Traveling by bicycle, as in life, not every day is wonderful. Most of the time it’s great fun, but then there are the days it feels like we’re just slogging through the miles. What makes the difference? There are so many things that car passengers never give a second thought that are critical to those of us pedaling the same byways. Just think about it.
Road conditions – Cars barely register uneven pavement, cracks and bumps. But each of these impediments is amplified by the narrow wheels of a bicycle. Chip sealing is the worst. Take loose gravel over fresh tar and you get a rough surface guaranteed to loosen several teeth. Sometime we get lucky, and the highway department in an attempt to save money neglects to re-coat the shoulders. We love those penny pinching counties that leave us with smooth pavement. It adds a mile an hour to our speed.
Width of the shoulder – I call this the white knuckle factor. On a road with narrow crumbling shoulders there is no escape from the traffic. Those huge semis that pass by usually give us a wide berth if possible. But on two lane roads, with oncoming traffic, there is nothing scarier than feeling the slip stream of the truck suck you and your bicycle along. Give me a good wide shoulder, and I breathe much easier. Better yet, give me a small country lane, devoid of traffic and I am in heaven.
Weather – There is no rolling up the windows and sailing through the rain on a bike. Neither is there heat or air conditioning. We are at the mercy of whatever the weather gods deliver. Wind can be friend or foe, depending on whether it’s pushing us along or punishing us with great resistance. Too hot or too cold can be miserable. But there’s nothing more pleasurable than a lovely warm day cycling through the sunshine.
Terrain – This one is a matter of personal opinion. I rather like the challenge of rolling hills and charging up the inclines. I’m a chicken on the downhills, using my brakes rather than flying down at breakneck speed. Rich, on the other hand, would be happier if the world were flat. And he happily screams down the downhills. To each his own. There is no doubt that hills are tiring, particularly at the end of a long day’s ride.
Equipment – It’s easy to take my bike for granted. When it hums along smoothly it’s my best friend, my trusty steed. But when the gears start slipping I can get pretty cranky. And I begin looking for a bike shop. Flat tires are always a hazard, but our Armadillo tires do provide some good prevention. And Rich is very good at replacing the inner tubes. I really need to work on that…
Scenery – The miles go by ever so much more quickly when there’s great scenery along the way. We see it at 12 mph so we have plenty of time to look around. And that’s the whole point of cycling, to see the countryside. Having towns along the way is a bonus. They make nice diversions and stopping points, not to mention options for snacks and potty breaks.
Food – To a cyclist, food is critical. The calories we burn up day after day give us the privilege of eating whatever we want, and lots of it. It’s also a highlight of our day. There’s no better rest stop than taking time out at a good restaurant to refuel. And no bigger disappointment than poor food. We’ve earned it, after all. It better be good. Oh, and ice cream is a necessity, of course. We also have to be attentive to the availability of food. More than once we’ve cycled long distances to find restaurants closed or out of business. That is a big bummer.
After 12 days on the road so far, we’ve run the gamut on all of these factors. Our moods and enjoyment often fluctuate throughout the day as conditions change. This morning’s travel on a busy road with no shoulders and endless hills felt brutal. But when the shoulders widened, the pavement improved and the land flattened out, life suddenly got much better. When the sun came out as well, we knew we’d reached the far positive side of the enjoyment equation.