Nick Swenor Bikepacking Solo

Pedaling Out Of My Comfort Zone

author: Nicholas Swenor

Written by: Nicholas Swenor

Senior Designer


  • Culture

It was Wednesday, August 12, around 9:30pm when my phone rang, “Dude… I’m really sorry, my brother came in contact with someone who tested positive for COVID. We both need to bail.”

As the disappointment crept in, I was standing in my basement staring at my touring bike and a mess of gear, with less than 12 hours to go before setting off on my first-ever, three-day, 110-mile bike tour and everyone I pitched the idea to had dropped out. What now? Do I cancel? Deep down, I knew that postponing or even canceling wasn’t an option…I was committed and had spent months preparing.

With less than 12 hours to go before setting off on my first-ever, three-day, 110-mile bike tour and everyone I pitched the idea to had dropped out.

Honestly, I’ve always been an outdoor guy. I need to keep moving for my own sanity. From yard work to backpacking, I’m all for staying active. Leading up this trip, I had been riding trails on my mountain bike a few times per week. So the distance didn’t scare me, but the isolation did. I suddenly felt anxious and exposed—this was going to be my first long-distance bike tour and now I’d be riding solo. Just a dude, his bike, and 110 miles of unfamiliar pavement.

Ultimately, I went through with the trip as planned, and the following morning I was pedaling north from Milwaukee to Kohler-Andrae State Park.

The Trip Report

For context, it’s about 53 miles from Milwaukee to Kohler-Andrae State Park, mostly on paved bike trails. The Oak Leaf Trail connects to the Ozaukee Interurban Trail and then a few county roads lead you straight into the park. I passed through a few cities like Cedarburg, Port Washington, Belgium, and Oostburg, but signs of civilization are few and far between. On day one, I powered through, totaling about 6.5 hours. Days two and three I split the time up with a night at Harrington State Park.

Like many of us in 2020, I’d been spending an extraordinary amount of time at home, so pedaling into the unknown with only cornfields in sight for hours on end—accompanied by the sweet sounds of The Eels on my Spotify playlist—felt incredible. In a short amount of time, previous feelings of anxiety turned to tranquility along with a sense of pride and accomplishment. “Heck yeah, man, you’re really doing this!”

What almost was a canceled trip became a door-opening experience and the most ideal opportunity to reset by disconnecting for a few days.

For What It’s Worth

In hindsight, I traveled solo, but I was never really alone—it was an adventure. There was the guy I talked to on a bridge leaving Grafton, the campers one site over, the veteran outside Piggly Wiggly, other bike-tourers, and the raccoon ripping into an empty White Claw can. The weather was perfect, the beach was in sight, I had a book, a campfire, the sound of crickets, and Star Wars: Rogue One queued up on my phone. But, most importantly, I was worry-free.

Subsequently, two months later and no longer a bike-touring newbie, I found myself traveling the same route with the guys that previously bailed, but with a new perspective on uncertainty. And with the door open, and a bit of self-reflection, I’ve found myself subconsciously applying this newfound outlook on “discomfort” to my professional career. As a designer, I have been challenging my own aesthetic. My new mentality? “That logo feels slightly asymmetric, that composition feels unbalanced… but I’m going to leave it.” I’m finding ways to challenge myself professionally and personally beyond what I think I know … allowing myself to drift into an endless realm of undiscovered possibilities.

“Life is so full of unpredictable beauty and strange surprises.”

–Mark Oliver Everett, Things The Grandchildren Should Know

Work Hard and Be Nice to People


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.
close video player