Sunday, November 16, 2008

Maine to Wisconsin

Somehow in the 1980s I got it in my mind that I would like to bicycle across the country. My bicycle was, after all, a Schwinn “continental” so maybe it was the name that started this idea in my head. I saved up a little money, and paid for a bus ticket back to my parents’ home in Maine, with my bike in a box. After a few test rides and the symbolic visit to the Atlantic Ocean I loaded the bike with camping gear, photo equipment, food and water and set off westward.

On the evening of the first day I came to a steep hill, and going up it I went slower, and slower, and slower, and then fell over. Not even my ego was bruised, as there was nobody around to see this ignominious beginning of my adventure. Perhaps I didn’t need to have quite so much water, and quite so much food … and as I traveled the load lightened and my legs got stronger.

I crossed Lake Champlain on a ferry, going from the Green Mountains of Vermont to the Adirondacks in New York. In case you wondered, I didn’t have the route all mapped out. I carried USGS topographic maps of each state that I might encounter, and decided on a daily basis where I would go the next day. In upstate New York, as I rolled through hardwood forests, suddenly a creature darted out to rush my feet. Dogs are a worry, since they can be territorial, but this was smaller it seemed, as I veered away from the edge of the road. Looking back I saw a grouse, all puffed up and haughty.

I ate lunch by Saranac Lake and some fellow there chatted with me while I ate. He had a dog that looked like a German Shepherd to me, but he said it was half wolf. I reflected upon the fact that I had been more frightened by the grouse, than by this wolf.

There was the matter of some big lakes, the Great Lakes, between me and my destination, and I decided to take the upper route. I crossed into Canada and went north of the Great Lakes. In some places it was swampy, and the mosquitoes were quite aggressive. My daily hours of pedaling increased, because when I stopped I had to put on rain gear to set up the tent, even on a hot day, just to keep from being attacked by hordes of ravenous insects.

People would often ask, “How far are you going?” and my set answer became, “…all the way.” They would also ask what cause I was doing this for. I guess many people bike great distances “for world peace” or “for a cancer cure.” I had not thought it through, so we’re still plagued with war and cancer. Maybe next time … .

I crossed the border at the bridge in Sault Ste. Marie. The Canadian customs agent asked me, “Got any drugs?” I wondered if he was having a bad day, and needed a pick-me-up. I smiled and replied that I did not. Before I started this journey I was told by a fellow cyclist who had made this trek before me that there would be great ups and great downs. He also proclaimed that food was a drug. How true both statements proved to be.

My mood could be changed by the food I ate, or didn’t eat. My ability to pedal was limited not by my muscles, but by the speed at which food could be processed by my digestive system, or so it seemed. Raw eggs didn’t seem very appealing before the ride, or since. But while I was on this trek some raw eggs with milk and sugar were what I often craved. I thought my slim frame might put on a little muscle with this exercise, but I got leaner and felt and looked like a jackrabbit.

A friend’s home in Wisconsin was my midpoint destination, and I began to tell myself that if I could just make it that far, maybe a bus ride back to Idaho would be just fine. Don’t think of it as failure; consider it a trip from Maine to Wisconsin, no small feat.

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