How to survive as a couple on the road

So you have the bike(s), the destination, the other half convinced and on board… now facing the reality of spending 24/7 with your Dear Other Half; in countries where, most of the time, you do not speak the language, so the only conversation may be with each other, for days on end… will your couple survive?

This is a question that every couple on the road will have to face, and will probably be asked by concerned friends or colleagues. Maybe you think that because you went backpacking together for few months, it will be the same thing, just with added bikes.

I am afraid that this is not the case. The challenges of the road can bring a whole new dimension of stress and problems that do not come with backpacking from touristic place to touristic place, moving around in public transports, meetings often the same other tourists on your little merry tour.

You will often end up in remote places, with very little comfort, little food, mechanics problems, hard trails to negotiate, usually under torrential rain, storms, hail, cold or intense heat… but despite this, you must go on, reach the next town, village, fuel station… You will be cold, boiling hot, hungry, dehydrated, angry, pissed of, scared, wet, lost, stranded in the middle of nowhere, with a bike stolen or dead, worrying about being over budget… Will you face these tough situations together, or will it be a challenge to far?

Here I can only play agony aunt based on my personal experience and also in my observation of other couples on the road.

I came across a lady once, in Tierra del Fuego.She had dropped her bike, on a gravel road, and we helped her to lift it up. She was on a 650 something. Her husband was nowhere to be seen, as he had taken off, on his 1200 something, miles ahead. What could possibly go wrong? The husband  gets annoyed with the wife because “she keeps falling behind or dropping her bike”, the wife will be furious for being left alone in a trail she clearly struggles with, an then has to rely on passers bye to help her. Not a great start!

With Alistair, we have the same capacity bikes, so none of us can outrun the other. We always ride together, usually Alistair is ahead, with the (bloody!) GPS, while I follow not far. We always stay in visual contact as we don’t have bike to bike radios.

In Mongolia, where I was quite unsure, to start with, about crossing rivers, Alistair would go first, so I could then follow his line.

In South America, when I was still very green at off road riding, some (short) difficult sections ( usually involving deep sand!) were too hard for me. Alistair would pass the section, walk back and take my bike across for me.  The alternative would be for me to try ride it, drop the bike, and get Alistair to lift my bike, as I cannot ( still to this day!) do this. At least not when it is upside down, down a sandy ditch, fully loaded, as the bikes usually end.

In South America, we met many couples. And many were showing this same pattern of mutual help and seemed to had a clear division of labour.

When my bike was stolen in Brazil, we did not start arguing. We immediately got on with the job of solving that problem one way or another.

Another type of couple I have met on the road is the Competitive one. They both have to be able to do everything. By themselves. Each has to be able to repair his/her own bike, each ride the same sections regardless, each able to lift their bikes, cook, wrestle a bear etc… ok maybe I made the last bit up. But you get the drift.

I am puzzled by those guys. Maybe it works? For us, I have no clue how to repair or maintain my bike or how the GPS works. I have zero interest on that. Alistair has zero interest on learning Russian or planning a trip. I am very good at organising a trip, or learning languages, so I do it. He is good with the bikes so he is in charge of them. We have a clear division of labour. We never really discussed it, it just kind of happened. Well ok, for the first big trip, my sweetener was that I would organise it, so he would agree to come!

I think we are both happy with this division of tasks. I look after the website, I blog, so our families know how we are doing. Something Alistair has no interest in doing.

Faced with a problem, we solve it, together, each looking at it from our own ways. When the engine blew up in his bike, I went online using the HU and my contacts to find a solution, he went online looking at the mechanic issues…We don’t argue about it. Yes we can get annoyed at each other (he drives me crazy following the bloody GPS through stupid sections across rivers while I CAN see a perfectly nice road away, for example) and I am sure I must annoy him with some stuff. Can’t think what though 😇.

So here I will list some “points” that could help:

  1. Give yourselves space: when you are set up with the tent or guest house, while I have a shower, Alistair will often go for a wander. You don’t need to be joined at the hip. Do your own stuff!
  2. When something goes wrong, the worse thing that you can do is start the blame game and get angry with your partner. For example, maybe if I had chained my bike in Brazil, maybe it would not have been stolen…. “maybe”, “if”… we say in French that with enough “if” you could Paris inside a bottle! Who care of “if” and “maybes”… face reality and work together to find a solution.
  3. Show support. If one of you suck at something but better that you at something else, support each other. If my bike needs some TLC, Alistair will do it. If we need to be able to speak Russian, I will learn enough to get by. I would be surprise if you all have the same set of skills and competences. Play t9 your strength and rely on your other half for the stuff you suck at.