I just came back from a long distance bicycle trip. This was my seventh cross state bike ride. I’ve also gone on some weekend trips. I get asked all the time, why do I go? The answer is simple, because I love it. I love bicycling.
Usually, these are camping trips. Some people are not so fond of that. Packing up a wet tent is not the greatest, but I like camping. As a kid, my family went camping all the time.
If you want to ride, but don’t want to camp, you can rent out a motel along the way. Or you can sleep inside. Most rides have a camping service. They set up your tent and have an air mattress for you. Some people come on the rides and bring their mobile homes or trailers. I’ve done some or all of these. I’ve used the service and it was great, but expensive. I’ve slept inside, but only because thunderstorms were predicted. I haven’t rented out a motel, but I’m not against it. I usually camp. Like I said, I like it.
I like it, in spite of the fact, you are sleeping on the ground. Sure, I have a mattress pad, a sleeping bag and a foam cushion. The ground is hard. This week, due to impending storms, I slept on the pavement under the roof of an eave of a building or shelter, but I didn’t care. I’m here for the biking.
I admit, at times it’s a haul. You live out of a suitcase. However, that’s part of the beauty of it. You have to stay organized. It’s a well oiled machine. It’s a bit like locust. We come, we eat, we go.
You bring what you need, jerseys, T-shirts and bike shorts. People wear the jerseys and T-shirts of past bike rides. It’s a great way to show off the rides you’ve been on. They are great conversation starters.
You meet people from all over the world. I’ve met bikers from the UK, Australia and other countries. Usually, you meet people from the U.S. This year, I did SAGBRAW. Schramms Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Wisconsin. I’ve done six other bike rides, all BRAN’s. Bike Ride Across Nebraska.
Naturally, most people I met this year were from Wisconsin.
I can only speak for myself and tell you why I love it. It’s part of the well oiled machine. The night before, you get ready for tomorrow. Do it in the daylight, cause it will be dark before you know it. Oh, sure you have a miner’s light, but a small beam isn’t that great. Pack up everything you need. I put what I need in my helmet or bike shoes. Sometimes, I sleep in my jersey and bike shorts the night before to save time getting ready in the morning. I didn’t this week, I can’t say why. I just didn’t feel like it.
Some people go out drinking at night and come back later. They sleep in a little, or a lot, but I like to get up and get going. I like to start riding to avoid the heat of the day, and the wind. Usually, if the wind is going to howl, it starts later.
Everyone has a different agenda. Some want to be the first to get into town. They rarely stop. I’m not even sure they eat. Some visit all the sights and take pictures. Most people are in between.
I’ve met riders who do it to spend time with their kids, brother or sister, honey, spouse, or friend. Some come alone, some do it to get away from their family, honey, or spouse.
It’s warm at night, but I’m freezing by morning. If I bring a jacket, I usually wear it about an hour or two, and then have to carry it with me for the rest of the day. I could give it to a SAG (Support and Gear) driver, but sometimes it’s better to keep it. What if it rains?
I love the outdoors. I don’t sleep well during these things. I probably only get four hours of rest a night. Obviously, you need more. Especially, if you have a long ride ahead of you. I don’t know why I don’t sleep well. Maybe, it’s nerves, maybe it’s the trains going by, or the planes flying overhead. Did I say planes? I meant jets. We had jets flying overhead one night.
I could write a full blog on just the sounds of a long distance bike ride.
Sometimes, it’s the cars and trucks going by. The last night we camped at a school by a highway. Semi-trucks and cars went by at all hours of the day and night. So, bring ear plugs. Ear plugs are big on these rides. Besides the noises I mentioned, there are the people who evidently don’t have any trouble sleeping. You can hear them snoring like there is no tomorrow. Try to find a great spot for your tent. Make it close enough to the luggage truck, so you don’t have to carry your bags very far, and yet far enough away to avoid the chronic snorer. Like that guy, he looks like he might snore. A lot.
After doing BRAN, for so many years, I developed an appreciation for how the country was built. Towns were built by the railroad. Which might explain why every blessed night, you hear the trains as they come through. And then another train, and yet another. Sometimes, all night long. The whistle blows, and then the massive transports go chugging through.
Trains are a blast during the day. A blast of the horn that is. You are pedaling along and one goes by, give them a wave and fist pump downward and they’ll blow their horn for you. It’s like being a kid again. And it happens all while riding your bike and sailing down the highway.
I also bring sleeping pills. I took one every evening. The last night I took two. It worked. I slept seven hours. I knew I’d need it. Friday morning, I got up at four thirty and biked fifty miles, showered, ate lunch and then drove home. That took me ten hours. A very long day.
There’s the zipper alarms. It’s the crack of dawn and you hear zippers opening and closing. People waking up and getting out of their tents. There’s the crunch of bicycle cleats on pavement or gravel. The door of a high school opening and closing. This year, the luggage guy brought his dog, so he’d whistle for him.
Some of the things I learned on these rides, I learned the hard way.
The first time I went on a ride was back in 1983. I didn’t know about bicycle gloves or padding on your handle bars. A few days into the ride, my hands were completely numb and swollen. My parents and sister met me on the last morning of the ride. We had breakfast together. My hand wouldn’t operate correctly. In order to eat, I had to hold my fork like a shovel. I laid it across my palm. I took a mound of breakfast and shoveled it in. I noticed my sister staring at me. She said, “That’s the most pathetic thing, I’ve ever seen in my life.”
She was wrong, the most pathetic thing, would be if I made her feed me.
So, back to why I love it. You pedal along. You move through the country and see the sights. Maybe, it’s a barn or a corn field. Sometimes, there’s a little kid standing on a corner clapping for you. An elderly person peeking out of their garage counting every biker. Maybe, they wave and shake their head.
Last year, a family stood by, and passed out free water. The mom told me her dad did it thirty years ago when BRAN went through, she wanted to pass along the tradition to her kids.
I saw some really cool trees this year. I passed a Sunflower farm. Of course, you also pass lots of cows and horses. Windmills, farm houses, dilapidated barns and broken down homes. Ghost towns and thriving little communities. Dairy Twists that serve you through a screen window. You can feel the air conditioning inside while they take your order and hand you a dipped ice cream cone, or a malt or sundae. You talk to your fellow bikers. When you leave, call to your new friends, “Have a good ride.” There’s always the way we say it, because they know it too. They feel it, that rush, that joy. A good ride is like no other. A good ride is a great ride. That’s why we do it. To tell your fellow biker, have a good ride, is the same as saying, have a good day, have a good one, peace be with you, my peace I leave you.
You see things up close, that includes road kill. Look away and keep riding. You hit a hill. Not just any hill, a whopper, so start planning. Going down a hill, you feel giddy inside and maximize the force. Hunker down low and sail that wind. Sure, you’re riding a bike, but you’re also sailing and flying. All at the same time. The force carries you up a wee bit, so start pedaling. With any luck, you barely have to pedal to make it to the top. Force yourself up, and then low and behold another hill awaits you, and you do it all over again.
The first time, I went on one of these rides, I looked at my map. Oh, hey. There I am in this town, and then I passed through another town, and I moved from this spot to the next. On. My. Bike.
Occasionally, you meet a guy dressed in overalls. He has a toothpick stuck in his mouth and he takes a long drawl and asks, “Now, did you do the WHOLE thing?” You bet, I did, mister. You bet, I did.
The first time, I did a state long bike ride, I spoke to a lady on a Thursday. “You sure look tired,” she said. I nodded yes, I am tired and then I started to cry. She apologized and said she was sorry it had been so rough. “You don’t understand,” I told her. “It’s almost over.”