A biketrip like cycling Route 66 needs an epilogue, a reflection. And what better moment to write than on the flight home. Be advised it is a longer read than usual!
My departure was originally planned for October 7. As I finished the trip in 5 instead of the anticipated 7 weeks I rebooked through a single phone call. Went like a breeze! Even with the additional change fee it was the most economical solution, beter than an open ticket would have offered. The already wrapped bike returned with me, without a hitch.
I said it before: when I started the project I still wondered if it was achievable, in a way it scared me. It felt as being on the edge – though I like edges – but it did not seem so unrealistic that I could not do it. The motivation to see if I could bike that edge made preparation easy. For a long time the question remained whether I would travel West > East, taking advantage of the favourable winds, or East >West, the hard way, following the original idea of the establishment of Route 66. When I booked my flight to Chicago, my decision became irreversible..
However, it took till halfway the trip till I got convinced that I would make Santa Monica via the hard, westerly route.
Route 66, a famed relict, left a huge imprint on American history, on its culture, but is now largely dissolved in the US route system. Unavoidable, as traffic changed over the years and traffic needs more than 9 feet wide roads. The few existing 66 road parts bring back memories, just like the characteristic bridges and the well maintained or revived diners, lining the route. Traditional motels, some of them still operational in their full glory, others closed or even falling to pieces. Proud motel roadsigns which lost all of their beauty without the flashing neon, without the bright paint. But also villages and cities where history is kept alive by returning the shops, motels and restaurants to their fifties’ state. The names of all these places, some 260 in total, defining Route 66, will last forever!
closer, when meeting people in their day-to-day business, the kindness and sincere interest of the traditional Missouri family left a lasting impression.
closer, when biking the country or suburban areas where I was semi-lost
closer when riding the mud in Texas, getting completely lost
closer to understanding what distances really mean
closer to the mountains by climbing and descending their never ending slopes
closer by becoming part of the desert heat
closer by getting soaked by the torrential rains
closer fighting the hefty winds, which were (nearly) always against me.
Last but not least, you come closer to yourself and start wondering what the fuzz in the world is all about…
Best of all – this could have been a headline too – I never ever felt unsafe, unsecure or threatened. Well, ok, I make an exception for some mean dogs 🙂
Americans highly respect – which I admire – personal integrity and they will leave you alone with what you are doing, no questions asked. Everything is possible, or at least they pretend that is.. Checking in late, dirty from your trip, in your motel? They hand you the room key, the wifi code and don’t blink if you take your bike to the room. As a token of human interest some curiosity would not harm I think. But be ready for surprises: it happens, sometimes..
Cyclists – Frank, Gino, Steve, Victor – were great, sharing the same passion as I did. Absolutely current with their biking homeground, on which they gave me hot tips. Or, better, just allowing me to follow their trail when they were guiding.
the bikeshop in Oklahoma who immediately replaced a broken spoke for free,
the advice from Bob in Albuquerque to take a spare tyre and more tubes as these items would be hard to find the next 1000 kilometers ( and he was right!)
Randy and TJ, motor bikers in Amarillo who treated me with lunch, beer and a good laugh,
Stella, the diveshop owner in Santa Rosa who did everything to facilitate a dive for me in the middle of nowhere
the gasstation attendant in Ludlow who welcomed me at 12 o’clock at night after a lonely dark desert ride by saying ‘ hey Edward, we were expecting you! ‘ Priceless, these were just the few words I needed to recover.
Biking distances in America are unimaginable, they are hard to describe. The meaning of 50, 60, or even 90 miles between two beds won’t be understood by the average car driver. In time: 50 miles on a heavy expedition bike in rising terrain means close to 5 hours saddle time.. The rest of the calculation is yours. The USA is not the most ideal biking country – unless you have a back up team or go camping and are absolutely self sufficient – but it adds to the challenge! The larger Los Angeles area is exactly the opposite; an enormous urban area, a quarter of the size of the Netherlands, filled with traffic lights which prevent you from getting in your bike rhytm.
The mountains have their own story. The Missouri (and to a lesser extent Kansas and Oklahoma) Ozarks may not be very high, but they are spread like waves over these states: up, down, up, down,up, down, never, never ending. Beautiful landscape, but it will accompany you on every mile you bike. In New Mexico and Arizona strong biking legs will initially deny the altitude differences, but if you are 700 meters higher by the end of the day, have seen the Continental or Arizona Divide, your muscles will let you know. I learnt quickly: if you wonder why you make so little progress, check your altitude, check the climbs, check the descends.. And stay in your own rhytm!
Some elements you simply can’t fight, like wind and heat. As a diver I take the same approach to these elements as to underwater currents. Go with the flow or don’t go at all. If winds are too strong don’t bike them, if the heat is too high, wait until it is bearable again. Nature won’t give in!
I was able to bike long stretches effortlessly by switching off all my systems, switch into Zen mode and become one with the environment. Hours and miles will fade away whilst you are still making progress. Forget about distance, forget about time. Worked for me, but it is very well possible it only works for solo bikers.
Food, at least the food I thought I needed, was not always easy to get. I don’t bike on power powder, on proteins or on vitamin supplements. I avoided the fast foods as much as possible (and yes, I did have the occasional burger) and got most what I needed at food supermarkets. During the day liters of water – I carried 7, nearly 2 gallons – kept my system going. I was glad I had them, even if it was (luke)warm. Coke was a great and pleasant cool dope if I could get it. With its 10% sugar content, which I burnt away instanteneously, coke was a great short term power booster. My top day was 3 liters, hard to imagine now I drank it.
The home support was phenomenal, thanks again to all! Technology was instrumental, through my smartphome I had navigation and all apps within reach. Biking solo, without data on distances and speed, would be unthinkable to me. Actually I was not completely solo as my direct family and some friends could track (and tracked me) me in real time as long as a 4G signal was available. If the 66 diverted too far from the interstate (the Mojave desert was a good example) I disappeared temporarily… Still, it was a comforting thought I was being tracked!
Cycling epic Santa Monica Boulevard will be a memory staying with me forever.
The USA I have seen was completely different from the picture we get in the media. Election of a new president is a non issue, the media blow it to enormous proportions, people get both tired and sick of it. Over the last 5 weeks I have seen exactly 1 billboard and one gate with election posters. I never switched on a tv in my room, but in the motel breakfast lounges it was all election tv. Day to day life is governed by normal values, live and let live and not by the election hype. And yes, the west is wild, absolutely, but only its nature…
I went biking Route 66 because I wanted to – period – but got more than expected.
I found that if you need to restore your faith in people, go bike!
And though I never meant so, I am extremely pleased to hear ( Randy, Victor, Steve, Ron ) I am and have inspired people!