Since my sister, Pat, picked me up at Quoddy Head, ME, I’ve been somewhat lost. After three months of daily cycling, it feels weird to sit still and not be checking weather apps and Google maps regularly throughout the day as I peddle country roads. It is going to be an adjustment to get back to “normal,” whatever that is.
I have been mulling over a synthesis of my trip, what it all means and what I take away from it. Here are a few initial observations; I’m sure there will be more with further mulling.
- A long trip – or a big task – is not so daunting if broken up into small, doable pieces. For me, taking one day at a time allowed me to focus on that day’s miles and not dwell on the immensity of the continent.
- It IS a big continent, for sure! I got to appreciate that fact day after day as I slowly worked my way east. One friend has noted that I’ll never look at a map of the U.S. the same again.
- The variety of climates, terrain, farms and forest, along with the people who live across this vast land, offered an ever-changing experience. Each day was an adventure.
- You don’t have to be in Olympic shape to do this kind of trip, or to start out. You can get into shape as you ride!
- Journeys such as this are as much or more mental as physical. Persistence is a key trait to cultivate along the way; others include curiosity, open-mindedness, trust and positive mental attitude.
- Tail winds are almost always good, except when they allow the mosquitos to keep up. Head winds, by contrast, are almost always bad, with the one silver lining that they keep the bugs down. A stiff head wind, greater than 18-20 miles per hour, is worse than climbing over the Rockies. Trust me.
- The wind does not blow consistently west to east. Weather systems tend to move west to east, but the wind blows all over the map, daily, depending on the position of high and low pressure areas.
- Lightening can sneak up on you. You know when the cloud is lurking, but sometimes it is hard to predict when to get off the all-steel bike. A flash-and-bang within a couple seconds is a signal. Seeing the lightening bolt hit the road ahead is like God saying, “Dave, get the hell off that lightening rod!”
- Roads come in all shapes and conditions, as do their shoulders or lack thereof. There is no clear preference between a country road with low traffic but no shoulder and a busy highway with a wide shoulder.; both have their plusses and minuses. Busy highways with no shoulders are clearly not preferable but are sometimes necessary to take, yet dangerous.
- Most American drivers are surprisingly courteous to bicycles, across all the states; I was pleased at how 98% of drivers would give me plenty of room. I give another 1% of the drivers the benefit of the doubt that they simply didn’t know how to drive with a cyclist on the shoulder.
- About 1% of drivers are jerks. These guys (predominantly) tend to drive black or red pick-up trucks with over-sized tires and throaty mufflers, or Jeeps. Logging trucks are right up there, too. Yet none of these guys threw anything at me or knocked me into the ditch, as I’ve heard horror stories about from other cyclists. Maybe it was the American flag I flew off my panniers from Idaho to Maine?
- People are basically nice everywhere, as I noted repeatedly in my posts. Regardless of background or political stipe, Americans (and Canadians in southern Ontario) were uniformly friendly, helpful, curious and caring. This experience was one of the best discoveries of my trip.
- Rural bars and cafes are the social centers of the locals. All eyes turn toward the door when a stranger walks in, then turn back to their drinks and neighbors. But sooner or later one of them will be curious about this stranger, and quickly the whole place is alive with conversation about why someone would ride his bicycle across the country. These interactions were the gold of my trip.
- A sign in a rural cafe speaks volumes about the locale: “Not much happens in a small town, but there sure is a lot to talk about.”
- Angels are everywhere. So many people helped me out across the continent that I lost track. The kindness of strangers is a wonderful thing to experience over and over again, and an amazing antidote to the toxic politics in today’s news.
- Anything is possible if you put your mind, body and heart into it. Set an adventurous challenge, then make it happen. It is a great experience – for the soul as well as the body.
- A parting thought from the Dalai Lama: “Trust leads to happy days and happy lives…. For a happy life, physical well-being is important, but true wellness must include a happy mind.”
- Dave (posted on 8/22/2016, now safely back home in Seattle, wondering what is next…)
(For more summary comments specific to the bicycle ride, see my updated F.A.Q.s.)