Bike Trips: Summary


Totals.

Miles Travelled: 8,200
Travel Days: 180
Years in Which I Have Taken a Bike Trip: 12
After My First Trip, Flat Tires That Needed Fixing: 2
Major Rivers Crossed: 11 (Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, Green, Hudson, Mississippi, Platte, Red, Rio Grande, Snake, Susquehanna)
Places Visited en route: 27 states, 3 foreign countries

Trips.

1986: Slidell, LA to Rapid City, SD
1988: Albuquerque, NM to Las Vegas, NV
1989: Vicksburg, MS to Memphis, TN
1990 & 1991: New York's Finger Lakes, South-Central Illinois
1992: Fargo, ND to Decatur, IL
1996: Alaska Loop
2000: Geneva, Switzerland to Narbonne, France
2004: Queenstown, NZ to Napier, NZ
2008: Loop around the Big Island, HI
2012: Boise, ID to Boulder, CO
2016: Baltimore, MD to Burlington, VT


Trip Narratives.

Trip 1: My first trip was from my house in Slidell, Louisiana (just north of New Orleans) to Rapid City, South Dakota, from May 1 to May 31, 1986. The travelling distance was roughly 1600 miles. En route, I travelled through Vicksburg, Mississippi; Little Rock and Ft. Smith, Arkansas; Tulsa, Oklahoma; Wichita, Kansas; Kearney and North Platte, Nebraska; and the Black Hills. I had done very little travelling at all, prior to this trip, so almost all of the terrain was new. I also had no experience bicycle touring. The furthest I'd biked prior to the trip was probably about thirty miles, so I had a lot to learn in that dimension as well. My bike was a heavy steel non-brand bicycle with K-mart tires, a K-mart rack (which, actually, I still use), and a K-mart pump. I carried my gear in a backpack (which I continued to do until my Alaska trip).

The terrain was quite hilly much of the way, particularly in parts of Kansas and Nebraska, and in the Black Hills, of course. Furthermore, we fought a fierce headwind through much of Kansas and the Nebraska Sandhills, so physically, this was a very rigorous trip. A friend, Steve, joined me for the last two weeks of the trip, from Wichita through to Rapid City. This was the most rigorous part, physically, and he hasn't asked to join me since!

I found every day exciting, since I'd never seen this part of the country before, but the highlights were: the Black Hills, particularly Custer State Park, which had free roaming bison herds and wonderful geology; the Nebraska Sandhills and Pine Ridge country, in northwest Nebraska; the area around Tenkiller Dam, in northeast Oklahoma; and Wichita, where I spent a couple of days. I had to travel 125 miles the day I reached Wichita, my longest day ever, because I had misjudged how far away it was. I never made that mistake again.

Trip 2: My next trip was two years later, in July/August 1988, from Albuquerque, New Mexico to Las Vegas, Nevada. The travelling distance was roughly 1000 miles; I was gone three weeks. My route took me through Aztec Ruins National Monument, New Mexico; Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado; Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah; and Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon, and Zion National Parks, Utah. This trip required much more careful preparation, because the route travelled long distances through desolate, mountainous/hilly terrain in very warm weather. But the rewards were plentiful, as the scenery was spectactular. Each of the national parks/monuments were thrilling in their own way, and I allocated plenty of time to spend at them.

This area of the country contains mountains, gently sloping plateaus, and canyons, of course, where major rivers flow. All three made the terrain very hilly--the canyons most of all, because the descents and ascents would be so steep. While on plateaus, I would travel thirty miles or more at a mild but steady incline or decline. This, and the heat, made the trip the most physically demanding of all my bicycling tours. At least rain wasn't a factor--though I was rained on (very lightly) every day for the first two weeks of my trip! My body got so finicky during the trip that I couldn't eat many processed foods--like, say, potato chips--for weeks afterwards.

Highlights: The bike ride through Zion, downhill, was incredible, as were my hikes at Natural Bridges and Bryce. I also visited Hoover Dam and took a cruise on Lake Mead. The most unusual event was my stay at Capitol Reef National Park. I had simply forgotten to buy enough food at the last town before the park--I didn't realize it was the last town at the time--and I found I had only about one-third of the food I would normally need for a three day stay (and the nearest store about 25 miles away). I lived primarily off eating apples and apricots from the fruit trees they maintain in the park, but I was still hungry much of the time.

