I bet that we can all remember when we first “got into” cycling. I’m talking about sometime after getting our driving license when bikes were not our only mode of transportation. I can probably narrow the genesis of my riding to be somewhere in the mid-1980s, and the catalyst was the ripple effects of late teenage rebellion. Some might say that modifying my Huffy Santa Fe with panniers to accommodate weights and riding hill repeats on one of the steepest hills nearby was an outlet for pent-up anger/angst or whatever. While I was into alternative music that I played at 11, I was in a band, and my image reflected that. I grew my hair just long enough not to get called into the disciplinarians’ office at my high school; I didn’t go down the typical path of smoking and or drinking. So with some influence from a friend and reading bits about Greg Lemond and the TdF, I entered that portal
My first “real” bike was a 1986 Trek 1000 purchased from Big Wheels in Peninsula, Ohio. The Trek 1000 road bike had a bonded aluminum frame with a mixture of SR Sakae and Suntour components. Since I signed up for a coast-to-coast ride with an organization out of Indiana called Wandering Wheels, I needed something better than my Huffy Santa Fe. After training through the winter and the spring, I started the trip in June of 1987 at Seaside, Oregon, and averaged about 110 miles a day for 30 days before dipping my tires in the Atlantic at Rehoboth Beach Delaware.
The trip was eventful and was one that would be hard to forget. Even though it wasn’t a race, I usually made it one. This cross-country ride consisted of approximately ten groups of six riders, and everything that we didn’t carry on our bikes had to fit in an army-issue duffle bag that was carried in a custom old school bus named the Possum. The Possum went ahead of us and stopped at the designated lunch spot for the day (the staff prepared lunch for us a couple of times per week). It then went on to wherever the group would spend the night. The first group into camp was tasked with unloading all of the duffle bags from the bus. My group, although the fastest, learned real quick to stop at a Dairy Queen before the end of the day of riding, park our bikes behind the building, and watch the other groups roll by while enjoying something cold. They eventually caught onto us, somewhere in Missouri if I recall correctly.
Teton Pass was something. I remember that I clocked the top speed descending the east side of the pass. My Cateye registered 50 something miles per hour. The next morning, while we enjoyed our first day off since starting the trip, another rider climbed up the east side of the pass to ride back down to attempt to beat my top speed. Unfortunately, he missed a turn and crashed into an area full of rocks tearing himself up and breaking his collarbone and thumb. He ended up riding the Possum until somewhere in West Virginia. Other highlights include a killer tailwind somewhere in Wyoming while we raced ahead of a storm. The other nine groups were not so lucky. I witnessed a monster rattlesnake in Cozad, Nebraska. I picked up my first pair of Look clipless pedals in a shop somewhere around St. Louis.We survived a 90-degree day in West Virginia, that had the most climbing, on a freshly asphalted road. I could hear the tires peeling off the new surface with each revolution. I drank any beverage I could find that day, out of necessity.
I also had a lucrative side hustle for those 30 days. Since the only official bike mechanic was overwhelmed with bikes, I usually had at least one bike to work on after the day of riding. My compensation was typically in the form of cookies, orange juice, or something that would help with the daily caloric deficit that I had going on. This barter system worked for me. My trip ended with us rolling into Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, and dipping my tires in the Atlantic Ocean. Needless to say, it was something I will never forget. In fact, I can confirm that it’s true that you see a lot more from behind the handlebars than from behind a windshield and the truth behind Ernest Hemingway's famous quote, “It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them.”
After a month of daily riding, totaling approximately 3200 miles, I thought I was in excellent shape when I returned home. So, I figured I would do a local 25-mile crit and show who’s who. After being lapped and eventually pulled, I realized that I wasn’t endowed with the amount of fast-twitch, turn and burn muscle fibers required for the most common and publicized type of racing at that time. It was after that humbling experience I realized that the even rarer niche of ultra-endurance cycling was more my cup of tea. This revelation then led me down the rabbit hole of 24-hour events, the topic of the next blog post.
Comments will be approved before showing up.