Plans for the Big Ride Change Back to Bike Stories // Back to the Weeville Home Page
Note: This one was written and submitted way ahead of the press run, like they all had to be, back in those days. It was before email or anything quick even existed. I knew this story would run the very morning I started riding. I was betting that it (the ride) would actually begin as scheduled and announced. Thankfully, it did. That's the reference to "this morning" early on.
The Herald April 14, 1989
Cross-country trip will end in Salt Lake City
Steve McQueen had a classic line in the age-old movie "Gran Prix." All of Steve's racing buddies were being eliminated from the plot in a series of grisly crashes, and the woman of the hour was pressuring Steve to give up racing before he also got killed. She tearfully pleaded, "Is it worth your life to race one more time?"
Steve got a distant look in his eyes and said, "For those of us who do it well, racing is living. Everyone else is just ... waiting."
That's exactly how I feel about bike touring. Although I try hard to "love the now," as Jimmy Buffett suggests, I feel like I'm always waiting for my next long ride. This morning my latest stretch of waiting comes to an end. It's time to ride.
Any bicycle trip requires an undue amount of planning and preparation. The preparations are distinctly separate from the plans, as all plans have a strange tendency to go astray. New plans are a daily occurrence on a bike tour, and that is what puts your level of preparation to the acid test.
When I finish my book about bike touring, I want to call it "Nothing is Definite," because that pretty well sums it up.
When my Feb. 3 column announced my plans to ride to California, a man contacted me and asked to go along. I wasn't looking for a sidekick, but Jimmy Bailey convinced me we would make a great team. He was a full-time partner in the project until four weeks before the ride, when he injured a previously bad knee while training. Just like that, I was back to square one.
When Jimmy bowed out, I rethought the whole plan. If I am going out West once in my lifetime, I would much rather see the mountains than the desert. Riding alone, the little spots with a name are too far apart to suit me in Arizona and Nevada. With all this in mind, I hereby choose to play my "Change Your Mind Without Penalty" card. This trip will end in Salt Lake City, Utah.
At 2,200 miles, the trip to Salt Lake will be about 400 miles shorter than the southern crossing Jimmy and I had planned. The ride through the Rocky Mountains will more than make up the difference by adding an untold level of difficulty. The road I intend to ride southwest of Denver goes through Tennessee Pass, elevation 10,424 feet. That's a pretty impressive hill. If I decide to turn left and go to Aspen, I can negotiate Independence Pass, elevation of 12,095 feet.
I am aware that the trip loses some of its aesthetic appeal when I don't actually ride coast to coast. There is a certain mystique about a transcontinental crossing. One man suggested that I start my trip in Myrtle Beach, at low tide, and ride until my front wheel plops off into the Pacific Ocean. This type of ceremonial accomplishment is what lots of folks think of when they hear of riding a bicycle across America.
My own mind doesn't function on that particular frequency. I have been on the road enough to know that even a 1-mile ride is a good one as long as it is completed safely. I ride because I love the trip, not because I'm in a hurry to reach any certain destination. I waived the California route in favor of a route I'm sure I will enjoy more.
Here are some of the questions most commonly asked in recent weeks:
*Where do you sleep out on the road?"
On this trip I will use motels. I ruled out tent camping on my trip to the Gulf Coast. The equipment is much too heavy, and I found that it's sadistic enough to ride a bicycle 100 miles without sleeping on the ground. Using motels, it becomes an interesting guessing game whether you should stop where you are, or if you should press on toward the next town and hope there is another motel there.
*How far will you ride each day?
This varies according to local conditions and the condition of me. On previous trips, my daily forward progress has ranged from 40 miles to 135 miles. A target of 100 miles for me represents an excellent day's progress. That is usually what I am after at the start of each day, and the hills and wind add to or subtract from the actual outcome. I also figure in time to sniff the roses.
*What do you eat?
Anything that doesn't run away. I do the burger joints, the restaurants, the convenience stores, the grocery stores and the vending machines at the motels. My diet is a professional nightmare, but as long as I keep putting in calories, I can keep riding. A really sophisticated, high-performance regimen would require somebody in a car to hand me the proper meal at the proper time. I don't think that would be nearly as adventurous as "living off the land" like I do on these solo trips.
*How can you possibly carry enough clothing to last a month on the road?
When I went to Florida, I took way too much stuff. I found myself living out of the top of one of the bags, while many changes of clothing were untouched. The secret is in washing clothes every day in a sink or a bathtub. It only takes a jiffy, and our ancestors did it.
*What route will you take?"
A policeman in Savannah reminded me once that it is illegal to ride a bicycle on the interstate, so secondary highways are the roads of choice. This is what makes a bike trip longer and more complex than a car trip. It also provides all the enjoyment along the way, seeing out-of-the-way places.
My first night should be spent somewhere in the Lake Lure, N.C., area. After that it's western North Carolina, central Tennessee, western Kentucky, then across Missouri, Kansas, Colorado and Utah.
I'll file my column from the road, and fly home from Salt Lake City on May 22.
It should be an interesting 39 days.
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