Saturday, March 7, 2009

Bicycle touring

I remember waking up on a 7th or 8th birthday morning as a to a white and blue one-speed coaster brake bicycle. It became my magic carpet.

But once I learned that one could combine backpacking with bicycling, I knew self-contained bicycle touring was for me. I just knew it. I loved the efficiency that that the mode of transportation becomes the recreation becomes the the journey. I loved the self-contained-ness of it. It was all so compact and adventurous.

Often, I rode organized century or metric century (100- or 62-milers, respectively) and commuted to work by bicycle. But I longed to just follow my front wheel and explore America at 12 miles per hour. In my 20s, I fell in with a recreational bicycle group in Sierra Vista, Arizona, and just loved it. Small breakout groups took two- and three-day tours, some self-contained, some sagged. (SAG = support and gear).

Eventually, longer self-contained tours were on the itinerary; first were short tours to desert campgrounds in southeast Arizona. Loved it! Next was a multi-state trip from New Orleans to Cocoa Beach, Florida, with two guys I met via the Companions Wanted column in Adventure Cycling. Although my front wheel experienced and unknown mechanical failure, dealing me into a face plant on the pavement, one broken and three loose teeth (yes, eating was a problem after that), a hole in my upper lip, an 200-watt shiner, and some face road rash, I soldiered on. My one companion and I (the other abandoned the trip) crossed the Florida peninsula in one eyes-to-the-road day.

A tour through northern Sonora, Mexico, followed with beer truck drivers at a warehouse walking en masse to give us standing ovation for ascending and descending a mountain pass. Mexican drivers are fabulously polite on the road, even the truck drivers.

Of course, all of this culminated in a solo, self-contained cross-country tour, roughly following the Southern Tier maps from Adventure Cycling. I loved almost every minute, and found following my front wheel an amazingly liberating and enlightening experience. I camped in campgrounds mostly, met all types of people, sampled most types of food, although shied away from meat, except for a boudin in Cajun country. This country looks a lot different from the perspective of 12 miles per hour versus 70. Other person's tour experiences can be read at the most excellent site, Crazy Guy on a Bike. Much later, I published an essay in the Houston Chronicle on one night memorable for its subtlety and connection.

Now my cycling is mostly limited to bicycle commuting to work, covered in my next post.

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