When I go out for a bike ride on the weekend, I often go with a group. It’s nice to have people to talk to and to know someone’s there to help out if I get into trouble. But on the other hand, I have to get out of bed and show up on time to start the ride, and at the end of it all I sometimes feel like I’ve just passed a lot of beautiful scenery that I forgot to look at because I was too busy looking at the back of the person in front of me and worrying about maintaining the pace. Partly this is due to the nature and riding style of this group, and partly it’s my own fault.
When I go out for a long ride on my own, I sometimes end up feeling like I’ve had an adventure. This is especially true when I ride in an area I’m not familiar with, or improvise a route. I slow down to look at the scenery. Sometimes I stop to take pictures. If the ride ends up taking far longer than I expected, that makes it feel even more like it was an adventure. It’s a nice feeling even though the “adventure” quotient is actually fairly low. Even if I’m on a new route, I’m generally in an area I’m roughly familiar with, and if something catastrophic were to happen I could always call a friend or family member to come rescue me.
On Sunday I was out on my own for a moderately-difficult 60-mile ride. I hadn’t set out to do anything too ambitious because I wanted to get home with time and energy to deal with some chores. By the time I came into Front Royal after 25 miles, though, I was enjoying the ride and the slightly-nicer-than-it-has-been-lately weather. I had already made one brief detour in search of the “Octopus Slide” (which I never did find, so clearly their idea of “all day!” did not include the middle part of the day). So in search of further adventure I decided I’d extend my ride by getting on Skyline Drive, riding uphill five miles or so to the end of the first big climb, then coming back to continue on my way.
Five miles along Skyline Drive I stopped at the Dickey Ridge visitor center for a food break (and a crappy cellphone picture that I won’t bother posting but I will bother mentioning). While I was there I saw a guy with a loaded-up touring bike (my favorite part: the solar panel strapped across the rear panniers for charging his phone and computer). I asked him how far he was headed, expecting to hear that he was riding the length of Skyline Drive, or maybe Skyline Drive plus the Blue Ridge Parkway. Instead he said (with a distinct Scottish accent) that he was riding to Austin. As in: Texas. This was day three of his 10-week, 2500-mile ride.
I learned that he lives in Brighton (England) and is a fan of American music–country, blues, folk, etc. He’s also a fan of bicycling and felt like he needed an adventure, so he decided to combine the two interests and come tour the parts of the country where the music was born. There isn’t a well-documented and -traveled bike route for this tour (by comparison, there are lots of resources to help you plan a coast-to-coast ride), so he pieced a route together as best he could using Google Maps. He couldn’t tell on Google Maps which roads are paved and which aren’t, so he’ll have to take his chances. He doesn’t seem to know many people in this country, so he doesn’t have much of a support network to draw on if something goes wrong.
After we talked for a bit my own ride for the day was seeming decidedly less adventurous. Rather than turning back as I had planned, I rode a few more miles along Skyline Drive first to make sure I was getting as much as possible out of my day. It even occurred to me to just keep riding until I couldn’t go any further and then figure out what to do next, but that seemed more stupid than adventurous, so I headed back to Front Royal and resumed my original ride, turning in a respectable 75 miles for the day.
As I rode on I realized I hadn’t even gotten the guy’s name, much less asked him if he had a blog where I could follow his progress (everyone has a blog for everything, right?) Fortunately there aren’t a lot of people cycling from Washington to Austin this summer, so 45 seconds with Google was all it took for me to learn that his name is Iain and his blog for the trip is here. Go follow along while you’re waiting for me to do something interesting with my life and write about it.
Oh, there was one bit of extra adventure for me on my ride: toward the end I was shot at by some jackass kid with an air rifle or paintball gun or something like that. No doubt he’ll grow up to be one of those people who thinks it’s funny to throw beer bottles at cyclists or try to run them off the road. Here’s hoping Iain is spared this little part of the American experience.