We May Be Crazy, But We’re Not Alone

When people see us on our bicycles (at a vista point, when we’re stopped at a restaurant for a break, etc) the following conversation inevitably takes place:

Stranger: Wow, you have a lot of stuff on your bikes! Where you headed?

Joy/Tony: [We typically respond with today’s destination]  

Stranger: Wow, that’s pretty far! Where did you start?

Joy/Tony: Well, today we started in [wherever we started], but ultimately, we’re headed to the East Coast.

Usually there’s a pause while they process the length of the journey. And depending on whether they think that this is an awesome idea or a crazy idea, there’s an even longer pause while they try to find a polite way to say we’re nuts. So we get one of two responses

Enthusiastic Stranger: Wow! That’s awesome!
or
Perplexed Stranger: Wow, you’re a lot braver than I am! [In other words, “You’re crazy!”]

Sometimes we think we’re crazy, too. 

But more and more we are crossing paths with like-minded cyclists. At the beginning of our journey we hardly saw any other long distance cyclists. Only 3 other touring cyclists over the first month. As we’ve gotten further into the summer, we’re running into (not literally, of course) more kindred spirits. Even though we’re seeing them more often (maybe 5/week) seeing someone else doing what we’re doing is so rare that when we see one, we always pull over to “smell noses”. If we’re going in opposite directions (the other folks are west-bound) one of us will cross the road to chat. The conversations are always fundamentally the same.

  • Where and when did you start?
  • What’s your ultimate destination and when are you planning to get there?
  • And then, if we’re headed in opposite directions, we share hints about what’s ahead for the other person. If we’re headed in the same direction, we commiserate about how brutal Nevada was and how steep Utah was.
  • And then we move into the ritual of admiring and commenting on each other’s bicycle setup, the kind of panniers we’re each carrying, and a discussion of how much we’re carrying.

Our fellow touring cyclists tend to fall into two rough groupings: young, testosteroney riders and middle-aged (or, at least, not young) or laid-back riders. 

Riders in the first category have been (except for one instance) young men all bent on riding across the US in as little time as possible. Typically, two months. Damn you, youth! They’re almost always riding alone. And usually riding with bare bones supplies, which seems to be badge of honor. It’s clear that these types of riders are rolling their eyes at the amount of stuff Joy and I are carrying as well as the length of time we’re planning to take. Even though their time constraints often driven by vacation limits that force them to do the ride in 2 months, I get the impression that it’s more about conquering the physical challenge of crossing the US by bicycle than about actually experiencing and enjoying our country. I admit that when I was that age I probably would have approached it the same way.  Even, so, damn you, youth! 

Folks in the second category tend to be older, and are more likely to be riding in a group. And these folks are often riding to raise funds for a cause.  

Here are photos and stories of some equally crazy cyclists. 

IMG_3106Cody east-bound from San Francisco. We met him just outside Boulder, Utah. What took us a month, he had done in 14 days. Young, testosteroney Cody prided himself on his minimal gear and the fact that he was subsisting on Cliff bars and peanut butter. His food only took up half of his handlebar bag space. He didn’t even have appropriate footwear – check out what he’s wearing. He’s typical of the group one rider, who always answer, “When did you start?” by telling you what “day” of their ride it is.

IMG_2955Mike, west-bound from Virginia. We met Mike in mid-June just after we’d ridden over the Cedar Banks summit (10,000) so we had something to brag about.  He had started in early April, so he was expecting to spend about two and half months crossing the US. He periodically took business calls while cycling, which seemed pretty challenging.

IMG_2703Tony Mommsen, east-bound from Colorado. Tony was west-bound with plans to visit up and down the west coast on a multi-month trip. Tony is using this ride as way to spend quality thinking time considering his next career move. We met Tommy in Nevada and we’ve since become Facebook friends so we can track each other’s progress.

IMG_3157Michael Johnson-Chase, west-bound starting in San Diego. We met Michael in Hanksville, Utah. We ended up riding together for a few very hot, steep, miserable days. Michael is raising funds to install solar systems for low income homeowners at no cost to homeowners. His goal is to visit all 11 of the GRID Alternatives offices across the country, while raising $10,000 for the organization and volunteering with solar installations along the way. We’ve become Facebook friends with Michael. He also writes a blog.

IMG_3170Leslie from San Francisco and Germans Marion and Lester. Marion and Lester flew to the US to cycle across the US. Leslie met them a few days prior and the three were traveling westward as a group. We met them in Hite, Utah, an awful place. Blisteringly hot with no shade. Rather than stay at the “campsite” (picnic tables set out in the desert), they, plus Michael Johnson-Chase, Joy and I all “camped” at the shuttered ranger station as it offered shade from an overhang and real bathrooms. All cyclists cutting through that part of Utah are similarly “camping” at the ranger station.

IMG_3250Don and Marilyn.  From Colorado, Don and Marilyn are long-time touring cyclists doing a southwest tour. We rode with them on and off for a few days. The strange looking bicycle they’re riding is a recumbent tandem. Apparently, recumbents are very comfortable and easy on your back. Kind of hard to explain how it works, but, fortunately, I have video of them cycling. Recumbents have a tough time going up hill, so it was possible for us to pass them. Going down hill, they go crazy fast. Emphasis on the “crazy”.

IMG_3235Andy, Tracey and Michael. Andy and Tracey are nurses from the UK who are raising funds for Doctors without Borders. They met Michael (from Oregon) and the three are riding East together, though only Andy and Tracey are going all the way to the East Coast. We rode with them for a few days. Andy’s blog, including donation information, is available at andy4msf.com.

IMG_3406Brian and Karen from San Francisco.  They are on a testosteroney mission to reach Boston from San Francisco in two months. They need to be in Boston by August 10 for a wedding that may or may not still be happening. They started on June 5 and they passed on June 27. (Remember that we started on May 1.) I’m guessing that they are taking very few rest days, and certainly not taking days off to go hiking in national parks the way we are.

Video of the Tandem:

Here’s a 20 second video of the recumbent in action.

Be sure to click the link to watch the video!


5 thoughts on “We May Be Crazy, But We’re Not Alone

  1. For a little bit of perspective (or maybe a way of shutting down all those dudes who think they’re making good time), I present to you Lael Wilcox, who recently crushed the Trans Am Bike Race, a completely self-supported ride across the country:

    http://jezebel.com/interview-with-lael-wilcox-the-first-woman-to-win-the-1782665273

    She conquered 4200 miles in 18 days, beating everyone, and became the first woman to win it.

    In related endurance cycling news, Sarah Cooper won the Race Across the West, setting a new course record and beating all men and women.

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    1. Wow, that is an astoundingly short timeframe. Grats to Lael, though my legs ache just thinking about how many miles she was doing each day. And grats to Sarah. Thanks for sharing this!

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  2. I saw a documentary years ago about a long distance bike racer. His team would keep him biking til he was beyond exhausted, let him go to sleep, then they would shine and light in his face to wake him in just an hour and tell him he had slept 4 hours. He was so out of it with exhaustion he couldn’t think. Hope they have mandatory break times now.
    Much better the way you’re going, (mostly) enjoying the ride. It’s amazing, you shouldn’t ever feel you’re going too slowly, you’re going, all the way across the United States, on bikes!
    Really enjoying what you and Joy are writing.
    Kathy
    P.S. Tony, a little more sunblock on that handsome face!

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    1. Thanks, Kathy. We feel that our pace is right for us. Just that some long days I wish we were faster so “we’d be at our day’s destination already”. … And I’m using way more sunblock than I ever have. Still, it’s a lot of sun!

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