Saturday, June 7, 2014
In the months leading up to this adventure, I was talking to everyone about the upcoming ride. People were really excited for me, and asked lots of questions. Often also suggesting that I'm 'crazy' for doing this (said in good humor, mostly.)
And I got used to people asking questions, and me talking about this trip so much.
So when I got to Williamsburg, Va. and met up with all the other riders for the first time, it was an interesting shift because nobody was asking me about the trip and nobody was calling me crazy. These were all people doing this! So we were all on common ground. We just talked to each other like regular folks; where are you from, what do you do, what's your background/backstory, etc. I was among my people. :-)
Getting to know my fellow riders, I ask 'why did you want to do this?' Which is simultaneously the most obvious question, and the most unnecessary. There are different initial motivations, but the end result is the same; we wanted to do an epic adventure.
It takes a certain kind of person to step out of your life for 3 months to sit on a bike and pedal across America. So while we all have vastly different personalities, there's an underlying commonalty and mindset that binds us.
There's a lot of varied background among the group. Some of them have done touring before, but also several of us have never done anything like this. Those who have done touring have done rides from 2 weeks up to a month, but nothing nearly as long as this ride, so regardless of our background and experience, this is essentially new to all of us. (And after a month of riding, we're all at the same experience level now!)
The riders have a lot of different fitness backgrounds. Many are avid bike riders, of course, but one of the guys is an ultra distance runner and a few of the people are not big bike riders in general, and took it up in earnest to do this trip. Others have varying degrees of bike time. I fall somewhere in the middle, as a fitness guy but not a long distance rider. But again, none of that history matters, after a month we're all long distance tourers!
Here are the folks I'm riding with:
There are 2 other guys here my age, Ed is from Massachusetts and is a month older than me. We simultaneously have the most in common, and the least. We can relate to each other by age, and he gets all my pop culture references. But he's very mellow and quiet, and I'm a loud smartass. Ed occasionally leads a short post-ride yoga session for stretching that I enjoy.
David is the tour leader, and also the same age as me. He has the patience of a saint, and handles this group with aplomb. He works with at-risk youth in an outdoor program, so his people skills and camping skills are very valuable.
Saraya is the youngest of the group, and has become a bit of the group mascot. Hanging around with so many older folks, everyone has a desire to look after her. The thing is, she is more self sufficient than maybe even she realizes. She has a fierce will and a positive outlook.
Everyone else in the group is 60 years old, +/- 3 years. Some are retired, but not all of them.
Normand is one of two foreigners with us. He's from Quebec, and speaks with a quaint French-Canadian accent. He's somewhat quiet, but one of the smartest and wisest people in our group. He's also the barrista of the group and makes excellent coffee for everyone, every morning.
Bob from Nebraska is another quiet guy in the group, but he has a fun side bubbling just under the surface. One time I heard him yell 'weee!' as we went down a hill. Seeing him let out his inner 14 year old, I knew he was a good guy. Bob bought a ukelele at a pawn shop the second week of the trip, and plays it most nights. His rendition of 'Mr. Bojangles' is beautiful.
Mike from Georgia is an interesting juxtaposition; his heavy southern drawl belies his sharp mind and deep knowledge. He's hiked the Appalachian Trail, and has the most outdoors experience. He brought a few harmonicas with him, and bought a miniature guitar a few weeks into the trip so he could play with Bob. Their duets are often highlights of the evening.
Scott and Sam are a married couple from California. Scott is one of the strongest riders in the group, and Sam is a very kind and warm woman who is always positive and smiling, even when she's struggling.
Annika is our other foreigner, she's Swedish, from Germany, and recently lived in Dubai for several years. Don't ask, I can't keep it all straight! She's also worked at the North Pole on a medical assignment. She's an OBG/YN and internist. She's simultaneously brilliant and obtuse. She is also generally vocal about things she doesn't like.
John from Colorado is possibly the nicest person I've ever met. He'd give you the shirt off his back and smile while doing it. He's retired, but works at REI to fill the time (and get the discount.) He's the go-to guy in the group for bike maintenance and has helped me on several occasions. He's got a sweet tooth that rivals my own, and I made a friend for life when I shared a giant slab of chocolate cake with him the very first night of the trip.
Randy B from Ohio is a gentleman's gentleman. He is an extremely friendly, kind and quiet man. He's the distance runner, and decided to do this trip in order to have a grand adventure. His wife came down to meet us in Kentucky and they are an adorable couple.
Megan and Randy from Idaho are the couple that left the tour in Carbondale. Randy was not overly social, and mostly kept himself. Still, he was always very polite and friendly whenever I talked to him. Meg was more social, but still not overly so. She was warm and kind and if we could get her to sing she had a great voice. They bowed out of the trip around day 30, as it got very difficult for them and lost its fun.
Janet started the tour with us, but bowed out after 8 or 9 days. This was more physically demanding than she anticipated, and she had a number of issues that were difficult for her to overcome. She was a total sweetheart, and she would have fit in great with this crowd. But the challenges that came after she left were orders of magnitude more difficult than what we faced at first, so maybe it wasn't meant to be.
And lastly there's a rider named Richard.
As a group, I think we really lucked out with this crowd. Pretty much everyone gets along, and we all have a good temperament. Its a fun group that enjoys what we're doing, doesn't complain too much, and has a great sense of adventure. There are very few friction points, and no 'alpha-males' that demand being the center of attention, and for the most part they like my sense of humor - which is always a plus.
It's a lot of fun being in a group of like-minded people. Surprisingly, there are no vegetarians in the group, and the only food restriction is one person with a mild shellfish allergy. So it's easy to shop for dinner, and as a group we'll eat pretty much anything. In fact, it's fun being around people who eat the way I do, that is to say; often, in great quantities, and not too picky! Other people have said that from the pictures and updates they post that their family thinks all we do is eat! And boy do we eat! We have breakfast at camp, but also pack a huge lunch for the road. I try to snack every hour to keep my energy up, plus a real lunch and occasionally second breakfast or lunch.
One time we went into a convenience store and practically ate the place clean! I refer to us a locusts, because we come in, eat everything, and then move on!
Lastly, one aspect of being around people doing the same thing I am every day is that is sort of mutes the whole thing. What I'm doing every day doesn't seem as big a deal because everyone around me is doing the same thing. So when I talk to people outside my little circle who are impressed or amazed or even just excited for what I'm doing, it feels weird. Because in my little world, it's just what we do, every day.