East from Arizona
Fifteen years ago, on March 17, 1999, I began a solo transcontinental bicycle ride. Since I stayed in motels at night, I could travel light, following the strictures of John Forester who was determined to persuade Americans to use classic British modes of bicycle touring. I carried most of my gear in a large saddlebag that Forester and his wife manufactured and sold with the label Custom Cycle Fitments. Although that bag wore out under constant use, I bought another one that still satisfies my travel requirements.
On April 6, I reached San Antonio, Texas, where I took a two-week recess to participate in a series of theological conferences. During the dry lands part of the trip, I bicycled 18 days, took two rest days, and covered 1,496 miles. Daily mileage ranged from 49 to 121, with an average of 83 miles per day on the days I biked.
The highest points were the continental divide near Silver City, NM, and Locke Mountain in the Davis Mountains near Fort Davis, TX. Locke Mountain is the site of the McDonald Observatory of the University of Texas from which brief programs about the heavens were broadcast on public radio. Both of these high points are about 6,200 feet above sea level.
Following the recess, I continued the transcontinental ride through the wetlands of East Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida. I finished this second phase of the journey in early May. In fifteen days of cycling, I traveled 1,312 miles, with daily mileage from 55 to 108, and an average of 87 miles per day on the days I rode.
I was 67 years old when I made this solo journey, and it marked an important transition in how I understood myself as a cyclist.
I had been cycling aggressively for twenty-five years and had ridden three long journeys ranging in length from 1,000 to 2,400 miles. On these trips I had traveled with one or two other persons. I had also taken solo journeys, with the longest being an 800-mile trip from Richmond, Virginia, to my home in Indianapolis.
This trip fifteen years ago, however, would be all the way across the country, from San Diego to St. Augustine. Most of the country was unknown to me, but I was confident that my many years of experience, my knowledge of how to keep a bicycle in working order, and my professional identity as clergyman and academician would enable me to make the trip safety and make connections when needed.
Here are some of the things that I learned on this trip.
- My long-practiced habits as a cyclist continued to be a suitable basis for this kind of trip. I could ride long miles, day after day, despite the fact that as a 67-year-old I was moving into the later stages of my life.
- Solo travel for long distances provides freedom to travel at my own rate, do what I wanted to do, and change my plans as the trip developed. Although I have since then taken long trips with a touring company, solo travel continues to be my favorite mode of doing long bicycle journeys.
- Although my wife had consented to my plans, some of our children doubted that this kind of trip was appropriate for someone my age. Their comments reminded me of the way my siblings and I became increasingly anxious about our mother’s solo travels on Greyhound Buses as she moved into her seventies.
- Episodes along the way made me realize that one aspect of my senior status was that I had less margin of error than when I was younger. If I were to misjudge how long it would take me to reach my destination for the night, I could not be confident that I had sufficient reserves of energy and strength to get to where I needed to be.
- Although I hoped to continue doing solo trips, it was time to explore traveling with bicycle touring companies. By traveling with others, I could probably keep going despite age-related limitations.
To commemorate the anniversary of this trip, I have revised the travel essay that describes the western portion of my solo southern tour.
With new gears lower than I had ever used, my classic Mercian bicycle was boxed for the flight to San Diego where, I soon would embark upon my solo cross-country trip to St. Augustine. My wife had consented to my plans, but apparently I had not explained them to our children until now—March 14, 1999—three days before the trip would begin.
Neither of our sons felt any need to respond to my email outlining the details, but our daughters phoned, two with panic in their voices. “Dad, you can’t bicycle across the whole country all by yourself. You’re 67 years old!” The third sister responded: “He’s done this all his life. Why worry now?” With my assurance that I would be carrying good maps, intended to stay in motels, and would phone home every night, their anxiety seemed to subside. Read more. . .Dry Lands on the Southern Tour