Sharing the road vs riding solo
Happiness is only real when shared.” Christopher McCandless
Firstly, let’s start from the conclusion: for me, cycling is an activity to be undertaken on one’s own, at least for the most part of a long adventure.
Number of companions: zero is the ideal, one acceptable, two or more are a crowd.
I travelled solo for a long time; sometimes with a friend or companion met on the road or with couple of other biketourers or even a small group. Consequently, after nearly two years of life on the road I concluded that for me travelling alone has many more benefits than travelling with other people. Sharing the road with another person may be interesting, but when they start to be two or three or more people is too much. After all they say three is a crowd!
When travelling alone you have many more opportunities to meet local people. For example, if you cross a small village, it is easier for people to approach you for a chat, offering you a drink, inviting you to spend the night in their home or giving you permission to camp in their property. This is how one gets to know the culture of a country less superficially.
When you are with more people it becomes more demanding for humble people/families to be able to invite you to share their way of living.
The more companions are, the more travel costs increase
By now I understand that when I am solo I can be manically frugal but when travelling with other people is much easier indulge and spend more than I would like.
It is no secret that most cyclists, except for many South Americans, have a higher budget than mine. So if I join them I end up allowing me things like some lunch at the comedor/restaurant (average in South America 1.50/2$ – and if I am with others I cannot ask for a free meal in exchange for a postcard) and some soda drink during the day or overnight in a hostal/hospedaje (3/4 € night) that travelling alone I would surely avoid.
The night if you are alone, as mentioned above, it is much easier to find accommodation where to camp near a home, perhaps even getting offered a bite for dinner and/or for breakfast.
For every decision, double the time.
Every time you have to make a decision – Let’s take a break? Do we stop eating? Do you have to buy food? Do we do this or this other road? Paved or dirt road? Do we continue or stop for today? Are we going to camp here? – there is always a stalemate and no one seems to want to take the responsibility of deciding or maybe they all want to democratize the decision but end up losing a lot of time uselessly so the hours available to pedal drastically decrease over the course of the day. Usually in the morning you leave at least an hour or two later than when one travels alone. When I am alone I continue to ride up to the sunset and more, while I’m with others even a couple of hours before sunset I find myself pitching the tent.
Double fatigue, half the kilometres.
The fact of having less time affects a lot on the distance covered that is inexorably always small. Not that this is something negative in itself, just a fact. The bad thing is that despite having covered a relatively short distance I feel much more tired simply because of the often stops. Every time I stop and then I’m restart pedalling my legs muscles get tough and hurt like I had a razor in there, just like when there are rhythm changes in a race.
More the people, less my happiness.
I noticed that when the group makes decisions that are contrary to what I would have done if I was alone it tends to put me in a bad mood, or rather, I’m not very lively, maybe a bit resentful to a decision I do not share. I noticed that I’m better off when I only have one travel companion when travelling with two or more people at some point I get a little moody.
Of course, there are also many advantages travelling with other people.
Having someone to chat with all day long and make some laughter; lightens even the toughest and most intense days. Sharing decisions on the roads to take, sharing landscapes and travelling experiences undoubtedly enriches the adventure, a bit like a pinch of salt in a salad.
Having company also provides a sense of security, justified or not, that helps to sleep and encamp in peace.
I reiterate that these are completely personal observations and certainly for someone else with a different personality travelling with company is easier and more pleasant than to travel alone.
UPDATE: I failed to mention a big important advantage which is: learning. You can learn a lot from having other people around. You can develop lots of practical skill too, like camping or bike maintenance for example. This advantage alone can out-weight all the disadvantages.