When we started bike49 last May we would have been overwhelmed to think about the entire route. Instead we focused on more obtainable, short term goals. Our first goal was getting to Coos Bay, OR for our first presentation. The next goal was Alaska, and after that, we focused on making it back to the United States. When we left Sacramento last week our goal was to make it to Fort Bragg, a familiar bike touring layover for the five of us. And now, two days from Arcata, our final goal is Arcata. This is the home stretch, and it is good to be home.
It was the evening of June 9th where we really started to chime in about this being our last night of camping, last meal cooked, last time to cook with our beat up pots and pans, and so on. It was also the last night of having to search for a spot to camp and weigh the option of knocking on someone’s door or just going ahead and camping in a field, the benefits of being plainly visible versus those of trying to hide ourselves. Throughout our trip we’ve always done our best to be straight forward with people when there’s no public land so we started by trying to knock on some doors.
I must skip back a few dozen pages in my spiral notebook to the red rock deserts of Utah. We have neglected writing about the desert, not because we had nothing to say on the subject, but because recounting the hundreds of miles of beautiful places we have seen is kinda overwhelming. Where do you start? How about a few unorganized sentences and pictures to match :
This story is about a man we met shrouded in suspicion and mystery; we’ve spent days discussing the facts, a source of curiosity. We’ve been told to watch for strangers but on a trip like this, you talk to people you don’t know or else the experience you would miss.
It feels almost religious as I crawl along the shoulder of the road. I am bent over the handlebars, like a follower praying to the wind and the road. I tuck into my bike, trying to make myself more invisible to the wind, and it feels like I am on a pilgrimage to some distant horizon at a sorry speed of six mph.
Our day to visit Delaware Ridge Elementary finally came and like most anticipated events – Christmas, New Years’, your birthday – was gone all too quickly. For weeks and months we’ve looked forward to spending a day with these students and when it was over, it felt like the culmination of the more than 100 presentations we’ve done before this.
So there I was, back in high school, doing what scared me most in high school: standing up in front of the class and giving a speech. Only this time, standing in front of a familiar classroom, talking to one of my favorite teachers and 20 high school students, I wasn’t scared. I was excited.
Something isn’t right. I haven’t held my breath as a car charges by, I haven’t heard or said “car back” today, and not one car has gunned it on an I-can’t-believe-you-are-passing-me-right-now-double-yellow-blind corner. It is quiet without the passing cars, and we can ride side by side and search for a story or idea we have not yet told.
Lightning strikes and something dies. That must be how it works. Each bolt has a target, a seek and destroy mission, and with each tent illuminating flash and ground shaking rumble, one site is crossed off the list. I’m on that list for sure. It’s just a matter of honing in, dropping a strike here or there like in Battleship and narrowing down the possibilities. I squeeze my hands between my legs. I flinch and cringe with each flash of light, but then amazingly fall asleep through it all.
hough not as dramatic as the mountains of the west, these rolling forests make for fantastic biking. After months on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, where the ocean is beautiful but the land is flat, we were all happy to add some variety to our daily riding. For me the hills break up the day.
My cousin, Molly, is a first grade teacher at Delaware Ridge Elementary. A few months after she helped me create bike49’s lesson plan, I got an email from her that was one of the most exciting emails I have ever received:
We have been in New Orleans for two days now, and it occurred to me when I was on the trolley tonight headed home from Rue Bourbon that I had not answered any bike49 questions in two days. We are staying with Aaron and Tommy’s, mom’s, friend’s, brother’s, daughter’s place, and our bikes are locked up in the shed, making us blend in with the crowds.
Most of us aren’t gear heads. Once something works, we’re happy. We don’t care what else comes on the market and weighs a few ounces less or won backpacker magazine editor’s choice. I admit, I do tend to think about gear a bit, especially what might break next, and that’s probably why I’m the one compelled to write about it.
Biking from one side of the country to the other has led us through many different ecosystems and thus we have seen a wide variety of habitats: mountains, plains, developed towns, coastal lands, and swamps. With each habitat is a diversity of animals. This diversity has been one of my favorite parts of the trip.
It has been a humbling month of biking. We fought the cold weather of the Appalachian mountains, and survived thanks to the help of friendly strangers inviting us into their homes. Since we left Washington DC we have seen our coldest temperatures, including a morning of biking in 3 degree weather and a night of camping in the teens. In the same month we have stayed with 16 different families. Southern hospitality is not an exaggeration!
The last week on the road has been anything but typical. Actually, there hasn’t been a typical week of bike touring, and even though we’ve said it enough to sound cliché, the saying, “you never know what to expect [when bike touring]” holds true on this trip.
“Look over there” Sara shouts, I turn my head just in time to catch a glimpse of the White House and a couple of its rooftop sentinels through a space between two buildings. We continue on down 17th Ave. and the Washington Monument appears on the horizon.
We didn’t mind getting wet because we knew we would be staying with Sylvie in her house and that meant we would be able to take showers, wash our clothes, and be warm and dry later that day. We arrived in time for dinner with Sylvie, her mom, brother, aunt, uncle, neighbor, and friend.
Most people know that I (Tommy) am a sports fanatic. Throughout this trip, Matt, Aaron and Sara have constantly had to listen to me rattle off sport related statistics and scores. For better or worse, I love it and find myself racing to get a newspaper most mornings to check the previous night’s scores. I even bought a little hand held radio so I could listen to the San Francisco Giants baseball games.
Could it be 2am yet again? How many nights must I stare at this screen, clicking back and forth, slowly programming my way to victory? As I write this post, the website is still not up to my standards, but closer ever.
When we got to the house the entire yard was covered in Halloween decorations and he was in the garage working on his fog machines. We liked the look of this and planned to have some fun later than evening using the fog machine as a prop.
Just the other day we came across 3 people bike touring that pretty much made our day. We’d been following the Pine River Trail from Cadillac to Grand Rapids, MI and stopped in the town of Leroy. We noticed some cyclists sitting at picnic tables and although they looked loaded down we couldn’t tell if they were touring or not. They didn’t have the colorful panniers from brands like Ortlieb or Axiom. They weren’t dressed in spandex or other techy riding clothes; they had jeans and a work shirt.
We began this 14 month trip riding north up the northwest coast and got rained on almost every day. Being at the beginning of a massive trip there was tons of excitement to get this thing started and our spirits weren’t going to be dampened by some rain showers. A few puddles in one of our tents, (not mine) which could make one disgruntled, were old news by the middle of the day. That was almost four months ago and since that time there’s been relatively few rainy days.
The swing broke while I was swinging. And that two second snap has played in my head for thousands of seconds. Two seconds of falling, two seconds of shock, two seconds of watching my foot point in a foreign direction, and two more seconds to realize that bike49 was over for me.