In Defense of the Shiftless Bums
The longer we’ve been riding our bicycles, the less our trip has been about our bicycles for us. They are vehicles to move our curiosity around the country. They are our “means” of transportation but not the “end” of the trip.
We’ve been stopped countless times by serious looking cyclists on the road who are curious about our trip – and all goes well until they ask how long we’ve been on the road. We tell them over a year and then something doesn’t compute. A whole year just to cross the US? We jokingly add that we like to drink a lot of local beer and eat food, to diffuse the confusion. But a whole year?
We are by no means the first to bike across the country and definitely by no means the fastest. For most, riding across the country takes about 2-3 months. We’ve been fortunate enough to have no time constraints, so we are taking full advantage of it. Despite this, on occasion we feel like we have to defend our “slowness.”
We have done many trips where we had a set amount of time to accomplish a set amount of miles to our destination. And while it was enjoyable, we were always wishing for more time to explore the curious shops along the road, to meander down the inviting side road and to talk to people to see what their life is like in this part of the country.
We are traveling with curiosity as our sail, waiting and looking for a promising wind to bring us toward new shores. We aren’t so much concerned with miles as we are with what local delicacies we can find, nor do we care much for heart rate monitors or computers that calculate our cadence.
We’ve yet to find a heart rate monitor that measures to any degree of accuracy the palpitations that occur when you behold a truly breathtaking view that has taken all day to get to. There are no metrics for the kindness of people we’ve experienced. How do you measure or graph the experience of meeting a reader on top of a mountain climb who has shown up with water and dessert? How do you chart or quantify the complete strangers who have opened their homes to us?
Our journey will not likely produce an Excel sheet that will impress Chris Carmichael. But we can tell you where the best pie can be found between Austin and FortWorth. We can tell you about a small ramshackle ranch built by a cowboy who had some hard luck and is trying to find redemption. He’ll let you stay there for $15. We can tell you about an 80 year old man with a cancerous nose who lives in a small dying border town with dirt roads and a dog named “bear” who will let you camp on his lawn and give you a shot of whiskey.
Every year cyclists ride their hearts out in the mountains to win a yellow shirt. This post is for our fellow explorers on bicycle who are riding for no greater purpose than to see something beautiful or be moved by some human interaction. There are no metrics for this sort of riding. There is no colored shirt to be won at the end of the ride.
We are in awe of speedy transcontinental crossings, but not every tour has to be that way. You must choose, early on, if you want to test yourself physically or if you want to absorb the local cultures. You cannot do both.
Our choice should be pretty obvious by now to our faithful readers. We’ll camp two nights in a row at the same spot if the sunset is beautiful and the fishing is good. We’ll cut our day short if we strike up a conversation with a friendly stranger and get invited to their house. The Great Spreadsheet of our trip will be rather dull and boring, showing an average of 10mph a day….maybe 12mph on a day with a tailwind.
We wake up every morning not knowing quite what to expect because we don’t quite know where we are going. Our plan was not to plan and it takes great discipline to do that.