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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 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 all these years, 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, are 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 nights later, I was 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.  Which is just as well, as 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, undoubtedly, 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, 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 needs–but as this ride will involve high mountain passes 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, 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–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 a big deal, and made all the papers), 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 perhaps more driven to engage.  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 across the country hungry for extended conversations with the sandwich artists there.  I may 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 may see the great fun to be had in knocking me into a ditch with a carefully aimed coke bottle.  This could go any number of ways.

So though I may lie in my tent the first (or any other) night wondering just what in the hell I’m doing, I am going, and my brother Ken has volunteered to drive me from Texas to Astoria, Oregon, where the Trail and the adventure begins.  And on August 1, 2016–mark your calendars–I’ll watch him 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 foolishly snatched out of thin air, and cruise being the carefully chosen word that anticipates my effortless and triumphant arrival there.

So strike up the band.  Nothing can go wrong this time.