Years ago there was a young boy who received his first set of wheels. A shiny new tricycle, a gift he was not so sure about. When he learned that the saddle was for sitting on and the pedals for pushing he had discovered his first step in being free. The dirt driveway was his proving ground. Then the day came when there was a two wheeler with training wheels, he was making progress.
Finally the day came when this little boy took flight. He was balancing himself on his first real bike, along with his mother’s help as the training wheels had been removed and she was slowly running be side him, pushing him along as he began to pedal, testing his wings, then she was gone, and he was free.
My first rides consisted of exploring our long dirt driveway but then it progressed into short rides out on the hard road. Soon came bigger bikes, rescued bikes that my father found when he was working in people’s basements as a plumber. And with bigger bikes came longer rides. There was the cheese factory, with the big paved parking lot, a 1/2 mile down the hard road in one direction, and in the other direction a 1/2 mile was a farm pond that deserved some attention. Bicycles at this point were simple my way of getting from one adventure to the next. Occasionally the bicycles became the adventure themselves. My friends and I discovered what mountain biking was all about long before there was such a thing as a mountain bike. We would grab any available bicycle, that wasn’t broken, and race through the local wooded lot, on paths we had carved between the trees and over rock ledges.
As I reached high school age, my now brothers in law, introduced me to real bicycling, on multiple “speed” bikes, and long distance riding. They would fill my head with adventures they had on their bikes and cycling tours they had been on.
I began saving the money I earned at my first real job, stocking shelves at a salvage grocery store, just down the road within walking distance. After a couple years working Saturdays and after school I had enough money to purchase my own new bike. After pouring over the Schwinn color brochure for several months I finally decided to spend my whole life savings on their blue Super Sport model. It was my first multiple gear bike with 10 speeds. I also remember adding a rat trap rear rack so I would be able to mount some panniers for future adventures.
This was a monumental decision for me back in 1972. I don’t remember the exact price but I remember feeling overwhelmed by the money I had spent. That overwhelming feeling soon was replaced by the overwhelming feeling of freedom I felt when I was out riding. Time was my only limit on how far I rode and I would spend hours riding as long as I could make it home for supper.
I grew up in Sussex County, New Jersey, a rural area 50 miles outside New York City. My goal at the time was to ride every road in the county. In order to keep track I bought a large county map, that hung on my bedroom wall and I would highlight the roads as I had ridden them.
Time moved on. I often wonder what happened to that bike. I turned 17, got my drivers license, bought my first car, graduated high school, spent a few years in the Navy, got married and had my first child before I once more found my riding love when I bought my second bike. I tried introducing my wife and two children to the love of cycling but while they all patronized me while participating in my adventures none are serious cyclist today.
This second phase in my cycling life came to an abrupt end while on a road trip to a our summer vacation in Bethany Beach DE. For a short period of time in my professional career I was a traveling salesman in the immediate surrounding area, for the company I was working for. One of the areas I covered was along the route to Bethany Beach. In my travels I discovered a short cut that would shave some time off the 5 hours it took for us to drive to the beach. When summer came and we were on our way, traveling in my pickup truck with the bed full of gear and two bikes strapped to the roof racks, I chose to take the short cut. What I forgot was the low bridge until there was a terrible crunch as we passed under it. This simple lapse in basic driving awareness caused the loss of both my wife’s and my bicycles.
While it had always been my intent to replace the bicycles one thing or other took priority, both in time and expense, and it was 30 years before I resurrected the hidden fascination I had with cycling.
I was 57 when I retired on disability, (see my previous post “The Back Story”), leaving me with a lot of time on my hands. Some years prior I had stumbled across a cycling journal on “Crazy Guy on a Bike”, of a woman who had ridden her recumbent trike across the United States from San Diego CA to St. Augustine FL. I became fascinated with the whole concept of the recumbent trike and I set out to become more knowledgeable. One thing I did learned and it took precedent, was how expensive they were. With the decreased capacity of my legs the idea of the recumbent trike seemed like it would be a good match for me but I was hesitant to plunk down a large chunk of money to find out it wasn’t going to work for me.
In the mean time I was doing some work at my brother in law’s mother’s house and I saw a recumbent trike setting in her garage. A couple of years later, about the time I retired, she passed away and I heard that my nephew had taken possession of her recumbent trike. Being curious about whether I would be able to ride a recumbent trike I asked him about it. He was more than happy to get it out of his garage and I was thrilled that I could test one without forking over a lot of money for a new one.
After I brought it home and put it back in riding condition I took it out for a spin. I was very happy to discover riding a recumbent trike was something I could manage. I went out and purchased the rudimentary gear that I felt I needed; clipless cycling shoes, a helmet, a safety flag, and riding gloves. Then I started riding.
I had started my fascination of cycling on a tricycle and now here I was back to riding a tricycle and, it – felt – liberating. To be completely truthful real men don’t ride tricycles, they ride trikes, it sounds more manly.
Just like in the very beginning, the rides started out short and then they began to stretched out; up the road and back, around the block, 2 miles to coffee and back, a 5 mile loop, a 10 mile loop, and then the dream returned. I remembered it from when I was in high school; could I ride this thing from the Pacific coast all the way across to the Atlantic coast?
The first thing that I knew would have to change was that I would need a better designed trike. I learned very quickly that at higher speeds, anything over 15 mph, the stability deteriorated and I found myself gripping with white knuckles the steering yoke. Was this how all trikes performed? The trike that was given to me was, what I would classify as an entry level model and I’d been told that the were much better quality trikes to choose from. I was not sure what that meant. Was this squirrelly nature an inherent flaw in the recumbent trike concept? I needed more answers.
