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Tom Ethridge poses for a photo at Homburg, Germany. After biking 374 miles, he ended the bike tour on August 10, 2022. Upon reaching Homburg, Ethridge posted this on Facebook: “Am I glad I did this? Oh hell yes. After day 3, once I got out of the extreme heat, my legs got their shit together and everything was awesome. And I can say I’ll cycled across a county. Bucket list stuff.”
TAYLORVILLE– Tom Ethridge starts his mornings off with a cup of coffee, occasionally accompanied with breakfast.
He’s up early to beat the heat of the day.
Once he’s finished, Ethridge then loads his red saddle bags onto his 30 pound, steel-framed, fuji bike and heads out. With a map on hand, he navigates his way to the next city, on day two of a 375 mile, self-guided bike tour from Dresden to Homburg in Germany.
“I’m out there on my own. That’s half the fun of it,” Ethridge said. “It’s like I’m, you know, I’m going to take off and I’m going to ride hundreds of miles on my own.”
The tour took place in August of 2022 and Ethridge finished in eight days.
Ethridge has been going on bike tours since 2003, mostly in Germany and Minnesota, but he has been on tours that go through Prague, Dresden, Czech Republic, Croatia and Slovenia as well. In the future, Ethridge hopes to do a bike tour in South Korea.
In the U.S, he said he’s biked from Chicago to Milwaukee as well as Taylorville to Chicago.
Despite going on bike tours for so long, Ethridge still struggles with self-doubt the first few days of the tour. On the tour from Dresden to Homburg in Germany, Ethridge said he was ready to call it quits and get on a train to finish the route on the third day.
“If you start a long-ish tour, the first couple days, there’s a lot of self doubt–‘Am I fit enough to complete this?’” Ethridge said. “It usually goes away by the third day, and by the end, you know, my saying was: ‘my legs were laughing at 50 miles.’”
On a self-guided bike tour, Ethridge says cyclists have to plan out their trip ahead of time. Cyclists have to decide how many miles they will ride, what town they will stop in for lunch and where they will be staying for the night. While on a tour, cyclists have two choices for lodgings at the end of the day: a hotel or camping somewhere along the route.
“I am what is called a credit card tour,” Ethridge laughed, “which means a person that stays in hotels at the end of the day. The people that do the camping tend to be like a younger crowd. When you get a bit older you appreciate a certain amount of comfort.”
Cycling in Germany is very popular, so Ethridge said he runs into a few fellow cyclists as he goes through the route on his own. On one tour, cyclists will have to board two or three ferries on the route and he had bumped into the same couple, who was also touring, each time. So they struck up a conversation about the tour.
“You do talk to people that are touring, or you’re at a restaurant at night and the next table over, obviously, they are people that are doing the same thing you are. I mean, there’s a certain camaraderie with people that are out there doing this.” Ethridge added: “Obviously, if you know someone’s broken down you always stop to offer help.”
Ethridge says he hasn’t had a tour that was particularly difficult, but he has encountered some strange things.
On a weekend tour from Ljubljana in Slovenia to Zagreb in Croatia, he had to turn around because the border crossing between Slovenia and Croatia he came to was for nationals of Slovenia and Croatia only. So, he got back onto the highway, went through a different border crossing, and got off the highway as soon as he could.
“I was in an area that wasn’t marked on my map,” Ethridge explained, “and it was kind of a grim area. It was a Sunday morning, and there were men wandering around in the fields with guns. I’m presuming they were hunting. About every fifth house looked like it had been abandoned for about 10 years. There were problems in the early 90s in that area of the world, but it was like, ‘Oh, you guys chased off your neighbors because they were the wrong ethnicity?’ So yeah, I mean, riding through that area, I was kind of happy when I got to the suburbs of Zagreb and relative, you know, civilization.”
