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.
Stuart Knoles August 29, 2010 at 1:59 pm
Now, that is how to use the body.
Jimmy August 29, 2010 at 2:03 pm
sometimes the fastest way to a fun time is to slow down.
you keep on pedaling
Bryon August 29, 2010 at 2:19 pm
keep takin’ your sweet time… enjoy
G.E. August 29, 2010 at 2:52 pm
What a beautiful way to look at life in general, even leaving bicycling out of the equation. We all look at things differently, and some of us enjoy the journey at a slower place to take in all of those moments that will never be recaptured.
ethan August 29, 2010 at 3:15 pm
Andy August 29, 2010 at 4:30 pm
It may feel like defense, but I’m sure you are planting ideas in a few racers’ heads too.
PS: From your title ‘shiftless bums’, I was ready for a good story about Carrboro NC, haha!
Maggie August 29, 2010 at 5:23 pm
Cheers to that! Very well written. That’s one of the things I love most about riding. There’s so much to see, and so many inspiring people to meet when you are free and open on a bike. You don’t get that cooped up in a vehicle. And you don’t get that speeding by at 20mph on your bike either.
Alphonso August 29, 2010 at 6:42 pm
Very well put. I been stopped bye alot of roadies myself, and the first thing is “Wow how much stuff do you have and what is your weight”. I just ask them what would you carry if you sold everything and decided to travel bye Bicycle. But like you there’s no time limit of where you have to be or it’s not like your in a race. Most people that tour across the country only have a couple to 3 months off of work to do so. I rushed across the northern states in 2 months but I wanted to see the Pacific ocean. I hate to see what people have to say when I ship to Europe this spring with the normal panniers, and a bob trailer. Hey I want my back pack and hicking boots.
But them racers are never going to see what we see. There to busy looking down at the road with there race position.
Mark August 29, 2010 at 8:02 pm
I think what you guys are doing, and the way you are doing it, is inspiring. When I grow up, again, I want to be just like you. The meandering life is the life for me. You’ve taught me things about my own state that I would never have known from any established route. I can’t wait to get to the Saxapahaw General Store. Thanks for introducing it to me.
tania and jon August 29, 2010 at 8:22 pm
where’s the “like” button?! 🙂
Willy Theodorus August 30, 2010 at 8:53 am
Very well written, Russ.
Ryan Good August 30, 2010 at 4:23 pm
Amen, brother! You guys continue to inspire me. By the by, I am staying with Carl and Beth next week, and I suspect your name will come up around the campfire! We’ll think of you both fondly and look forward to seeing you when you’re back out this way. Thanks for sharing your adventure with all of us readers.
Ryan and Shannon
Steve Cifka August 30, 2010 at 5:25 pm
Amazing Russ and Laura. I caught your presentation as you began in Portland last summer. Been following you ever since. You have changed my life from watching you have the courage to grab on, act on, and savor what most matters to you. Bravo, thank you, and happy, happy travels.
Whittlin' Will October 11, 2010 at 3:58 pm
In my whittling, I SAVOR the time I spend with my block of wood & pocketknife. Others go faster, but do they get as much from it??? I think not! Same applies to you. You will get the most out of biking the way you are doing it, not the racers. Each has it’s place of course, but I’ll take a pleasure ride over a exhausting one any time. Peddle on!! :))
Daniel young October 23, 2010 at 2:32 pm
I donated all of my “stuff” to Salvation Army and climbed onto the back of my pack mule. ( my LHT ) I’m off to see America.
The first thing people want to know, is how many miles a day do I cover? “Well, that always depends on how many coffee shops I stop at or how many people I stop and talk to. The most has been 112 and the least was a. -7. the town (Pierre SD) had a coffee shop with the most amazing cinnamon rolls that 7 miles out of town my great fear took hold. The fear that I would never find a cinnamon roll like that again. So I turned around and went back. I stayed another day
orlando seo October 26, 2010 at 9:44 pm
NUTS!I wrote a really long response to your article but my internet cut out and I lost it all! Oh well, just wanted to tell you that it was a great post! Great job!
dougP October 28, 2010 at 12:46 pm
A while back my touring buds & I discovered the double digit rule. If our average speed exceeded 10 mph, we must have missed something. On one of my best days ever, the distance from campsite A to campsite B was 25 miles, and it took all day, with 5-10 miles of side trips, coffee stops & casual conversations. You two are doing it right.
Blaine November 27, 2010 at 4:52 pm
Nicely said. Love the line about bicycles are the vehicles to move your curiosity around the country. I get caught up in the mileage thing easily, will re-read this post every time that starts happening!
Dave May 16, 2012 at 4:25 am
I am extremely envious of your lifestyle. My daily ride is NOTHING like yours. Six years ago, when I began working in London, I bought a Brompton M3L to commute with. I have ridden all kinds of two wheelers, both off road and on road and thought riding in London would be a doodle.
After all, there are cycle lanes, bus lanes, and spaces at the front of other traffic for two wheelers to stop at traffic lights. Because I travel early morning and late afternoon, I felt a light front and rear and yellow jacket should take care of visibility.
When I bought my headlight at the bike shop the salesman persuaded me into buying the strobe type. When I asked him if that would impair my night vision he told me they were not to help me to see, but to be seen by the cars ,lorries, and taxi’s that were out to get me.
Since using the (18” wide) cycle lanes I have been forced time and again into the pavement by wide Lorries, and carelessly parked vans have forced me into the rush hour traffic.
Bus lanes are even more perilous as the bendy busses will pull out to pass me and then pull back catching me in an ever tightening parabola of steel, while taxi’s will hover 6” behind one to intimidate one into pulling over.
The spaces at the front at traffic lights are the most terrifying of all. There is usually an assortment of bikes spread out in front of all the heavyweight traffic and all wobble off, jockeying for position as the phalanx of traffic surges around and between the bikes.
What you are describing on your trips are what I expect when i die and go to heaven for being a good boy
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Well, I now know without a doubt that Russ is a very talented photographer. I’ve never seen our driveway look so good!
And I think you’ve captured in words the difference in being destination oriented versus journey oriented. You are very fortunate to both have the same orientation. I’ve traveled with people who were very destination oriented and tried to adhere to strict time tables and schedules. I’m not making a judgment but that just seems to suck all the fun out of touring (okay, I guess I did make a judgment).
Very nice post, Jack Moore