On bicycles, getting there is what really counts

The trip or the destination? Which is better? Crazyguyonabike (aka Joe Culpepper) is proving once again that when traveling on bicycles getting there is more important than the place you get to.

Joe and his friend Guy Wyche, are bicycling across the middle section of the United States, from Yorktown, Virgina, to Astoria, Oregon, using maps by Adventure Cycling as their guide. Loaded for camping at night, they are crusing along at sixty to seventy miles a day, with a rest day about once a week.

Current projection is that they will reach Eugene, Oregon, during the first week of August, where I plan to join the tour for two or three days. I owe it to Joe, since cycling is one of the things I helped him learn thirty years ago when he and his wife were students at the seminary where I was teaching.

When Joe retired from his active career in the ministry, he announced that in the summer he would bicycle across the country. In a few days, barring unforeseen events, he will complete the journey.

Reading the posts in which Joe is chronicling their trip, I understand even better than before why a trip by bicycle is such an interesting, challenging, and satisfying experience.

Day after day you travel through ordinary places and see ordinary people doing what they do every day. In all kinds of places, you meet a succession of American people being themselves.

A long bicycle trip brings a high sense of exhilaration—because you are doing this yourself. Your muscle, your resourcefulness, your resilience, your resolve. Much of the time, mind over matter. Exhilaration melds into pride of personal achievement and joy that sometimes edges into bliss.

These qualities arise, in part, because the trip is so long, the mountain grades so steep, the terrain so varied, the weather so unpredictable and always beyond control. Much of the time, the scenery and companionship help the miles slip by unnoticeably. Yet, there are long periods of steady, unending, butt and mind numbing miles, when it is all you can do to keep the pedals turning over and over, eighty times a minute, never failing.

The sun so hot! The rain so cold! The wind so harsh and overwhelming! “And miles to go before I sleep.”

Joe and Guy are traveling on one of Adventure Cycling’s most popular routes, which means that hundreds of cyclists are crusing along these same quiet roads. You see one another at a camp site some evening, exchange experiences from your rides, and the next day continue your separate journeys, never to see one another again.

Except that you do. Sometimes the next night. Or a couple of days later when you find one another huddled under the same shelter during a rain storm, or a week later at breakfast in some diner where you discover that you’d slept the night on opposite sides of the same camp ground.

The locals befriend you with pleasant comments on the road, hospitality at bike hostels set up in churches, invitations to camp in the back yard and the use of toilet and shower just inside the back door. They offer you a lift in their pickup when you break down and need a ride to town where you hope there’s a bike shop able to get you going again.

Hazards abound. Sharp things that split tires open, rangers announcing that bears are on the road up ahead, falls that cause scraped legs. Cyclists can get sick along the way and need medical help. Yet the amazing thing about trips like this is that you the  cyclist discover how strong you are and how much you depend upon everyone anyway. You gain confidence in yourself while at the same time you realize how vulnerable you are, how much you depend upon the systems of civilization to keep yourself going.

No matter how much you enjoy the open road, you begin to dream of home where the people you love surround you and everything is exactly where it’s supposed to be (most of the time, anyway).

Crazyguyonabike? Yes, riding across America is a crazy thing to do, but it’s a craziness that leads to sanity.

And the way I’ve been feeling lately, it will soon be time for me to load a few things in my saddlebag and ride off to “a place that the Lord will show me.”


Photos from crazyguyonabike.com.


One Response to On bicycles, getting there is what really counts

  1. Keith,
    Nice job capturing the overall feeling and wonder of a long bike trip, the experience of cycling & meeting fellow cyclists along the way. No doubt about it being an incomparable experience, as you well know! Thanks!

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