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The Herald Friday, April 5, 1991
The time has come to plan that first trip
Assume you have a touring bike and you're trained to a good level. Now you're looking down the road. The possible destinations are as varied as the names on any map, so how do we plan the trip?
First of all, let's consider riding into Atlanta. The traffic will kill us dead as we trundle up the next hill with bags holding us back. The idea here is to enjoy the trip, so we will avoid most of the cities on the map colored in a large yellow block. In large cities, we are hopelessly outnumbered by the horn-honking, car-loving commuters who (perhaps rightfully) believe bicycles belong on the side walk. They yell and cuss and brush saddlebags on their way in an attempt to eliminate our type from existence.
While you will regularly stumble into the Cherry Roads of the world as you travel, above all avoid big cities even if it means a 50-mile bypass route. We are welcome and waved at on country roads, but downtown we are vermin. This knowledge I have gained from riding in 12 states, so trust me. There is a nationwide prejudice against cyclists when you slow traffic at rush hour. Regardless of your highway rights in court, don't do it. You can't testify if you are dead, and you are asking for it on the streets of big cities.
Planning a trip through Podunk requires hours of map study. Here's a road that heads in my general direction, but it ends in downtown Gotham. I'd rather drift south but it's 70 miles to the next town on the map likely to have a motel where I can stop for the night.
Added to all this is the weather on the day you make the ride. 30 miles on flat ground is a two-hour cakewalk unless you have the wind blowing in your face at 50 mph (as I saw in Kansas). You can sit at home and plan a trip to the finest detail, but until you begin, the only thing you can really plan for is the worst.
It is an incredible thrill to get where you planned to be on a bicycle, especially when it takes several days. Only when you do it can you realize what an accomplishment it is. If you took the same trip two days later, the weather would make it an entirely different experience. Rules of thumb for bike touring:
*Leave yourself an out. If lunchtime finds you felling like another 60 miles, you'd better plan your route through a likely stop short of your goal. Aim for a county seat, as these towns almost universally have a motel of some sort. If you break down or give out, an oasis is always on the horizon.
*A Firetower usually marks the highest ground around, while a bridge across a creek means you're at the bottom. Bonifide rivers are at the end of a great descent, so be prepared to climb for miles.
*It's possible to carry a hundred pounds of tools, so try and imagine what might break. You need spare inner tubes and a tire pump. You need whatever screwdriver is necessary to adjust you derailleurs as they get out of whack with cable stretch and wear. You need a chain tool and a couple of spare links. If your chain breaks, you are through. This is rare, but it happens, especially to strong riders.
*Above all, carry some food. From my experience, you have to take what is available on the road and junk food is better than starving to death on a 30-mile straightaway in the Florida panhandle. Calories in, calories burned. It comes down to simple math, and the whole program comes down to good planning and common sense.
So hit the road. You'll get rained on, and you'll be more tired than you ever imagined possible. But it's worth it. At least for me, bike touring runs a perhaps mundane life through an amplifier. In a period of a few days, you'll experience more vivid highs and lows than you would get in a decade of normal living. It's ironic that going slow down a high-speed highway could offer so much.
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