At the time of writing, it’s day 50 on the road. Late December in rural Mississippi, in a little town called Lucedale.
My name’s Dave and I’m currently cycle touring in the United States, working on a new bicycle-powered project called Vague Direction (If you’re reading you can keep up to date with the project by subscribing to the blog!). It involves cycling a loop of America and meeting a variety of unique people along the way to look at why people make certain lifestyle choices. I’m combining various traditional bicycle touring routes, to come up with an 11,000 mile loop of North America.
To start with, in November 2012 I set off from New York City and traveled south to Florida. From there the route cuts directly west, through the southern states across to California. The third part of the trip will be to head north up the Pacific coast, to Alaska. And finally, east through Canada, eventually ending up back at New York. It’s a fairly loose route which is open to change, but that’s the vague plan.
It’s nothing too unusual. However, after a couple of months of road life, if you’re thinking of going on a trip, there are a few unusual items that have been critical:
- An alarm. These things are so loud and simple to set up (they take all of 10 seconds) and mean you can go into a shop with reduced fear of your bike getting stolen!
- Red flashing LED lights and a really bright front light (I really like the Gemini Olympia light, it’s like a full beam on a car if you want it to be). Strap the red lights everywhere (back of your helmet, back of the bike) to improve your visibility whilst night riding.
- Waterproof overshoes. But not for waterproofing your shoes. Instead I use this to cover the leather saddle when there’s a chance of showers. It fits perfectly, totally by chance!
Don’t worry too much about what people say you should be carrying. It’s personal taste and will become obvious within a week. If you’re carrying too much, you can send some on. If you’re not carrying enough, it’s easy to compliment your supplies by picking up any necessary gear at a local shop.
In contrast to the technical side, there’s the side that probably drew you to cycle touring in the first place. And that’s the reasoning behind embarking on a tour. Before setting off on this trip, I’d never cycled long-distance. Instead, my background on wheels was a 3 mile commute and some trials riding several years ago.
It’s been an extreme change from life in the city. In the last two months, rather than traditional stresses like rent and work, they have been replaced with nomadic challenges like “Where can I sleep tonight?,” “Where’s the nearest bike shop?” and “How long can I get away with staying in this nice warm cafe without taking the mickey?” Maybe that last question suggests cycling in the winter wasn’t a wise choice?!
There are so many positives to an extended period of time on the saddle. So far I’ve met some amazing people who I’ll stay in touch with for years to come. From positive mayors and organic farmers, to musket-wielding civil war re-en-actors and enraged union workers. The great thing about cycle touring is the people you meet and the landscapes that you take in.
But there’s a dark side too. One that’s mainly in the mind. If you’re thinking of a long tour, before you set off (and during the trip) people will warn you that it’s too dangerous and not sensible. They’re doing this because it’s engrained in us to be risk averse. It’s probably quite a sensible outlook, but not a very exciting one.
So why do it? It’s the challenging times, the unpleasant moments and the dodgy characters that make an experience like this worthwhile. In retrospect of course. That puncture in the pouring rain isn’t fun. The close call with the car at night is dangerous. That person who eyes up your wallet, maybe it is best to move on. But where’s the fun in it being safe all the time, right?!
From the last two months on the road, I can confidently say that yes you’ll run in to people and moments that you wish you hadn’t. But you’ll also be greeted with amazing hospitality. You’ll be invited to dinner, and be offered a bed for the night. It’s the simple things! The majority of people are inherently good and the retrospective memories will be some of your fondest. Ah, nostalgia.
Road life is unique, and truth be told a multi-month trip is not always fun. It can be frustrating, draining, lonely, dangerous, sore and unpleasant – there’s no denying sometimes there’s a strong urge for proper shelter. You will shout curses and question why you’re even doing this.
But ultimately, the opportunities for new experiences, meeting new people, personal challenges and having moments of clarity whilst in the saddle outweigh these. And the downhills, of course. It’s approaching month 2 on the road now, and it’ll last for another 7 or 8 months, so it’s sure to be full of bizarre twists and interesting tales. And that’s why I’m here.
Road life. There’s nothing quite like it.
Dave Gill is currently cycling an 11,000 mile loop around the circumference of North America, documenting the people, culture, places and the ride along the way. Follow the journey and his blog at www.vaguedirection.com or like the project on Facebook – www.facebook.com/vaguedirection