(the madness begins…)
I like bike riding but I’d never call myself a cyclist. I’ve never been into types of bikes and components, group rides or racing, and until owning my touring bike, I’d never ridden anything but cheap mountain bikes. My biking experience includes many weekend and afternoon rides after work but I’d never ridden more than 25 miles in a day before. My biking experience also includes two car collisions, the last of which left me with a nasty six-month headache after landing helmet-first on the road. Riding a bicycle across a country had always been on my things-to-do-in-life list, but so was spitting over the edge of the Tower of Pisa, and I’d not been serious about carrying through with either.
Since joining the working life six years ago, I’ve dreamt of nothing but ways of leaving the working life and going on long term holidays. My first attempt was to try and do the typical Aussie thing and live, work, booze up and holiday in London. When my first boss caught wind of my desire to do this, he instead set me up with a six-month stint of work experience in the Philippines. Six months turned into a year, and I felt again the need to travel. I quit my job and headed to India for a few wonderful months of doing my own thing. I was called back to the Philippines but within a year I had started planning the London travels again. Upon quitting this time my second boss offered me a transfer to San Diego, California. Four months of near perfect weather and plenty of surfing and I was transferred again, this time to the San Francisco Bay Area. Though I was getting the overseas travel I wanted, my dream of a long term holiday was getting further and further away.
Travelling by bicycle surfaced as an idea early in 2003 when a good friend of mine attempted it in China and Mongolia. His enthusiasm for the idea was contagious and it got me considering a similar, but easier trip. I’d been in America for two years but had seen very little of the country. With only two weeks of holidays a year it was hard to. At the end of 2003, tired of long working hours, approaching the end of my twenties and ready for a change of scenery, I decided the bicycle trip was the way to go.
As with all my stupid ideas, I’m more likely to carry through with them if I tell them to people whose opinions I care about. And so it was, with several pints of honey wine to loosen my tongue, I spilled my plans to two very good friends in Oakland, the week before Christmas 2003. Like all the other people I mentioned it to over the Christmas period in Australia, their response was not quite as enthusiastic as I’d hoped. The few people who actually believed I might attempt the trip thought I’d only last a matter of weeks, if not days. It got me wondering whether I was considered “a man of my word” and in a way encouraged me even more to prove to myself that I could do it.
However, by the time I started work again in January I was no closer to having any serious plans of route, destinations or a departure date. And I still didn’t have a bike. One evening in late January after another draining day at work, with still no progress in doing anything towards the trip except dreaming about it, I gave myself the kick in the pants that I needed and made a schedule. It included everything I needed to research, buy and organise for the trip, as well as the time I needed to finish off my work. My comfortable departure date was set for the start of June.
Within two weeks, with plenty of Internet research and only two bikes test ridden, I ordered a Trek 520 touring bicycle from Left Coast Cyclery in Berkeley. I spent more time deliberating over the pannier bags than the bike itself. I had a packing list as long as my arm but only needed to buy a few essential item as I already owned a good set of camping gear. I began training on the unloaded bike and within a few weekends I was extremely proud of completing a 56 mile (90km) ride around the Oakland hills.
The panniers came next, built by Arkel Overdesigns in Canada and guaranteed for life. At first I ordered only the rear panniers to see how much I could fit in them. I did a few small test rides with the panniers loaded with text books. I didn’t order the front panniers until two weeks before I began the trip.
At this point, my whole departure date hinged on whether I would have to go to court in regards to the bicycle accident I’d had 18 months earlier. But all of a sudden my whole schedule was put on fast track when my lovely housemate (and landlord’s daughter) decided we had “personality differences” and wanted me out of the house by the end of April. I spoke to my boss the next day, stressed out and nervous as hell, mainly because I’d never succeeded in resigning yet. And didn’t succeed this time either. My boss, totally understanding of my dilemma, told me to take as long as I wanted and just return when I was feeling “better”. “Better” because for the last few months, the stresses of work had exacerbated the stomach problems I’d had ever since getting sick in India. I’d been to numerous doctors over four years and had numerous tests done and redone, but no cause was ever found. It was not until a week before my trip that a specialist discovered that I had Coeliac Sprue disease, an intolerance to the gluten found in wheat, barley, rye and oats. It was both a relief and a curse. I now knew why I’d felt like crap for years but now could no longer enjoy some of life’s most enjoyable things; pizza, bread, pasta and beer.
A month prior to starting the trip I’d stopped all my training and exercise in an attempt to put a bit of meat on my bones (the lack of meat was a result of the gluten intolerance and malnutrition). I was now unfit and not an ounce fatter. The weekend before my trip I rode to my friends’ place in Sausalito (just north of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge) with an almost fully loaded bike. Not quite fully loaded, as I had no food packed, nor did I have my 12 string guitar which I romantically believed I could not do without for three months (it would not be until the day that I started the trip that I would ride with a fully loaded bike, including the guitar for the first time strapped to my rear rack with its neck sticking between my legs). I absolutely struggled. The ride took me at least three times as long as normal and I was several hours late for the dinner I had been invited to. My friends in Sausalito were the only friends I could find with a set of bathroom scales. I weighed in at a measly 145lbs, the panniers minus food were 60lbs, and my bike with three bottles of water was 40lbs (the night before the trip started, some other friends helped me measure everything on their kitchen scales and we got a total loaded weight of 260lbs, including me).
I think I packed too much.