“One travels more usefully when alone, because he reflects more.”
— Thomas Jefferson, third U.S. president, 1743-1826
During these dreary days of mid-winter, I’ve been reading the blogs of other “transcons,” as cross-country cyclists are sometimes called.
This is partly to relive vicariously my own transcontinental journey last fall, but also to learn how to deal with problems on the road that other cyclists had, just in case I ever undertake another such adventure.
One of the most interesting journals, in part because of all the troubles he had at the outset, is that of Steve Garufi, who rode solo 2,465 miles from San Diego to Jekyll Island, Ga., Feb. 1-March 16, 2008.
In addition to the usual problems — flat tires and snarling dogs — Garufi encountered a series of difficulties in the first 10 days of his trip that would have tried the patience of Job.
On Day 3, during a long desert stretch of 82 miles between Brawley and Blythe, Calif., Garufi’s rear derailleur snapped off, leaving him stranded and forced to hitchhike. On Day 8 in Phoenix, his bike was stolen, requiring the purchase of a new bike to continue the trip. On Day 10, between Phoenix and Florence Junction, Ariz., he created a kink in his chain while removing the rear wheel to fix a flat, making the bike unridable. That problem required a phone call to a friend in Phoenix to drive Garufi back to a bike shop in the Arizona capital to have the chain untangled.
But Garufi rode alone, because, as he put it on his Web site, “I am long past the strategy of waiting for someone to accompany me on an adventure.”
“Seriously, who would actually go with me?” he asked. “Some friend? In my entire lifetime, I know just one person who has talked about bicycling across America with earnestness, and this man is in his upper 40’s with a wife, three kids and a demanding job that will keep him years away from attempting to achieve his dream. … Sitting around and twiddling my thumbs as I wait for someone else to muster the courage to make things happen is rarely my style.”
But riding alone brought its own set of frustrations. “Out here, it was just myself and the road, my bike and my body,” Garufi wrote. “I simply did not encounter many people. Imagine spending 5-7 hours every day on a bike on [the] side of the highway without speaking to another person. I saw hardly any bicyclists for much of my 45-day journey … My social interaction was limited to when I sought some kind of service, mainly eating at a restaurant, buying supplies in a store or paying for a motel room. Lastly, being exhausted after a day’s ride did not provide much ambition to seek meaningful connections either.”
Garufi was stranded for two days in the tiny town of Reserve, N.M., because of snow in the mountains ahead, and he wrote poignantly of the loneliness of the solo long-distance cyclist:
“I definitely went a little crazy in this small town with not much to do besides eat, sit in my motel room and surf the Internet at the town library. I visited the nearly empty Reserve Library three times over the two-day period and after the second visit, I introduced myself out of self-consciousness.”
He told the woman at the front desk: “Just to let you know, I’m a visitor here. I’m one of those people riding my bike across America and I’m stuck here today because of the bad weather. I just wanted you to know this so you don’t think I’m a vagrant or anything.”
Such online journals are valuable for anyone contemplating a cross-country bicycle trip.
Garufi’s is one of the most insightful and instructive that I’ve come across, and it’s rich with photos taken along the way. Check it out.