United States – bicycle tour – Continental Divide – Bikecentennial – Glacier National Park
Originally posted at Writeindependent.org on Sept 7, 2011
I have seen more of the United States more slowly than most people because in 1984, I bicycled across the USA. My group started in Oregon, ended in Virginia, and then I tacked on another 350 miles to get to my hometown in rural Pennsylvania. All in all, it was 5,000 miles.
The inspiration for my trip was a gentleman named Howard who was a graduate student at Penn State. He has a marvelous sense of humor, and he got it into his head one day to bike across the USA, even though at the time, he didnt know how to ride a bike!
I was already totally into cycling, and Howard came along for a ride with me one day early in his training. Penn State is situated amongst some of the most challenging mountains you could ever climb. I remember going uphill that day with Howard, and as I passed him, I could hear his gear shift clacking behind me because he hadnt yet mastered shifting!
Howard somehow made it across the United States, and by then I had caught the bug. So I bought a touring bike, named it Howard, and my motto became: if Howard can do it, so can I!
I rode with a group called Bikecentennial, who organizes trips from Missoula, Montana. We carried everything on our bikes: peanut butter and jelly for making sandwiches, our tents and sleeping bags, and the tools required to fix flat tires or broken chains.
I learned what the Continental Divide was in a big way, having to cross it nine times. Its the ridge of mountains that divides the country, water falling to the east of it eventually reaching the Mississippi River and water to the west, the Colorado River. Luckily, climbing is my forte because I like to stand on the petals as much as possible. It gives the pooter a break.
One of my favorite memories on the trip was the laugh off I had with Gary, a fellow rider. He and I immediately hit it off, because we both knew how to imitate Goofeys laugh. We had all rented a van to tour Glacier National Park, and we were tired after a long day of sightseeing. The eleven of us were in the van when Gary and I decided to have a laughing contest. Whoever lasted longest, won.
I have a wicked competitive streak, so I was damned if I was going to lose. I had to have the last laugh!
Have you ever witnessed a laugh-off? Its very hard to stay stone-faced through one of those things. We had everybody laughing, except one hold-out: friend Doug, a doctorate from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute who wanted badly to stay somber through the whole thing. Five minutes in, he couldnt stand it any more and he finally broke up.
I cant remember who won that day, but it doesnt even matter. We got everyone in that van laughing and I have a great memory for the rest of my life.