Were not my friends and relatives counting on me? Hadn't they thrown a wonderful going away breakfast for me?
I, a beaten, dejected, frustrated cross-country bicycle rider was calling it quits. What had begun as a five-week, 2300-mile solo bicycle trip from Pacific Beach to Milwaukee, Wisconsin was ending after only 3-1/2 days at milepost 45 on Arizona’s Interstate 10 — 106 miles west of Phoenix.
There at milepost 45, I had decided to sit down by the side of the road and evaluate the pros and cons of this odyssey.
First — the pros. Were not my friends and relatives counting on me? Hadn't they thrown a wonderful going away breakfast for me, showered me with gifts of M&M’s, gum, self-addressed postcards and ammonia-filled squirt guns? Why, they even broke a bottle of champagne over my back wheel in a magnanimous send-off gesture. How could I explain quitting to them?
Then there was the press coverage. Hadn’t the Pacific Beach Sentinel run an article proclaiming my aspirations to the world? (Sept. 14, last page, between an ad for Deep Throat and Georgina Spelvin in Behind the Green Door. And surely there would be more. Maybe a daily column entitled “Life as Seen through the Spokes of a 50-pound Schwinn Continental as it is “Ridden Cross-Country” or something catchy like that. Yes, fame was imminent.
Then there was the aesthetic pleasure of seeing the USA from behind handlebars rather than safety-plate glass. (Of course, I could have seen more if I had been able to keep the stinging sweat out of my eyes.)
And the chance to be close to nature intrigued me — sleeping out in open fields, no roof over my head or mattress under my body, communicating only with the inhabitants of the idyllic naturalness — the pristine deer, the mellow mouse, the laborious ant. As a neophyte outdoorsman, I wanted to add these pleasures to my experience.
I thought back to my first night in a field near Julian. To say I was tired — having ridden 60 uphill miles from San Diego that day — would be an understatement. Slinking into my sleeping bag at dusk, conscious of every rock and bump under me, I lay looking up into the heavens, contemplating the joys of nature (but never forgetting the many dangers I knew lurked behind every tree, rock and blade of grass.)
With this in mind, I drifted into an uneasy sleep — interrupted only by the crash of a falling leaf as it careened off my sleeping bag. the spine-tingling howl of the poodle up the road, and the pelting blow of dewdrops as they buffeted my head.
So much for the pros. Now for the cons. A number of factors were contributing to my demise: 1) the elements, 2) the trucks, 3) immensity of the desert, 4) boredom, 5) the weight of my vehicle.
First — the elements. I expected it to be hot. and it was. What I didn’t expect was a heavy head wind holding me up. on top of the mercury pushing 105 degrees every day. But that wasn't enough to make me quit.
Second — the trucks. Truck drivers must get their jollies out of passing bike riders as closely as possible. Or maybe they were trying to steal my wallet. Either that or bicyclists have surged ahead of old ladies on truckers' 10 point scale. (You know. 10 for a jogger. 9 for a dog, 3 for a guy in a wheelchair). Anyway, I didn’t enjoy being in season.
Next, the huge desert. Having driven the route previously in a car, I never realized how big the desert was. When all you have to do is push a pedal towards the floor of your car, a large place becomes small. But when you have to push two pedals toward the ground for any length of time, a small place becomes large.
Then there was boredom. Being rather independent, I didn't think lack of companionship would be a problem. But within one and a half-days. I found myself talking to every moving thing I saw. I had a chat with the owner of an Ocotillo Wells restaurant acclaimed as having the “Best Pizza in the West." There was a pleasant talk with a waitress in a Westmoreland cafe who charged me $1.10 for two small Dr. Peppers, and gave the advice that I was crazy. I also wasted many words on my bike — coaxing and cajoling, flattering it with untrue words about how light it was. It answered me only with a squeak (which squoke every second revolution of my pedal for the rest of the trip) that was driving me to talk to myself — and eventually answering.
But the thing that really did me in was the weight of my bicycle. A Schwinn- Continental is not (he lightest of vehicles. Pedaling that 52-pound (with baggage) behemoth felt akin to pedaling a motorcycle. Even cut to the basic essentials, a bike of that immensity has the potential speed of a yak.
After assessing the pros — many of which were cons — as well as the cons, I had reached my decision. At that hot, windy, boring moment out in the Arizona desert beneath a sign proclaiming, “Phoenix — 106. Next Services — 49 miles" I surrendered to the elements.
On the way back to San Diego, as I rode with my beast in the back of a pick-up truck filled with spare automobile engines. I got to thinking.
Granted. I lost this battle. But one battle docs not a war make. So I have already started laying plans for another attempt. If I could cut down my total weight. I could make it. I can not possibly travel any lighter, without violating indecent exposure laws, so the bike’s weight would have to be lessened. This leaves two possibilities: buy a lighter bike or take part of it off, like a wheel: thus making a unicycle. I’m still uncertain which to do, but the potential lame of the latter may be staggering enough to make me try!