herbs de Provence) always add salt, more than you think you need because hey, you’ve probably been sweating!
- Dump out the excess water in the grain pot
- Combine veggies with grains and maybe even throw in some cheese or hummus and voila!
- Sauté onions & garlic with olive oil
- Toss in some tougher greens till slightly wilted
- Strain add a can of your favorite beans; I like cannellini beans
- Add some veggie bouillon and water
- Cook till your desired consistency; I like the kale slightly undercooked
- Salt to taste and spices; I like dill with this recipe
Do you have a specific end date, or will the trip come to a conclusion when the financial reserves run out?
Chris is currently applying to nursing programs all over the United States, so when he needs to be home to take a test or something related to that, we will book a flight home from the closest city. Currently, our possessions are in my parent’s basement, waiting for us to come home and decide on our next step. We were thinking October or November, but we don’t really know yet. We have a running budget just for travel, and we calculated that the fun funds should last till about then. Sometimes exploration by bicycle is wearing and tough, but I always try to remain positive and grateful for this opportunity. When you travel for an extended amount of time, burn out is highly likely, but we try and hang in there for as long as possible. Consequently, we check in with each other and make sure we are still having fun. In the end, having personal autonomy is one of the great rewards of travelling by bicycle, but you have to be willing to put in the work.
As for the bike, it looks like your Salsa Fargo has gone from drop bars to flat bars…
As I get older, I prefer more comfort and I love the Salsa Bend 23 degree sweep bars. I’ve never been a speed racer, I enjoy taking in the scenery at a moderate pace and being more upright is important for my personal comfort and sanity.
And I see there’s a mix of both modern and traditional bags…
I like bags that are easier to access on a long trip and this setup has worked pretty well for this trip. I don’t think much about it, my partner is the manic researcher and I trust his judgement; he knows me well so it all works out. We strapped the Carradice bags down a couple of different ways if we are riding technical trails to prevent some flop. In the torrential rain, I wish we had a waterproof frame bags, but we’ve luckily only had three really rainy days this whole trip! Each trip is a learning experience, so we make note of things that could be changed for the future.
Does anything spring to mind that you’ve learnt from this ride, whether it’s a life experience or something more specific to bikepacking?
I’ve really been working on keeping my expectations realistic, remaining open-minded, adaptable, and grateful for this opportunity. The more you travel the less “wow” factor you may have for an area, but from my past experiences, I’ve learned that it’s not only important to live in the moment, but also appreciate this immersive way of travelling. I love really getting into the nitty-gritty of an area connecting with the locals and getting a real feel for the place; which exploring by bike offers. Furthermore, when I return home and back to the grind, my perspectives and appreciation for that way of travelling often are accentuated. Living in the moment and practising gratitude is something I am working on.
I never ‘train’ for these rides, I just get on the bike and go. We start small and eventually add more miles as we become stronger. My advice for anyone that is thinking about doing a tour is to just start pedaling, build up your strength, and not to stress about being the fastest because that isn’t what touring is about. Bikepacking / touring for me is more about enjoying the freedom to go almost anywhere I want to and to be more self-sufficient, not the speed at which I get there.
In terms of what I ride in, I don’t wear chamois and in the past I’ve suffered from some pretty brutal saddle sores. On this trip, I’ve been wearing men’s merino wool boxers and have found so much relief; I prefer the longer ones.
And lastly, be flexible, talk to locals, expect things to break, have some patience, get dirty, and try to minimize the amount of stuff you really need. You will have to pick up or push your bike at times, remain calm, and enjoy using the different muscles in your body.
And finally, any thoughts as to what you’ll be doing when you get home?!
I like to keep my options open and I really can’t say what we will be doing or where we will be living. When you travel like this for an extended amount of time, you become very resilient, not worried about what’s next, and often opportunities present themselves. I like living in the moment, and being open to an array of possibilities in our lives. Also, I am willing to do almost anything for work. At one point we were working on a Christmas Tree farm in North Carolina on our first bike tour; that type of job like that never even crossed my mind, we just happened to stumble across it when we asked to camp in a field one night. As a result, we enjoyed it and returned for another season before or bike tour in SE Asia.
Ideally, we would like to move to the Southwest for a bit. I feel like we would really appreciate being closer to some of those amazing National Parks and wild, protected spaces that we like to visit. In conclusion, being closer to the trails, wild areas, and bike-friendly towns/cities is on our radar and becoming more of a priority as we “plan” for our next endeavour.
- FRAME: 2018 Fargo Rival 1 27.5+
- FORK: Firestarter Carbon Fork
- HEADSET: Stock: Cane Creek 40
- HANDLEBAR: Salsa Bend 23º 740mm
- STEM: RaceFace
- SEATPOST: Takeoff Single Bolt 20mm Setback
- SADDLE: Well-worn B17s Imperial
- GRIPS: Ergon GP1 BioKork
- CRANKS: SRAM Descendant
- PEDALS: Spank Oozy Trail
- BOTTOM BRACKET: GXP
- CHAINRING: SRAM 28T Steel
- CHAIN: SRAM 1150
- CASSETTE: SunRace CSMS 11-42t + WolfTooth GC49t
- SHIFTER: SRAM
- REAR DERAILLEUR: SRAM Rival 1 Long
- BRAKES: TRP Spyke
- RIMS: SunRingleDuroc 50
- HUBS: SunRingle SRC
- TIRES: Maxxis Chronicle
Bags and Hardware
Nitto R10 Saddlebag Support, Salsa Anything HD Cages with bottle cage added, Velo Orange Mojave Cage, Carradice Longflap + Voile Nano Straps, Revelate Ranger Frame Bag, Revelate Gas Tank, Revelate Harness, Egress Pocket.