If you've been following this blog, you've met me ... the beginner cyclist, who arrived in Astoria, Oregon, a little over two weeks ago, with the least amount of cycling experience out of anyone in the America By Bicycle 2010 "Across America North" group, and learned the hard way on Day 15 that completing a tour like this involves a lot more than just not falling off your bicycle.
Shamefully, that is what I thought before I began. With less than six months of training, I was sure that as long as I could keep from crashing my bicycle, my relentless determination would get me EFI across America. I didn't think about the on-the-bicycle injuries and overuse pangs that could eliminate the accomplishment of EFI. I still hope to ride my bicycle to New Hampshire regardless.
And then - if you chose to do an organized group bicycle tour - there are the people who cycle with you. The people that you might lightly hold at a distance as you spend the first week or two finding out who you are on the road and realizing how much farther your emotional and physical limits actually lie. The people that might get on each other's nerves as rookie or careless mistakes are made on the bicycle or superficial matters of opinions clash. The same people that quickly begin to find their own little places in your heart as we individually and collectively strive for the same goals. Little goals, day by day. Despite the larger goal that awaits all of us at the Atlantic Ocean, you soon learn that "the journey is the destination."
And then there are the people you pass in cycling.
There was the group of three - a woman and two men - that left Asheville, North Carolina, on their bicycles loaded with all of their worldly possessions ... in 1985. They were headed west while we were cycling from Prineville to John Day, and they told me that they didn't really know where they were going. According to other people in our group who stopped to chat with them, these three wander about the United States together and do odd jobs in various towns when they need money. By the way they were dressed, I thought that they could be Amish. The woman was in a long, wool skirt - on a bicycle! I would have asked to take their picture except that by the time I met them, they had already encountered nearly 40 other cyclists from our group and they seemed a little tired of talking.
There was the father-daughter duo we met later that same afternoon at a Dairy Queen in John Day. As a graduation gift for his daughter, they are cycling and camping their way across North America this summer - though they will stay in a motel when the weather is poor. In fact, they left Astoria a few days before we did and battled torrential rains while cycling over Mount Hood.
Their bicycles are packed with 80 and 65 pounds worth of gear respectively - one of which includes a guitar. The daughter is a song writer and this is a spiritual journey for her so the guitar could not stay at home.
On the way to Baker City, Helen and Alex met Mike - a man who left Sacramento, CA, five years ago and has been roaming the United States ever since. Like the threesome I met en route to John Day, he stops in various towns occasionally to perform odd jobs when his money runs low, but generally cycles each day, on whatever road appeals to him, until he finds a place where he'd like to camp. Mike meanders in the northern part of the country in the summer months and heads south during the winters. He has even gotten to know others like him, who he randomly passes from time to time. Sometimes they might travel together for a day or two before heading their separate ways.
The world seems small for a moment when you imagine Mike on an old country road, meeting up with another cyclist that he hasn't seen in awhile. But then you look toward the horizon ahead of you on your own, little bicycle and the world gets pretty big again.
Between Jackson and Riverton, we met a group of guys headed to Virginia. They were staying overnight in Dubois as well so we crossed paths with them on more than one occasion on days 16 and 17. While they are camping most of the way, they treat themselves to a motel every so often and generally average bathing once every 3-4 days.
There's also the Adventure Cyclists, who travel with another organized bicycle tour company. They might not put in the mileage we do everyday, but they're carrying all of their own gear. And in lieu of hot showers and hotel beds, they camp the entire way, often using authorized camping grounds, church bathrooms or local school locker rooms when available. We also saw them on the way to Dubois.
I can't help but think that the camping cyclists are doing this "the real way", but while I am tempted to try out a week-long cycle-and-camp tour some day, lugging my shelter and clothing across America just doesn't seem like my personal idea of a good time.
Not to mention the guy who left the east coast on a unicycle and passed us in Wyoming.
Regardless of how it's done and what roads are followed, there are many adventurers out here. Some are living a lifelong dream. Others are celebrating a milestone. Some have made it their lifestyle. Whether they are alone or with a group, I can only describe them the way our ride leader Mike Munk described us.
"Not a faint heart among 'em."