Thirty-nine years ago, I spent 38 days crossing the country by bike. Besides eating six times a day and sleeping 10 hours a night, I had ample time (that’s an understatement) to think and look around. Submitted for your approval, some observations and a conclusion.
Dogs: Man’s best friend – biker’s worst nightmare. Somewhere around, say, Grand Island, Neb., you will be dialed in by a dog that’s the four-legged equivalent of a cruise missile. When you see how quickly Cornhusker Cujo covers the quarter mile separating your calves from his canines, you will reconsider the wisdom of your decision to travel alone.
Etiquette: Don’t laugh when asked if you’re carrying a gun. You’ll get this question more than once from people who take such things very seriously. Bike touring is partly the art of traveling light. Guns are heavy.
Personal growth: I quit smoking and grew a beard. I’m not sure if growing a beard really counts toward personal growth, but I’m a person, and I grew one, so sue me.
Food: Life on a bike tour is an all-you-can-eat, 6,000-calorie-a-day buffet – in other words, the average American diet, circa 2014. Ride all day and you can enjoy unlimited cheeseburgers, milk shakes and pies a la mode – and still have room for dessert. Just remember to stop inhaling Ho Hos when you get home or you’ll end up having to wear sweat pants for the rest of your life.
Smileage: Yours may vary. One day you’ll be flying down a 30-mile downhill giving Tarzan calls. The next day you’ll be pushing your broken bike over the Continental Divide while gleeful RVers horn your dilemma to the tune of “La Cucaracha.”
States of mind: Measured by spontaneous waves, small courtesies (“Sure, you can pitch your tent in my field / behind the church / wherever you want.”), kindnesses (a cute girl drove up alongside me and handed me a cold beer at the end of a long, hot climb in the Rockies), and outright generosity (“Breakfast / lunch / dinner is on me!”), the Western states and West Virginia were far and away the friendliest. Ohio? Schmohio.
History: A roadside marker in the High Plains recounted how Chief Turkey Leg and his band of Southern Cheyennes killed a Union Pacific engineer and fireman, scalped a third crewman while still alive, then rode off with bolts of brightly colored calico tied to their ponies’ tails – a slice of Manifest Destiny worthy of a John Wayne movie. Wouldn’t it be interesting if you could walk around to the back of a sign like that and get the other side of the story?
Weather: You will get wet. You will get hot. You will have head winds. Your nose will get sunburned. You will smear zinc oxide on your nose and that will make it so luminescent that tiny, black flies will land on it and writhe themselves to an itchy death. You will try not to touch your nose but you will have to and then the whole cycle will start all over again.
Questions: More than once you will say to yourself something like, “Remind me again, why am I doing this?” More than once you will say to yourself something like, “Why didn’t I do this before?”
Answers: The conclusion at which I arrived after 3,345 miles? Solo rides have their time and place, but nothing beats biking with and for your friends and family. That’s what I’ll be doing on June 28 with 8,000 other Western New Yorkers in the 19th Ride For Roswell. Join us!