Trip 3:My father Lloyd was interested, by now, in taking a tour with me, and so for 10 days in March/April, 1989, we travelled 300 miles from Vicksburg, Mississippi, to Memphis, Tennessee. We travelled in the Delta Country, that is, in the Mississippi Delta. It is a rural area, one of the poorest in the country, but also one of the prettiest in the South. It made for good touring because we could plan a route with very low traffic, few hills, frequent access to services, and nice camping along the Mississippi or one of its ox-bow lakes.

Highlights of this trip included: being able to tell my father what to do (just kidding), visiting the Vicksburg Battlefield at the start of the trip, and a close--and prolonged--encounter with a bull and his harem on a desolate road. We had a couple of eventful moments, as well. While speeding along behind a brisk wind, my father lost control and fell hard, giving himself a mild concussion. (He was wearing a helmet, of course.) But his memory returned after a couple of hours, and we rode on. He completed his longest ride that day--55 miles. Also, after leaving Vicksburg, we followed some bad advice and traveled a dead-end road about ten miles into the boonies. Fortunately, rather than turn around, we found a man in a boat who carried us across the intervening river and let us off by a road on the other side, from which we continued our journey. It was one of the prettier rivers I've ever been on.

Trips 4 and 5: My wife, Marsie, and I took two short, 150 mile, 4 day bicycle trips in the summers of 1990 and 1991. The first travelled through south-central Illinois; a loop through Chester, DuQuoin, and Carbondale. For me, the highlight of that trip was seeing one of those giant strip mining (coal) steam shovels. The second travelled through upstate New York, by the finger lakes. There we traversed a loop from Ithaca to Auburn and back, circumscribing Lake Cayuga and Owasco. There were no thrilling moments but the scenery was great throughout. That was the last bike trip Marsie and I will take together for a while, now that we have two children.

Trip 6: The next summer, July 1992, I flew to Fargo, North Dakota and biked 950 miles in 13 days to Decatur, Illinois, where Marsie was visiting her sister. My route took me along the Red River until Pipestone, Minnesota; then through central Iowa, just south of Cedar Falls, and across the Mississippi River at Muscatine. I avoided all the major cities, and travelled almost exclusively on county, farm-to-market style roads, so I had very little traffic. I had strong tailwinds much of the way through Minnesota and Illinois, and light hills much of the way as well. So, while the scenery was often unremarkable (lots of corn, soybeans, and pig farms), I had the joy of easy, unharried cycling, the freedom of the road. Highlights included: The Herbert Hoover National Historical Site, where you could learn all about the former engineer, WWI relief worker, Secretary of Commerce, and President; Pipestone National Monument; and Kenney (?), Illinois, a quasi-ghost town whose downtown is literally crumbling.

Trip 7: This was my trip to Alaska, detailed in other links on this home page, August 1996. I was gone three weeks, and travelled 900 miles, from Anchorage to Denali Park, Fairbanks, Valdez, Seward (via ferry), and back to Anchorage.

Trip 8: This was my trip through France, July 2000. I took fifteen days, and travelled about 700 miles in a giant semicircle through central and southern France. I left from Geneva (far western Switzerland), went north and west through the Jura mountains into southern Burgundy, turning more directly west, and then south west, across the Saone and Loire rivers into the Massif Central. Then I headed more or less south, straight through the Massif, to Languedoc province, to the city of Carcassone, and then east to Narbonne on the Mediterranean. From there, I took the train back to Geneva and flew home. It was, at the time, my shortest major trip but the hilliest. For the most part, they never quit.

No, they do not all speak English in France, especially in the rural areas, so yes, I spoke French to get around, and to have conversations with the locals. I prepared by reading L'Estranger (The Stranger) in the original French and studying a French dictionary like mad. Sounds crazy, but it worked!

