I had a bicycle since I was 8 or thereabouts. It was a one-speed balloon-tire cruiser bought at J.C. Penney; by modern standards, a clunker, but I loved it. I used it to get around my childhood hometown, Old Forge PA, every summer. But that was just routine transportation, not an adventure. There was one trip I took on my childhood bike that qualifies, though...
In Scranton, the "big" city a few miles from Old Forge, there was this store called Auto World. It sold slot car racing cars and supplies. I first heard about it from ads in magazines or comic books I read as a kid, and sent away for a catalog; of course, I ended up receiving many catalogs... I used to dream about all the stuff they showed in the catalog, and wanted it so I could beat my brothers in the slot-car races. But I never got around to actually ordering anything; somehow, the hassle of getting Mom or Dad into the process didn't seem worthwhile to satisfy such a clandestine desire.
In 1969, I found out that the family was going to move to Long Island. No longer would Auto World be just a short distance away. So I decided to go there myself. One Saturday late in spring, I hopped on my bicycle and started riding. By that age, spending all day out on a weekend wasn't any big deal, so I didn't have to announce where I was going. For the first time, I actually rode my bike out of Old Forge, and into Taylor (the next town north), then Scranton. This was along Kaiser Road, a rather heavily-travelled road, so this was no small thing for a kid.
The actual store, after all that effort, was an anticlimax. The stuff that looked so exciting in the catalog didn't seem anywhere near as impressive in person. The big 1/24 scale slot racing track (much bigger than our little HO cars) was impressive, but playing that game was way out of my socio-economic bracket at the time, so I had to be content with being impressed from afar. I did buy a couple of small items (I had to have something to show for the trip), and rode home.
Anyhow, that's it; no recriminations, no great revelations. Just a big day out by himself for a kid.
After the Penney's cruiser, I owned two other bicycles. On Long Island, I had a five-speed lighter-weight bike, which I used to get to friends' houses and so forth. And in 1976, while living in Central Square, Cambridge, I briefly had a Fuji 10-speed (until some unspeakable wretch broke into the house and took it). I didn't take any really memorable trips on either of those bikes, however.
In 1984, while working for LMI, I got the urge to get another bicycle. I did some reading (a dangerous pastime, I know), and was impressed by the advertising and press for some new bicycles being made by Cannondale - the first affordable large-tubing aluminum bikes. (Similar bikes had been pioneered by Klein, but theirs were much more expensive. And affordable is relative; these things cost $600 in 1984, the equivalent of $1000 or so now.) Besides the advantages of stiffness and light weight, I was tempted by the prospect of beating the main problem of bike maintenance as a kid - keeping the rust off the bike - once and for all. (I didn't know enough to realize that all quality bicycles by then had alloy wheels, so the part of the bike with the biggest rust problem was already solved.) Anyhow, I wanted a 'Dale, it felt good when I tested it, and I could afford the thing, so I bought one. I really wanted the maroon, but I would have had to wait a month for it, so I settled for a blue one instead.
Not too long after that, I left LMI. (The job-as-total-lifestyle was burning me out, among other things.) So I had a lot of time on my hands that summer. I started riding. A lot. It was so much easier and more fun on my new 'Dale than on any other bicycle I had ever ridden... So, by the time September came around, I decided to try something extreme: ride in a century (100 mile bike ride).
You have to understand that I have never considered myself at all athletic. The race goes to the swift, and so forth - it sure didn't go to me. As a kid, I was usually among the last chosen for teams. Of course, there was all that bike riding I did - but I never thought of that as athletic, just as a way of getting around. If you had tried to tell me, back in June of 1984 or any earlier time, that I would willingly get on a bicycle for over eight hours (I'm a plugger on the bike, not a racer) and ride 100 miles, I would have said you were crazy.
But, anyway, there I was. I had read some things about how to go about doing such a ride, and I had ridden as much as 50 miles in a day already, so I wasn't completely unprepared. Still - 100 miles! A magic and scary number. Having to be at the starting point at 7am (which meant being in the car before 6) didn't help, either.
I won't pretend I had an easy time of it. At the beginning, I felt very strong, and got caught up in the excitement of being with a lot of riders. At one point, I made a bad mistake; I tried to ride along with a paceline for a while, but forgot that I was on a touring bike (low bottom bracket and wide pedals) and they were on racers; going around a turn, I caught a pedal and bent it. So I had to ride the last 75 miles with a noticeably-bent pedal. Later, the miles got to me (as did the lack of eating - I didn't know better). But I finished, in about 8:20, and I was very happy and proud of myself for having done it.
I was in the middle of the hiatus in my relationship with Marian. I had unaccustomed amounts of time on my hands. So I went on a lot of bike rides that spring with the Charles River Wheelmen.
During one of my bike store visits, I came across a book: Bicycling the Atlantic Coast. For whatever reason, that idea caught my fancy. Riding the entire coast would have been more distance and time than I was prepared for, but I found a lesser goal to try out: riding up the coast of Maine. I followed the route in the book, except for the day I missed a turn and got lost.
