TRIPS THAT CAN CHANGE YOUR LIFE
One Guy, One Bicycle, One Cross-Country Tour
No matter where you live, you've likely thought about hitting the open road and seeing what else is out there. Ever consider doing it on a bike?
In a rural Minnesota bar, I met a 55-year-old man whose shoe store had gone bankrupt several years back. He'd drifted through odd jobs, and his wife left him after he defaulted on their mortgage. He was earning $6 an hour as a farmhand--and he paid the same $3 for a gallon of gasoline that you and I pay, in order to drive 50 miles round trip to work six days a week. Despite all of this, he seemed genuinely interested to hear about my journey and even insisted on buying me a beer--not allowing me to return the favor. "Welcome to Minnesota," he said, raising his can to mine.
I'd break for lunch in the late morning or early afternoon, at whatever facility was most convenient. I tended to favor gas stations, as they allowed me to watch my bike while I shopped--a concern when all of your belongings are visible to passersby--and to talk freely with locals. (It's amazing how many people stop to chat when they see you dripping sweat, gulping Gatorade, and leaning against a bike that's stuffed with over 100 pounds of gear.) Sandwiches or SpaghettiOs were convenient and carb-filled, and relatively easy on my stomach. I once ate a four-burrito lunch at a Montana Taco John's--though I regretted it exactly 42 minutes later. It's safe to say I'll never be allowed anywhere near the E-Z Mart in Havre, Mont., again.
Sadly, that wasn't the last of my health problems. At about the 1,500-mile mark, somewhere in North Dakota, I decided to tackle my trip's first century ride--100 miles in a single day. The route was flat and uncomplicated, and I was anxious to gauge my fitness level.
After 70 miles, I stopped to rest in the parking lot of a diner. What a great day, I thought to myself, looking out onto the open prairie. I wanted a photograph to capture the moment, so I grabbed my camera and began framing the shot. As I took a step forward, a surge of pain shot up my side. I looked down and saw that a planter, its edges trimmed in razor-sharp rusted metal, had gouged my leg. When you can see muscle and tendon, you know you need a doctor.
I quickly bandaged myself and cycled 30 miles to my overnight destination--Williston, N.D.--where I found a hospital. "Quite a flapper you've got there," announced the ER doctor as he surveyed the deep V shape carved into my shin. He expressed interest in my trip, and we chatted as he attended to the wound. One tetanus shot, 10 stitches, and a 14-hour nap later, I was back in business.
My appetite, thanks to all the cycling, was limitless. In Walla Walla, Wash., for example, I ate two large pizzas--plus a salad, a pitcher of Coke, and a slice of apple pie--in one sitting. At the next table were four teenagers who shared a medium pizza. One of them asked me to autograph his menu after I'd finished. I loved the all-you-can-eat Chinese buffets that popped up everywhere (I stopped at two in North Dakota alone), but with the quantity of food I was consuming, I'm not sure the restaurant managers loved me back. Almost every night, I treated myself to an ice cream at a Dairy Queen or convenience store. And believe it or not, I was still losing weight.
Labor Day morning, in Petoskey, Mich., I awoke with searing abdominal cramps, my body scrunched in the fetal position. No amount of bad shrimp lo me in could produce this kind of discomfort.
"Kidney stone," explained the doctor at the local hospital. "A big one, too."
My bike trip came to a temporary halt; I'd need to pass the stone. Based on its size and location, this could happen in one of two ways: Either I'd pee it out, or I'd undergo surgery. When I learned that the latter would require a "fiber-optic instrument inserted into the penis," I asked directions to the nearest drinking fountain--I'd pass the stone myself. As far as I'm concerned, my urethra is exit-only.
One week and 400 gallons of water later, nothing. Another exam indicated that I was developing a mild kidney infection, so surgery was necessary. Fortunately, the stone was retrieved easily. But I still had to recover for another week before getting back in the saddle. Being waylaid in Michigan for two weeks turned out to be a blessing. It recharged my batteries, providing me with an even greater appreciation for the remainder of my trip--not to mention Class II narcotics.
I reached the Atlantic Ocean just south of Portland, Maine, on the 73rd day of my journey, roughly 3,800 miles from my starting point. (My odometer had broken somewhere in Minnesota.) I laid my bike down near the surf, my mind racing. I'd anticipated the moment for weeks, wondering how I'd feel upon seeing the Atlantic. Despite more than 10 weeks of cycling by myself day after day, standing on the deserted stretch of beach was the first time I truly felt alone.