Bilbo’s advice: “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”
I was out of the saddle, climbing the steepest hill in Nova Scotia, and grumpy. A couple of friends from California had joined me on a bicycle trip around the province. They were sailing up the mountain and having a merry conversation while I could barely grunt. They were both college track coaches and strong, women athletes. But they hadn’t just bicycled across the US; in fact, they had hardly bicycled at all. What they had that I didn’t were gear clusters on their bikes that made mine look like a one speed. Eventually I made it to the top of the mountain and was greeted by two Cheshire Cat grins and a giggle. On the side of the road a bicyclist had painted a bicycle with the word “WHY?” stenciled next to it. Having been left in the dust, I could only wonder…
Not many people decide to leave home and go on a six month, solo bike trek. In fact, not many people have the option or, I might add, the desire. But I didn’t have a wife, I didn’t have any children, and I had a solid job offer if I chose to return. I was ready for adventure.
This doesn’t mean that folks were urging me out the door. Three or four women were hoping I would stick around and change my marital status. (This was pre-Peggy.) The legislative advocate for the California Lung Association wanted me hang around and work on the implementation legislation for the tobacco tax initiative we had just passed. My sister Nancy was quite concerned about all of the terrible things that might happen to me out on the road. (My bother, Marshall, thought I should carry a pistol.) Etc.
There were good reasons for staying. They just weren’t as strong as my reasons for leaving. Here are three that I had noted in my journal way back then:
- The physical journey— I wanted the experience of travelling, seeing new things, and meeting new people. I love to wander. Going anywhere, anytime, excites me. I think it is genetic. I could have been an early explorer. I would be living in the outdoors, a plus for me, and seeing the US and Canada in a way that few people do. And finally, the trip would be good for me from a health perspective. I was 46 years old and in serious need of a tune up.
- An internal journey back in time— I wanted to know more about what drove me. I don’t handle stress well. It drives me bonkers. All too often it had led to depression and could become debilitating to the point where escape was the only solution. I’d run off to the woods to lick my wounds. Even doing things I was good at and enjoyed in time came to resemble a cage I was trapped in. By learning more about what drove me, possibly I could learn to be more in the driver’s seat.
- A quest— I am not particularly religious, but I do have a spiritual side. I pictured myself meditating for long stretches as I pedaled for thousands of miles along North America’s highways and byways. Who knows where it would lead me? I carried books like the Tao Te Ching and Bhagavad Gita for inspiration. A friend had even given me a copy of the New Testament.
A Bit on Preparation:
I joked in my last blog about preparing for my trip by increasing my beer consumption from one to two cans a night. There was a bit of truth to that. I did little (nothing) to prepare physically for the adventure. Unfortunately, I had learned from a long history of backpacking expeditions that I could get away with it. (For example: my backpacking trip into the Grand Canyon.) Once my body figures out there are no other options, it reluctantly gets in shape, whining the whole time.
I am a bit more anal about equipment. I would be bicycling for thousands of miles by myself, sometimes in remote regions with the nearest bike shop a hundred (or more) miles away. Even small towns are far apart in America’s great desert regions of the Southwest and up in the vast forest lands of northern Quebec. So I needed a good bike, and I needed to carry enough tools and parts to make repairs along the way. (At least until I could find a bike shop.) My friends in the bicycling business provided good recommendations. As for living outdoors, my backpacking experience made me something of an expert on what was needed to survive in almost any condition nature might throw at me. (The tornado was an exception.)
I spent hours studying maps and planning my route. It was a blast. Most people who travel a lot (including many who read this blog) will likely agree with me that planning is half the fun. My goals included avoiding cities, staying off of major highways, and visiting remote areas whenever possible. I was not interested in following someone else’s recommended bike route. I prepared copies of my proposed route for friends and family but added a cautionary note: “This route is tentative. I may find myself out there making changes for any number of reasons.” The original length of the journey was 11, 309 miles. I made my first change at 28.6 miles.
And finally, a note on bicycling. There are bicyclists and there are “bicyclists.” Bicyclists are passionate about the sport. Whether they race, tour, or commute by bike, they talk the talk and wear the clothes. They love their bikes. They have a certain lean look. Most (but not all) think of bicycling as a communal sport. I’ve done a lot in bicycling. I commuted by bike for several years, organized Sacramento’s first conference on bike commuting, and was responsible for creating the American Lung Association’s bike trek program. I even led and rode on a number of 500-mile bike treks. But, at heart, I am a “bicyclist.” My bike is simply a means of getting from point a to point b, hopefully without any mechanical problems. Still, for those passionate bicyclists who want to follow me on my journey, I will confess that I talked with my bike, Blue, as I crossed the country. Maybe there is hope.
I’ll close with a couple more photos to emphasize why a bit of insanity is valuable for long distance bike trips.
NEXT BLOG: Join me in Diamond Springs, Northern California as I climb on my bike, coast down my first hill, and discover I can’t pedal because I have put my panniers (bike bags) are on backwards.