Trip 9: This was my trip through New Zealand, May 2004. I took seventeen days, with a day or two additional on each end to gear up and wind down, and travelled about 650 miles from Queenstown, at the southern end of the South Island, to Wellington, and from Palmerston North to Napier, on the North Island. It was late fall in the southern hemisphere, and cold--on the South Island, temperatures rarely rose above fifty degrees. It also got dark early, about 5:30 pm, since New Zealand is so far south. I took a "city bike" with fatter tires this time, and these are slower, so I had to use daylight efficiently to get in the miles I needed to cover. There were no language barriers in New Zealand, of course, but it is still a very different culture. The most difficult part, they all drive on the left :)

Trip 10: This was my trip around the Big Island of Hawai'i, July 2008. I took ten days, and travelled about 250 miles in a giant loop beginning, and ending, in Hilo. You are basically circumnavigating a set of giant volcanoes, navigating between beach and desert, sea level and the clouds, resort towns and rural villages. The windward (NE) section of the island is lush rain forest; the leeward (SW) desolate lava fields bordering on fantastic beaches. Connecting the two, on the east of the island, is the active volcano Kiluaea, which you climb up (for twenty miles) and down.

That last trip made it all fifty states, and I have been on back roads in every one. I am now retiring from solo touring--I am going to do shorter trips, a week or a little more, with my children and (hopefully, down the line) grandchildren, not on the "every four years" schedule, in less exotic locales.

Trip 11: This trip went from Boise, Idaho, to Boudler, Colorado, 1000 miles over 23 days in July and August of 2012. Leaving Boise on an uncommonly windy way, I segued across hot, dry, sagebrush-laden southern Idaho, stopping for a day at Craters of the Moon National Monument, where ancient lava is everywhere. I then worked my way through the southeastern corner of Idaho, northwestern corner of Utah, and southwestern corner of Wyoming, working my way through the remote and beautiful Uintah Mountains. One time in Wyoming, a pronghorn antelope raced me along a fence for several hundred yards before darting off.

From Vernal, UT, I then headed east more or less all the way to Boulder, a lot of high scrub in western Colorado, giving way to mountains as you get toward the middle of the state. I stopped in Dinosaur National Monument and Steamboat Springs for a day each, and ended up at the south entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park at the appointed time. The plan was for my family, which was driving up to the park, to pick me up and carry me across the continental divide, but they were running a day late. So on my last day I crossed the divide, at 12,300 ft., and had a *very fast* downhill more or less all the way to Boulder!

It was a remote and rigorous trip, but the rugged scenery and light traffic made it especially pleasant. I learned a lot about Mormonism, which is prevalent in the parts of Idaho, Utah, and Wyoming that I went through, and being in high scrub and high desert and lonely small towns in the far West. Mid-summer is fair season up there, and I visited fairs in Idaho and Utah on both weekends en route, which was also a lot of fun.

Trip 12: This trip, from Baltimore to Burlington, Vermont, took 11 days, covered 550 miles, as part of a working vacation in June, 2016. I flew into Baltimore and immediately headed towards Philadelphia, almost becoming derailed by a major problem with my freewheel right off the bat. I managed to keep going on the freewheel until I finally made it to a bike shop near Philadelphia, and got it fixed. Then, in Philadelphia, I attended a professional conference (!) for three days before heading out again to the northeast.

From there I travelled along the towpaths bordering an old canal along the Delaware River; in the 1800s, mules would tow rafts laden with goods along these paths. I then worked my way through northwestern New Jersey--very rural--and comfortably around New York City to Poughkeepsie, where I crossed the Hudson River on a giant pedestrian bridge. Working my way to the eastern edge of New York State, I headed more or less directly north until I arrived in Burlington, where I camped for a week and worked on the book I was writing.

Bicycling in the northeast is a very different kind of biking: much more traffic, narrow shoulders, poorer roads, towns at more frequent intervals. It is more convenient, in the sense that you are rarely far from food or services, but also not nearly as peaceful. I have done so many bicycle trips in the West and Midwest because the South and Northeast just are not as conducive to bike travel. Still, having done this trip, I have travelled through all major regions of the country, which was definitely worth doing.