Thursday, May 5, 2011

Oh, The Mentality!

Bicycle touring all by yourself can begin with a special sort of mental torture. Know that and be ready for it. I did, and I was. 

Around mile 40, I wasn't sure if my legs could get me through the day. I missed Tara, and I started to question myself. Why is it that I strive to put myself in these difficult situations? Is it textbook masochism, or a forgetful stupidity? My grand romanticisms play me like a marionette.

I laid on my back beside a tiny white shack in Maryland that said it was a church. I looked up at the clouds and put an arm over my eyes when the sun shined through. A crusty layer of salt had formed on my arms and face. My eyelids were salty, and to touch them was to risk getting salt in my eyeballs. 

I need to grow up. I need water; I need food. I have food, but first I need more water or I can't eat it. I'm at half a bottle, and that ain't right.

I've heard many accounts of solo bicycle tours through friends and acquaintances. A good portion of solo trips devolve into a level of insanity. Let me give you a quick synopsis of my personal history with this game.

In 2005, I was much less experienced. With everything. I thought it would be a great idea to go on a cross country bicycle tour. I was right, but I made a classic major mistake. I overloaded my Mongoose Crossway 450 hybrid to the point that I could barely lift it. I had no idea how lonely and disheveled I would feel after my first day of riding. I called in a reconnaissance team before the sun went down. My parents and Shelly pulled me out of Amish country a couple hours later.

Later that year, I began a solo tour down the Atlantic coast. On the first night, I drank Steele Reserve and ate a can of luke warm beans in the woods behind a church. The next day I arrived in Rehoboth Delaware where I called Shelly and bawled my eyes out. So lonely. I took a bus home, and couldn't have been happier to drink beer and watch live music that night.

In 2007, I planned a trip well in advance. Nat took time off to join in on the ride, and the trip had some great moments and memories. We rode for about a month, going from Philadelphia to Montreal, and spending plenty of time in Burlington Vermont. Nat's bicycle was stolen and it was time for me to continue alone. We'd already talked about contingencies, and this was in the playbook. Solo bicycle travel was always what I wanted to do, but I didn't have a track record of success.

We parted ways the next day. Nat invited me out to lunch, but my heart was beating heavily and all I could think about was getting out of town. It was as though I thought I could outrun an anxiety attack if I pedaled fast enough. 

I bought the best bivy sack that I could find (GoreTex and everything), and I mailed our tent back home. Then the scramble began. I ended up doing back-to-back century rides, even after getting food poisoning during the second day. I ended up delirious and malnourished before deciding that Val D'or Quebec was far enough. I took a bus home, and still have yet to see Nemaska. I considered this trip a success. I rode for at least a week or two alone, and knew that with this experience I could only do better the next time. I still wanted there to be a next time.

I remember my next tour as a happy success. I traveled north again with the loose goal of reaching Nemaska. It is well documented on this same blog. I rode my favorite bicycle, my Diamondback Outlook. It's not a bicycle which touring experts recommend, but I wanted to ride the one that makes me happy. I rode long distance on inexpensive equipment, and I had a grand time. I met the best people, saw the best scenery, and I think about it all the time. I could have been more disciplined about nourishment and booze-intake, but the adventure can't be replicated and I am still proud of the undertaking.

Now I am ready for a new adventure. I'm riding the Diamondback again, and I'm ready to capture the beautiful moments that we miss in our daily stagnant lifestyles. I know these trips can be bonkers to get started. I know there will be times when I feel beat up and abused by sun, weather, traffic and soreness. I'm at peace with it. We'll see where I get, and what it looks like when I'm there.

If you're planning a trip, don't don't be ashamed if you end up lonely and bawling on a cell phone, or have an anxiety attack over a broken spoke. We're humans, and these trips have high emotional stakes for some of us. You need to cross through the adversity to get to the sweet parts. Take it slow. Don't rush. Remember to eat properly.

Back to the church. Back to today. I was laying on my back feeling lonely and overwhelmed. The morning started cold, and the winds were strong and gusty. I cussed and strained as I dragged myself up hill after hill moving at a walking pace. I was out of shape, and the rolling hills were beating me up. I was glad to just be sore with no sharp pains.

I sat up in the grass and drank some more water. I threw a leg over my bicycle and continued.

My destination was Baltimore. As beat up as I felt, I was only halfway there. I crawled along and ticked off the miles. I had a bag of food, and once I refilled my water bottles at a Royal Farms, I began to open aluminum foil packets and bring out the goods. I packed two small tacos with rice, beans, and some roast beef. I brought hot sauce, and I made sure to use it. Miles later, I had a tough PBJ that I made four days ago. Delicious. My wonderful mother snuck in a couple ham and cheese sandwiches made on dinner rolls. These by far were the best thing in the food bag. I bought a 24oz Coke to go along, and that brought my total daily expenditure to exactly $1.49.


Baltimore! Mi amor! To see the name of the city in bold colorful print was a welcome sight. It was on an underpass as I entered the city limits. I did it. I thought I might snap a muscle first, but I made it, and I actually felt pretty good. 80 miles was a tough ride, but I had that in me and more.

I made it to my host's home just as she was about to leave. She races sailboats in the inner harbor, and I was welcome to hang out and watch. A dinner shindig was included, so I wasn't about to pass up the opportunity. While she raced, I helped set up for the Cinco-de-Mayo-themed after party. There were legit make-your-own tacos, and the margaritas had real live alcohol. I had a few of those, and a couple Modelo's for good measure. Serendipity is one of my favorite words. Having good people to stay with at the beginning of a trip is a fantastic way to start.


gavtek said...

hey man, just wanted to say that it's good to see you posting again and want to wish you success on your current journey. Keep riding and keep writing!

gavtek said...

hey man, just wanted to say that it's good to see you posting again. Wishing you good fortune on your current journey. Keep riding and keep writing!


first time poster, looong time reader