Travel Lessons From Nat and Rachael Lopes


In 2004, Nat and Rachael Lopes got married, quit their day jobs, and spent three years assessing trails all over North America and Europe as spokespeople for the International Mountain Bicycling Association. Last year the couple founded Hilride, which offers consulting services to destinations interested in creating mountain-bike parks. They continue to travel full-time.

Nat and Rachael Lopes

How has your job changed the way you travel?
R: When we started, I think I was under the impression that you should follow an itinerary as much as possible. The job definitely changed that. N: Now we do less planning. We play it more by ear.

How do you plan your road trips?
N: We pull out a map of the U.S. and circle our destination. Since we don't like driving more than four to six hours at a time, we plot the other points by that driving distance. R: A guidebook that fits the scale of travel we do is the National Audubon Society field guides. The series gives natural historical information as well as information on all the U.S. parks. It's a great resource. N: We also use GPS heavily.

Do you take your own bikes or rent?
N: We don't do bike rentals. R: We learned our lesson when we tried that in Alaska. If you're an avid biker, you realize that bike rentals aren't the same. N: For extreme trails, you want your own bike for risk management.

How do you transport your bikes on planes?
N: Get the biggest box possible, so you have to take your bike apart as little as possible. R: Airlines often charge you the same price for any oversize box. But always call ahead to the airline. Once we had to beg to bring our bikes to Hawaii. N: And since security inspects the bike before every flight, sometimes we don't even tape the box, we just use straps.

How do you transport bikes in your car?
R: We keep them on the roof of our car. N: We've spent three years on the road in 46 states and nine Canadian provinces, and our bikes were only stolen once. R: Pay attention to where you park. The night our bikes were stolen we were tired, and we knew we should move the car. N: We have a lock for each bike, and then we lock them together.

What's the one thing you won't leave home without taking with you?
R: My camera. Nat would probably say his video camera. I bring the camera to create a log, so I'll know what I did two or 10 years from now. N: I was going to say my Spy brand sunglasses.

What do you bring with you on the plane?
R: We carry on all our video equipment, as well as our computers and hard drives. The key is to take everything out even if airport security doesn't require it. N: Security gets annoyed, but it saves us time overall.

How do you record and take notes on your trip while traveling?
N: We ride with helmet cameras, which are extremely resilient. The first camera Rachael ever got me has been in several crashes and is still working six years later. It's a Sony PRV 17. We have basically 850 locations on film that we could pretty much access any part of the trails and see with whom we traveled. R: We remember people we rode with one time. We've watched the videos since then, and we'll meet up with people we rode with and remember their names and ask them about their family members.

How do you find non-touristy spots?
N: Through connections. A bike store is the best place to start and to meet people. R: But the bike store is the worst place to get food recommendations. They're not paid well enough that they're eating at quality establishments.

How much of your travel is on your own?
R: I don't think we've been apart from each other for more than four hours in the past five years.

Any travel tips?
N: Don't underestimate the power of sleep deprivation and hunger while traveling with a partner. If you're hungry, you can be cranky. R: And don't underestimate the power of sitting in the backseat. I might drive while he works in the back, and that extra three feet creates space.

What sorts of tourist etiquette tips have you picked up?
R: The number one thing is to be interested in the area that you're in. We might drive into a town and make yuck sounds on the way in, then meet 20 or 30 locals, and realize it's a great place. Wilson, Kans., is a great example.

Read on to see Alisa Grifo's top tips >

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