Monday, May 04, 2015

Give me a reason

Right out of college I imagined I would take many long bike tours. First I wanted to ride across the United States. Then: up here, down there, wherever, I just wanted to ramble.

Plans for The Big One kept falling apart, but I did manage a three-week tour from just south of San Francisco to Eugene, Oregon. I've never taken another long tour, for various reasons, but I did come away from that one believing that three weeks is a great length. For the first few days you're getting settled in. In that middle week, you feel like you've been on the road forever and you see no end. It is your whole life. In the last week, the destination comes closer. You want to get there. You whittle the distance down. But still you have all that time behind you to give you strength and confidence.

At the moment, the shop schedule gives me three days off in a row. I do notice the loss of income, but I still wouldn't trade the three-day span. The middle day is a lot like that middle week. It has a timeless peace no two-day weekend can provide.

Thinking about the three-day span got me thinking about the three-week tour. That's when I realized that my one long tour was actually transportational. The other rider was doing an exchange year at the University of Oregon during her undergraduate career at Rutgers. Neither of us had the time or the budget to ride from New Jersey to Oregon, but she came up with the idea of riding from San Francisco. I was thinking about staying out there, so we were both relocating, not taking a mere vacation trip. It was point-to-point. Granted we could have done it faster and more cheaply by Greyhound. But we did want to get a tour out of it.

I never got around to riding another tour largely because I needed a better reason than just because I wanted to have done it. Maybe that will become a good enough reason before I'm too infirm to pull one off. Maybe I'll include a bike segment in my final crawl into the wilderness.

Riding in general, I need a reason. A cyclist has to interact with other road users, all of whom have an opinion about whether any sweaty mouth breather ought to be out there in the way. As much as I enjoy cycling, no ride is pure carefree fun because every ride brings the possibility of unpleasant interaction. It may be a low probability, but the chances are never ZERO. They're seldom even close to zero. So I calculate the value of a given ride against the cost of going without it.

This constant exposure to hostile opinion was a strong motive for taking up backpacking for my recreational journeys. I'll take natural hazards over human moods swings any day. But the bike is too good to give up completely.

When I toyed with racing I still commuted by bike. Mistakenly, I thought other road users would respect an athlete in training, which would excuse my long rambles in the countryside, and would respect a working man going to make his contribution to the economy, which would excuse my commuting. Turns out no one really picks up on those nuances. They just see some idiot slowing people down.

Racing was easy to give up. Commuting not so much. I'll defend that turf because everyone should have the right to try to live without being shackled to a motor vehicle. Racers have a right to the road, too, but their activity is consumerist. Touring is actually less consumerist because it blends with all sorts of transportation, education and cultural possibilities.

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