So I went out and got full touring gear; a second set of panniers, a low-rider rack for the front, lots of spare tires and tubes. (Not enough spares, as it turned out.) I already had a backpacking tent and sleeping bag, so I didn't have to buy those things. I tested the touring setup a couple of times on CRW weekend rides, just going on a weekend ride with all the panniers and stuff to make sure it all worked.
When I left Boston, I hadn't figured out exactly how far I would ride. I had never done a ride even close to this length before, so I didn't know how my body would respond to all those miles of fully-loaded touring day after day. I just figured I would get an idea of how much to attempt after I had been on the road for a few days. I did better than I expected, so I decided to try to press for a pretty extreme goal: riding to Canada. The route in the book didn't go that far, so I simply followed Route 1 along the coast after reaching the end of the book route.
I had one really miserable day along the way. The day before was the day I had gotten lost, so I did more miles, and more difficult miles, than I had planned. (Maine gets hillier away from the coast, and I had to get back to the coast before ending my riding because that's where the campgrounds are.) I spend a miserable buggy night at Loon Pond Campground (or something like that). The next morning, I discovered that I had a flat tire. I tried to repair it with my last spare tube, and ruined the valve stem fussing with the stupid frame pump. (I hate frame pumps...) So I had to walk the bike out to the highway (about a mile) and try to get a ride to civilization. In pouring rain - naturally, this was the only day of the entire tour that it rained worth mentioning. After an hour or so in the rain, I got a ride to the nearest town big enough to have a bike shop (at least 20 miles away), and got dropped off there.
I spent a lot of time hanging out in the store - it was still pouring rain, and the prospect of going out and riding more - even in rain gear - just didn't have any appeal. I got the store mechanics to change the tube for me; I was so tired of it by then! The rain showed no sign of stopping, however, so I eventually had to go back out and brave it some more. I then discovered that, on top of everything else, there just wasn't any spring in my legs - between the hard riding the previous day and the rather demoralizing morning, I just didn't have anything left. I managed to ride to the other side of town, and pulled in at a state park with camp sites. (This turned out to be the prettiest camping area I stayed at the entire trip.) Naturally, shortly after I gave up on riding for the day, the rain stopped.
Anyhow, on day 8, I reached Lubec, the easternmost town in the U.S. I stayed there for a night. The next morning, I rode across the bridge to Campobello Island - Canada! I changed a $10 bill (so I could buy lunch and suchlike), rode around the island for a day (blissfully unloaded for a change - I had left a lot of the camp stuff in Lubec), and came back across that night. Mercifully, Customs never bothered me; I had a horrid thought that they would look at the Ziploc bags of white powder and get suspicious. (They were, of course, filled with Cytomax, a sports drink, not anything illegal.)
On the way back, I spent a day in Bar Harbor. I love that little town; all the neat little tourist shops, the beautiful beach, the wooded hills. I stayed for two nights in a youth hostel in a church hall; the folks running it were very friendly, and it was cheap. (Important, that; this was a low-budget trip.)
Finally, on day 13, I pushed on for Montville, ME (between Freedom and Liberty, as she put it), where Gillian (Marian's daughter) lived at the time. I had planned to arrive there on day 14, but I had run out of money and couldn't afford to camp for another night, so I had to push on. That was the hardest day of cycling on the trip - over 80 hilly miles, with a large net uphill - in fact, it was the physically hardest day of cycling I have ever done. (You'll hear about the psychologically hardest day later.) But I didn't have to save anything for later at that point.
I got to Gillian's house, after a bit of a struggle to find it. (The mailbox wasn't very well marked.) I collapsed, and enjoyed dinner with Gillian, her children, and Marian. Later that evening, we went to a contra dance, and I amazed myself by actually being able to dance! I don't think I could have ridden the bike another mile, but dancing uses different muscles.
That was all for the riding - I drove home to Boston with Marian the next day. We stopped for a celebratory dinner at Warren's (a notable restaurant in Kennebunk, just over the river from New Hampshire) on the way home.
I've written a whole series of stories about this one:
This one isn't quite as epic as the Maine tour or the AIDS Ride. Still, non-cyclists are amazed: riding a bike to Provincetown? Well, I did it. The first day went from Boston (leaving at 6:30am - and I left The Buttery at 5 and rode to the starting point, just to make it a bit crazier - I didn't want to make Marian be up at that hour to drive me there) to Eastham (pronounced "East-Ham", not "Eastem", in case you're wondering). The next morning, I rode over to Wellfleet, visited Coralee's beach house for a while, then rode on to Provincetown. (And, of course, bought an appropriate souvenir there. I'm not telling, though - you'll just have to use your imagination :-) Then onto the ferry back to Boston.
I don't have any big bike trips planned this year. Nor have I been training for one. I've been getting fast this year, pushing myself on the commuting rides, but I haven't done much serious distance.
Next year, I may have another go at the AIDS Ride. That ride was an experience...