FIRST DAY

Here’s some good news for the 11 of you who suffered through the seeing-all-30-mlb-baseball-stadiums blog:  these posts will be shorter.  Not because I have any sympathy for you (I don’t, really), but because these are being composed on a phone, which takes longer.  But good news is good news, so don’t complain.

I rode 48 miles today.  I won’t always mention this, as I can’t imagine you will want to hear it every day, but it’s the first day, so…I’m mentioning it.

They have hills in coastal Oregon.  Which I wish someone had mentioned to me, as we do not have any in southeast Texas.  Which means I didn’t train on any, other than the tall river-spanning bridges, and they don’t last all that long.  Oregon’s coastal hills, the uphill ones that make 48 miles feel like 148 miles, last forever.

Oregon has a soft place in their collective hearts for bicyclists.  They have bike lanes, for instance, and buttons that you push at the entrance to tunnels which causes lights over the entrance to the tunnel to blink, alerting motorists that somebody is pedaling their ass off INSIDE the tunnel, so the motorist can, if they want, try a little harder not to run over them.  And Oregon has people who will offer you their back yard to camp in, which a guy did after I’d only ridden 20 miles.  Which was nice, and made me feel better about things.

I also today ran into a guy biking from Astoria to San Diego.  And 3 others riding from Canada to the Mexican border.  And 3 people at 3 different beach overlooks (I took a lot of breaks today, it being my first day) who wanted to know just how far I was planning on riding.  And I ran into a guy with blond hair to his shoulders who came riding in to the state park’s designated hiker/biker campsite (Oregon likes bicyclists) right at dark, and asked if he could share my hiker/biker spot, as the others were all taken.  He said “man” a lot, this guy did, said he’d been out riding since April, and said he averages about 80 to 100 miles a day.  But by then he already had his tent set up, so there wasn’t much I could do.

The next morning he offered me a bud.  I politely declined, which didn’t seem to hurt our fellow-biker relationship at all.  That didn’t happen until I started to take his picture, as he rolled out his bud right there on top of his smart phone.

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I Should Probably Say a Few Words About the Bike…

…as this would be an altogether different kind of trip without one.  I initially had the thought that I would simply hop on my road bike–the kind with the turned down handlebars and skinny tires–and start riding.

“You could do that,” the smiling guy at my LBS (the occasionally pejorative bicycle forum term for Local Bike Shop) said.  “You could do it on a tricycle,” he then added, to make sure I didn’t fail to catch his drift.

“Gotcha,” I said back.

At which point he introduced me to the term, touring bike, which I had somehow missed out on, which has turned down handlebars and slightly less skinny tires, and which looks like a road bike to the hopelessly uninformed, but isn’t.  Touring bikes, my LBS guy explained to me, have heavy steel (not aluminum, or carbon) frames, a longer wheel base, fatter (slightly) tires, more spokes (some of them have more spokes–some of them don’t–touring bikes, as a genre, being complicated), and attachment points for the front and rear racks.  Which you need for the panniers (saddlebags).  Which is a word I still can’t say without immediately feeling the need to apologize, but which you pretty much have to have because they hold all your shit.

“My bike doesn’t have attachment points?” I asked.

“You really haven’t done your homework on this, have you,” was his smiling reply.

Many sleepless, research-filled nights later, he had hooked me up with the gold standard and bees’ knees of touring bikes, pictured above–the Surly (what a great name) Long Haul Trucker (what an even better name).

My Trucker is the disc brake version, which I had never heard of, but which my smiling LBS guy assured me is better than traditional rim brakes, but which also means it says Disc Trucker on the top tube where it should say Long Haul Trucker.  This is a mistake, of course, and I immediately had him order a set of Long Haul Trucker decals, so I could swap them out.  Only my LBS guy, who had not done his homework, ordered the wrong decals, and now can’t seem to order the right ones, or they’re back-ordered, or something.  All of which was discovered after I had already scraped off one of the decals.  This would be a disaster, of course, except it will give me and the Subway guy in Lolo, Montana something to talk about.

For Gloria

My first ever ten-speed bicycle was an Italian-made Gloria, only I don’t think mine was actually made in Italy, or had ever once visited there.  There actually were ten gears though, which I know because I counted them.

I would ride Gloria in the hills around Austin, Texas–during the times when I was probably supposed to be at a fraternity party somewhere, one involving people, likely, and kegs of beer, even more likely , and perhaps even the girl from my Psych class–and once even attempted to ride Gloria home (250 miles, more or less) during Thanksgiving break.  But I had oiled her chain with WD-40, which is actually not an oil at all, and therefore actually washed off just as soon as it started raining.  This was in Devers, Texas, on a Sunday morning (meaning Devers, Texas was closed) and the cold, wet chain began misbehaving pretty much right away (meaning it began behaving nothing at all like a chain), abruptly bringing Gloria and me to the end of our little adventure.

But that was forty years ago.  I know things now.  This ride will be a little longer (four thousand miles longer, more or less), but this time I’ll have twenty-seven gears.  This is a shit-load of gears, of course–way more than any one man should need–but as this ride will involve high mountain passes, ones devoid of oxygen, and Ridges and Divides too many to keep track of, maybe not.  But I’ve counted the gears, and this time there are twenty-seven of them, or maybe it’s thirty, and this time I’ve put actual oil on the chain.  Nothing can go wrong this time.

This time I’m riding across–like, clear across–the country (the United States–that country) on the TransAmerica Trail, which was first mapped out in 1976, in celebration of our country’s 200th birthday.  And given the clever name, at least that one time, of the Bikecentennial.  You’ve likely not heard of it (the Trail, not the celebration, which was ane perhaps still is a big deal), unless bicycling is your thing, but a number of people and their Glorias made the trip that first year, and a number of them have continued to, every year since.  This just happens to be my year.

I’m doing this alone, which is probably not the best of ideas, unless it turns out that it is.  I’ll be without a team, but will be uninsulated as a result, and maybe that will be better.  I may encounter, and even make friends with other TransAmerica riders along the way, but then again maybe not.  I may instead linger in the Subway’s around the country hungry for extended conversations with the sandwich artists there.  I could make friends with the wonderful, welcoming people gathered up in the small towns along the back roads of America.  But then again someone who doesn’t quite get this whole bicycling thing, or the TransAmerica Trail, may see the great fun to be had in knocking me into a ditch with a carefully aimed bottle.  This could go either way.

So though I may lie in my tent the first (or any other) night wondering just what in the hell I’m doing, here I am in Astoria, Oregon, where the Trail and the adventure begins.  And in the morning I’ll watch Vicki–who was going to bike with me but came to her senses and so spent four days driving me out here instead–drive away, and I’ll swallow hard and start pedaling, and three months and 4,229 miles later will cruise into Yorktown, Virginia.  With the time estimate being something I’ve pretty much made up.