In my research of the different trike manufacturers I had my eye on the hpVelotechnik Scorpion with a Rohloff internal rear hub gear cluster. This trike was a “Cadillac” model of recumbent trikes and I knew I could not afford it. ICE was another manufacturer of recumbent trikes and they had a model that was a little less expensive that would fulfill my needs. What ever model I purchased I needed to know; was it going to more stable than the trike I was currently riding? I gave myself the rest of the summer to riding my “free” trike, building miles and confidence before I would commit to making a purchase decision.
I had been periodically checking Ebay and Craigslist in the hope that I would find something that I could afford and that would fill my expectations. Then in July 2016, in the Lord’s providence, I happened to be checking Craigslist and there it was, an hpVelotechnik Scorpion 26fs, not a 100% match for what I wanted but close enough. And it was in my price range, and it was located close by. I quickly called and made arrangements to go see it. I found out that this particular trike did not have the Rohloff hub but it did have an extensive range of 81 different gear ratios. It was also a folding model which was important to me. The only factor that would not have been on my build sheet for a custom order trike was that it’s rear wheel was a 26″ instead of my preferred diameter of 20″. While the 26″ diameter rear wheel is great for speed it does sacrifice some torque needed for hill climbing. This trike also had my desired suspension on all three wheels and it had disc breaks. The real test would be how it handled on the down hill runs. Fortunately there was a hill in the neighborhood where the trike was located and I was able to test this concern. Wow! It was smooth and glorious. I had found my trike.
With this new trike I set out to discovering all of it’s intricacies. I tried everyone of it’s different gear ratios. I would try climbing hills that exercised my capabilities on the first trike and I would push the downhill speeds to beyond what I had previously been fearful of. I was ecstatic. This trike was one screaming machine. I had found my freedom once more.
Over the years the degenerative nature of my condition had slowly disintegrated the comfort level of my mobility factor. With the trike I began to recover my mobility acumen. I would greet everyone I encountered while out riding. I was like Crocodile Dondee walking the streets of New York City, “Good Day Mate”, figuratively of course, but I was definitely riding with a swagger.
As my miles accumulated on the new trike so did my thoughts of making a go at a transcontinental ride. The dream of being able to make such a ride began to gain form. Somehow I needed to gage whether I was really ready to make this endeavor. I had been reading a lot of books and journals of other people who had successfully made a transcontinental ride so I took some inspiration from them. Since I basically live on the pacific coast continental plateau, in a city, settled in a valley surrounded by mountains, I knew I would have to do some serious climbing to escape the oceanic pull. In order to know if I was ready to overcome this obstacle I set for myself the goal of climbing three of the highest hills leading out of town. The other obstacle I knew I would face was the fact that I would have to ride big mile days, day after day. There was really no way to fully prepare myself for this challenge without actually doing it so I set an abbreviated goal of riding two consecutive 40+ miles days. And this all had to be accomplished before the end of the year and that was three months away.
The climbing portion of this challenge I found easy to accomplish. With the gearing ratios of the hpVelotechnik trike I could drop it down into the lowest gear and by taking my time, I literally become a human machine and walked up the grades, the steepest of which I found to have a continual 11% grade. The second part of my challenge, I found to be more difficult. Over the days, weeks and months of putting in long rides I was not prepared for the strain I was putting on my legs. They were in a constant state of muscle soreness. Since for all intent and purpose, my lower legs being in such a condition of complete atrophy that they were basically paralyzed, I had to rely on my thigh and butt muscles to do all the work. I was riding 4 to 5 days a week and finally a couple of weeks before Christmas 2016 I thought I was ready for this last challenge of two consecutive 40+ mile days. On Wednesday, December 14, I set out on the first day of this challenge and was able to ride 44 miles, the first time I had ever ridden this far. The following day turned out to be a wash as I had to watch my granddaughter when she became sick and was unable to go to school. It was two more weeks before I could get back on the trike and ride because of the weather. On Wednesday December 28th, I made a second attempt at a 40+ day and rode 47 miles. The second day started out okay but by the time I had ridden 25 miles my legs were really feeling the burn. The final miles of that day all seemed to be up hill. When I finally reached my house after 45 miles, I knew I had accomplished my goal but I was spent. These last few miles proved to me that I was not ready to make a cross country attempt. Although I was disappointed in not being ready to fulfill my dream I was proud of my accomplishments. I finished 2016 with a total of 1,469 miles ridden and 97,385 feet of elevation climbed.
Not being one to give up on my dreams I simple postponed my plans for the transcontinental ride for one year. I needed to get a proper diagnosis of my condition and whether it would prevent me from achieving my goal. The new year, 2017, was spent pursuing answers, honing riding techniques, outfitting my trike with the accessories to make my riding easier, and building endurance by adding miles, lots of miles.
I enjoyed every mile I rode in 2017. I pushed my boundaries and expanded my comfort zones. I rearranged the configuration of my trike set up and then reconfigured it again. I learned how to pace myself and ride using efficient cadences with proper gear ratios. I learned about staying hydrated and feeding the calorie burning machine. I began researching equipment and proper clothing choices to accommodate multiple climate zones that I would travel through. I laid out a route across the United States using the historic Route 60 as my basic course. And I rode my trike. I rode it a lot. I finished the year with a little over 2,800 miles and over 147,000 feet of elevation gained. I think I have laid a good foundation and I now feel like I’m physically ready to meet the challenge of a transcontinental ride.
All my research has told me again and again that you cannot prepare for everything and that when the time comes I’ll just have to point my trike in the right direction, put my feet to the pedals and push.