Last fall, I took my beautiful turquoise mountain bike out of the cellar where it languished for 15 years. I cleaned and lubed it, pumped up the tires, rode a few short minutes a few times, put it away for winter, and anxiously awaited spring. Then I broke my wrist in January and needed surgical repair with hardware. My first question at followup was, "When can I ride a bike?" "At least three months, then we'll talk about it," the surgeon said. "Good," I thought,"it should be okay by summer."
I live in the mountains. Walking or riding uphill gets my heart doing backflips so mostly flat is where it's at. I don't want my implanted defibrillator, aka Frank Zappa, to get excited and give me a jolt! The neighbors got used to seeing me pedal back and forth three times a week for a month on the only level ground in front of our home as I eased back into cycling. Then one sunny day miles of road and trail in a nearby state park beckoned. I planned on maybe a half-hour ride. When we got home and looked at the clock, 2-1/2 hours had passed! I stopped a lot, but spinning my wheels I loved the feel of wind against my face. It got my other wheels spinning too which took me back to one of the happiest times of my life.
About 30 years ago, my husband, our son, and I met a young couple traveling for two months by bicycle. Cycling was a favorite family activity of ours, and we were intrigued. Weeks on a bicycle? Could we do that? We knew people in the UK. Wouldn't it be great to visit them there and tour the country? Within a few months we came up with a plan and set to work on it.
We read everything we could about our destination and about biking. We bought nice 18-speed touring bikes, joined a cycling club, and talked to others who'd done extensive touring. We took classes that taught us how to completely disassemble our bikes and reassemble them as well as make emergency roadside repairs. My husband and I worked up to riding 100 miles over varied terrain weekly, our then 12-year-old son 25-50. R and I completed a few half-century and century events, and all three of us won badges for metric half-centuries. Then we took a few bicycle camping trips of 4-7 days' duration to get a taste of what lay ahead.
Money, school, home, my husband's business, and my job: We calculated the cost of the trip, how much of our incomes we could afford to save each month, and how long it would take to reach our goal. We met with our son's teachers in the alternative school program we participated in. They supported our plan and said they'd mark him present as long as he wrote to the class weekly, which he did. (When we returned he presented a slide show travelogue at school and received a standing ovation :-)
We considered renting our home to increase savings and avoid leaving it vacant. Coincidentally? some friends received notice of impending rent increase. They lived on the same block we did. We knew they'd been good renters and were honorable people so we sealed our rental agreement with a handshake (yeh, risky but in this case it worked). Soon after, we moved into a few empty rooms at R's business. As for that, R spread the word that he needed an assistant. He found one with the qualities and skills to keep things running in our absence. I had a profession I could easily return to so no problem there.
Six months later, we prepared to board the Canadian charter flight we'd booked. Flying from Canada was less expensive than what we had found here in the US.
Though most bicycle tourists buy or rent bikes in their country of destination, we took our own. The airline told us two pieces of luggage were included in the cost of airfare. Per their instructions our lightly padded bikes, tires partially deflated to prevent them exploding in flight and handlebars turned and secured, were accepted as one piece. Each pair of panniers strapped together and bundled with skinny sleeping bags and tent parts divided between us counted as the second. We stuffed those panniers with lightweight backpacker camping gear plus very few clothes and essentials.
On a sunny August morning, we and all our "stuff" arrived at the airport in Vancouver, B.C. A friend had agreed to come with us and drive our van back to her farm, keeping it for us until we returned. From Vancouver we flew across the Arctic Circle to Gatwick Airport south of London. I can still picture the lovely green island visible through scattered fluffy white clouds as the plane began its descent. For the next 10 weeks, we explored parts of England, Scotland, Wales, and South Ireland. We met wonderful people, some of whom we still correspond with; enjoyed fantastic bakeries (there's nothing like a cream puff with real cream after a long ride); devoured fresh fish and chips bought from roadside "chippies"; received a history lesson from a kind Scotsman who escorted us to the train station when we were lost; pedaled through picturesque landscapes and quaint country villages; toured Stonehenge (that pile of old rocks, as our son called it) and ancient castles; plus much, much more.
During our stay we usually tent camped. Occasionally we indulged in a B & B. And sometimes while pedaling country roads we'd see posted by a driveway a handpainted sign with the words "caravan to let." This was a trailer for rent by the night at a very reasonable price, often in a farmer's field which sometimes had the advantage of fresh eggs and milk available for our breakfasts.
As an American family touring together by bike we attracted attention. People especially wanted to know what a 12-year-old boy needed for a lengthy tour. Only halfway through the trip his bags were filled with TinTin comic books, seashells from the Irish coast, a tiny portable stereo with headphones, cassette tapes, small toys in addition to his few clothes, comb, toothbrush, and his own mess kit. On seeing our son's bulging panniers, one customs agent remarked, "Will ya look at that? He's carryin' more than his father!" We eventually had to package up the souvenirs and send them home.
Riding through the park brought back these treasured memories. School, work, other interests, and ill health took me away from cycling. Somewhere along the way I stopped dreaming as much too. Spinning my wheels again reminded me that I need to dream and that we made a dream come true with planning and the necessary work. Thank you, my trusty turquoise steed, for the reminder.