While on tour, mechanical issues can happen. Luckily, Ethridge hasn’t had anything serious happen to his bike besides flat tires, which are expected on longer tours. However, he said if anything happens that he can’t fix on the route, there’s normally a train station within a five mile radius when he’s in Europe. In the U.S, there aren’t as many train stations as there are in Europe, so Ethridge has a plan B.
“In the U.S, if you get a AAA plan for an RV, they will cover a bicycle breakdown and take you anywhere up to 100 miles,” Ethridge explained.
“So that’s kind of my plan B in case something goes horribly wrong.”
Ethridge said it’s important for cyclists to have a good relationship with their bike repairman, and he was glad to see Sparrow Bike Co. open in Pana, Il. recently. Before, Ethridge would travel to Springfield to get his bike serviced when it broke down or to get his bike disassembled for flights before tours.
“The bike shops up in Springfield, yes, they do a good job, but they’re rather impersonal and high volume. That’s the thing about local bike shops, you want to support local bike shops. You know, I’m happy that Sam has been successful because he’s a great guy. He’ll do things for you in a pinch you wouldn’t get out of a bike shop in Springfield.” Ethridge said. “One time, I had a mechanical incident and he came out and picked me up. So you know, that level of service you’re not going to get from a bike shop in Springfield.”
Ethridge first began cycling in 2003 to get fit, and it seemed to be the easiest way to get fit compared to the other options he had. One day, while he was in a language institute in Germany, he found out about multi-day bicycle trips and decided to try it.
“By the fall, I was doing little two day weekend tours,” Ethridge said. “I did like a three day tour that was 210 miles. That’s the longest I’ve done in such a short period.”
The biggest challenge for those who are beginning to get into cycling is finding the right seat. Ethridge’s best advice? Go on Amazon.
“The biggest impediment to people starting cycling, is they tell you: ‘I rode five miles and my butt hurt,’” Ethridge explained. “Go on Amazon, buy like 10 different saddles, try them out, return the nine that don’t work. Keep the one that does work. You know, once you figure it out, you’ll be fine. But until you do, it can be torture.”
Ethridge grew up in Taylorville and moved to Chicago to go to college after he graduated high school. After college, he moved to New York City and has a successful career in a consulting company. In 2017, he moved back to Taylorville to help his sisters take care of their dad and worked remotely from home–occasionally making a trip to New York to meet with clients.
Between bike tours, Ethridge will ride on bike trails in the area. In the mornings, he will bike down the Lincoln Prairie Trail between Taylorville and Pana as well as go on weekend bike tours through Chicago, which has the best scenery for an urban bike trail.
“Chicago, they have the lakefront bicycle path, which is 18 miles north, so it’s a 36 mile round trip. It is easily the most stunning urban bike path that you’re ever going to find. I mean, it’s just absolutely beautiful. The only downside is on the north side, it can get quite crowded, particularly on the weekends,” Ethridge said.
While Ethridge will try to complete the round trip in full, sometimes the heat or cold will push him to turn around before the end. He added biking a few miles is better than none.
Typically, Ethridge says he will go out on his bike as long as the temperatures stay around the upper 40s.
“I’ll be up in Minnesota the first two weeks in September, and, people have warned me, it can get kind of cold,” Ethridge said. “So I’ll ride down to about the high 40s. You may actually be waiting till 10 a.m for it to get warm enough. A lot depends on the weather. If it’s a hot day, you want to be out before the heat. If it’s a cold day, you may want to wait till it warms up.”
Recently, when the heat index broke 100 degrees, he got out early in the day and completed 15 miles on the Lincoln Prairie Trail.
“A cyclist will tell you that it’s impossible not to have fun on a bike,” Ethridge said. “The knock on runners is: no one’s ever seen a runner smiling while running. People that cycle very much enjoy it.”
Ethridge is planning his next bike tour, which will take him about three weeks to complete at 600 miles long, along the Danube River, which crosses into Germany, outside Stuttgart, to Budapest.