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The Herald February 3, 1989
Biggest challenge yet to come:
Biking across America
This column was founded on my belief that bicycling is a major adventure seldom covered properly from a subjective viewpoint.
Rather than saying "Install chain, adjust derailleurs and pedal vigorously," I much prefer, "Take unexplored road and activate powers of observation.: The adventurous aspect of the sport kicks in as soon as you pull away from the curb.
I used to ride my bike 10 miles and then polish it for two hours. If I could get anyone to listen, I would talk about what great components my bike had on it, and how it shifted like a dream thanks to my latest state-of-the-art whatchamacallit chain. Nowadays, I ride my bike a thousand miles before I so much as wipe it, and I never talk about equipment at all. Over a long period of time, all true priorities sort themselves out.
Adventure's the thing
Yes, it's the adventure that is important to a touring cyclist like me. When I was a kid, my bike was freedom. Even when cars and a driver's license came along, nothing ever made me feel quite as free as a bicycle. I think it's the mother hen syndrome. My first glimpse of freedom stayed on as a permanent impression. When I am off on my bicycle, I am truly living, rather that just being alive.
From a physical conditioning standpoint, my bike riding usually takes care of itself. After a sluggish start in the spring, the miles rack up as my endurance capacity builds. It's a self-perpetuating process. Still, I consider a higher state of health to be a glorious fringe benefit of bicycling, rather than the target of all that exertion. I am not, and have never claimed to be, a health nut. I have not always adhered to an exemplary lifestyle. I say this only to make one point. That is, if I can ride a bicycle long-distance, anyone can.
It's a shame you can't invest in your health one good time and get it over with. A high degree of conditioning requires constant maintenance, only to see that conditioning slip away in a few weeks of goofing off. It's just not fair.
This year, my cycling season is turned all around. Rather than riding a natural crest to a summer-time peak in weekly mileage, I need to be in top condition in April. That's April 14, to be exact. On that day, I leave home on my bike for the grandest adventure yet - a ride across America. I'll have 40 days at my disposal, and if I haven't seen California by then, it will because I've had some type of serious problem.
A bike ride across America is no longer a superhuman feat. Hundreds of people make the trek every year. The real athletes compete to see how fast it can be done in the annual Race Across America. the starting point has been either Huntington Beach or San Francisco on the west coast, and the target is either Atlantic City or Washington, D.C., in the east. The standing record for a single rider is a little over eight days, set by Pete Penseyres at the age of 41. This accomplishment staggers me when I realize I'll have to train hard to ride a similar distance in a month.
Pedaling without moving
Training. Yuck. That's that terrible thing called exercise.
While any bike ride can be called training, I am never acutely aware of being miserable out on the road. I'm too wrapped up in the ongoing adventure. While training for the ride across the country, I have been reintroduced to a form of pedaling that is far from any sort of adventure at all - the stationary bike. I find this machine to be a monotonous form of punishment that serves as only a passable excuse for riding on the road.
Stationary riding best involves some form of audio-visual stimulation if it is to be done repeatedly. It is boring enough to defeat even the most determined individual after a few days.
I use stereo headphones to pipe in some hard rock. I also make use of a VCR tape made specially for the purpose. It is an hour-long movie of road going by, apparently filmed from a motor home. It shows some beautiful country out west, and every now and then some guy on a bicycle passes you and dares you to "catch up" with him. A timer will occasionally appear on the screen to assist you in an easy pulse check, if that's the kind of thing you're interested in.
A good exercise bike will give you a killer workout if you play with the brakes and the speedometer. A stint of easy/hard stuff is better than a constant cadence when things get really boring. In any case, the best training for riding on the road is riding on the road. It takes a lot of determination to roll away from the house when the temperature is in the polar zone. I'm finding out that I have always secretly been a fair weather rider. This is the first time I have been forced to use the winter months for anything besides a hat rack.
Friends have ideas
Let's project for a moment that my training has gone well and safely, and that I'm perched in the saddle April 14, pointed west.
My friends and co-workers have painted me a picture of what awaits. At this point, here's what they have had to offer in the form of advice:
*The gas stations in Texas are 350 miles apart. Every fourth gas station, there is a motel.
*The Louisiana state bird is the mosquito.
*Take a gun.
*Don't ride at night in Texas. The rattlesnakes crawl out onto the road to keep warm.
*Take two guns.
*Don't ride in the daytime in Texas. the rattlesnakes stay in the road all day to keep warm.
*Riding a bicycle that far is absolutely insane. No crime could warrant such punishment.
*You'll have to fly home from California standing up, because your tail will be pulverized by that tiny bicycle seat.
*Good luck. Can I have your stereo?
My answer to all that is this -- I can't wait.
Rattlesnakes are no threat at all, as long as you remember which end is safe to grab. I know rattlesnakes from top to bottom. I've seen several in nature books. ...
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