“Eastbound and down, loaded up and truckin’…”
— Song lyrics by Jerry Reed, from the 1977 film Smokey and The Bandit
Two years ago today, I remember exactly what I was doing.
It was a beautiful Sunday in Southern California, and I, along with 14 of my new best friends, was embarking on a 3,130-mile, 65-day bicycle journey from San Diego to St. Augustine, Fla.
All 15 of us had gathered the previous Friday evening at the Point Loma Hostel, our lodging in San Diego, for a meal and a chance to meet. After all, for the next 65 days we’d be sharing meals and living space along with the pleasures and pains of a transcontinental bicycle trip. We’d get to know each other like family — strengths, weaknesses, eccentricities, special talents.
Certain rituals have to be performed before the start of a such a coast-to-coast bike journey. So on Saturday morning we all rode our bikes to Ocean Beach for the baptism of our rear wheels in the Pacific Ocean. The ceremony was carried out with little fanfare, but with a lot of picture-taking, amid surfer dudes, skateboarders, dog walkers and sunbathers. What they thought of 15 cyclists dipping the wheels of their fully loaded bikes into the ocean I can only guess.
The wheel-dipping was followed by a shakedown ride to Cabrillo Point at the southern tip of the Point Loma Peninsula. It was a tough uphill slog with nearly 50 pounds of gear on the bike, but it was a good test for the next day’s start of the trek to Florida and the Atlantic Coast.
On Sunday morning, pumped up by the start of a splendid adventure but filled with apprehension about the long road ahead, we pushed off from the Point Loma Hostel. It was the first crank of the pedals on a journey that would take us along the southern edge of the United States, through California along the border with Mexico, and then on to Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and finally Florida.
In addition to our personal gear — tent, sleeping bag, clothing, tools, etc. — we all had to carry bits and pieces of cooking gear and supplies for our daily meals. Cathy Blondeau, from Canada, carried a large cooking pot perched upright on her rear rack. On one side of the pot, the side that would be seen by passing motorists, she used a Sharpie to print the word “Florida,” with an arrow pointed forward. On the other side of the pot, she wrote “San Diego,” with an arrow pointing backward.
Sunday’s ride took us steadily up hill, past Qualcomm Stadium where we had to dodge the traffic of fans arriving for a San Diego Chargers game, and into the Laguna Mountains.
The distance for that first day was 43 miles to a campsite a couple miles east of the town of Alpine. All went well, except that the blazing sun and heavy-duty climbing pushed one of our riders from Europe to the verge of heat exhaustion.
At the outset of our trip and throughout, we frequently encountered curious onlookers who asked such questions as: Where are you going? How long will it take? Where’s the support vehicle? You mean you don’t have a sag wagon? You have to carry everything on the bike and camp in the desert?
The reactions to our answers ranged from heartfelt wishes of good luck, to looks that said, “You’ve got to be crazy!”
At Cabrillo Point on the day before our start, a woman out for a recreational ride on her bike, stopped and queried me about the gear I was hauling and our destination. After I outlined the contours of our journey, she just looked at me for about five seconds, mouth agape, before finally saying: “I’m wordless. I just can’t imagine that?”
I, too, sometimes had trouble imagining it during the months of training and preparation for the trip. And now, with a whole continent ahead of us, it was finally happening.
Eastbound and down, loaded up and truckin’!
I remember it like it was yesterday!
NOTE: If anyone wishes to read a chronicle of this journey, go to the Archives listing on the right side of this blog and click on “September 2009.” Previous blog posts, dating back to April 2009, deal with the training and preparations for the trip.