“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
— Lao-tzu, Chinese philosopher (604 B.C.-531 B.C.)
To paraphrase Lao-tzu, a bicycle journey of 3,160 miles begins with the first crank of the pedals on a Pacific Ocean beach near Point Loma in San Diego. It will end 65 days later — Lord willing and the creeks don’t rise — when the bicycle’s front wheel is lapped by a wave from the Atlantic Ocean in St. Augustine, Fla.
I’m fascinated by stories about journeys, whether by bike or boat, foot or car. But I’m equally fascinated by the preparations for journeys. And that’s why, during the past couple months, I’ve been preoccupied with the planning for a transcontinental bicycle trip beginning Sept. 18 in San Diego.
I’ve been assembling and sorting gear, making sure that every item is light enough and small enough to carry on a bicycle and will serve a needed, or dual, purpose; buying online a few must-have items, such as a Kevlar cord to serve as a spoke in an emergency; poring over books and maps, harvesting factoids on the places we’ll pass through; figuring out how best to keep an online journal as our small caravan progresses across the country; and riding 20-30 miles — sometimes longer — nearly every day to hit a target of 3,000 training miles before the start of the trip.
Preparation for this cross-country trip actually began last summer, in advance of a September bicycle trip through southern Illinois. That trip, the Illinois Great Rivers Ride, was organized by the state to promote tourism and was regally catered, including, of course, the provision of trucks to carry all our gear.
I knew that I would be undertaking a cross-country journey soon after my retirement. I just didn’t know yet when it would be or what route it would follow. So I forswore the use of the trucks, carried all of my gear, and used that ride in southern Illinois, with its formidable hills, as a shakedown cruise for the transcontinental journey. The bike, rider and gear performed, I believe, better than expected.
Good planning and preparation, I’ve learned over the years as a foreign correspondent and bicycle tourist, ensure the success of a reporting trip or bike journey. Some people — and I hope I’m not one of them — seem to derive more pleasure from preparing for a trip than actually doing it.
A former journalist colleague and bike rider, for example, was a master of trip planning.
He plotted the itinerary, set the distances for each day and made all of the reservations for lodging for a 1994 bicycle trip from Missoula, Mont., to Jackson Hole, Wyo.
He knew, for example, that the proprietors of a motel in Ennis, Mont., were Texas transplants and would afford a warm welcome to a group of bike riders from their home state. They did. My friend also knew, that to be assured of a luncheon reservation at Old Faithful Lodge in Yellowstone National Park in July, we’d have to book it in February.
As the poet Robbie Burns wrote, “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft a-gley.” So I’m sure there will be glitches in my preparations and I’ll probably forget something really important. But I aim to be as ready as humanly possible for that first crank of the pedals in San Diego.