I was curled up in my chair, watching the flames flicker in our wood stove, and I got lost in my thoughts. As the flames flickered, I drifted back through the years and I started thinking about my very first bike tour.
That first tour I took – I hesitate to even call it a tour – it was really more of a comedy of errors than anything else – but it was start, and I was so proud!
Way back in the early 1980s, I came up with the cockananny idea of traveling on my bike. I had no gear other than a bike and a sleeping bag, but that didn’t stop me. A quick trip to my local K-Mart solved the problem of no rack to put things on and an hour later I was beaming. My mechanical prowess had paid off! I had somehow managed to mount that contraption on my bike.
My gear found its way into a myriad of plastic bags which then were tied and bungeed onto the rack and I was off. Off on a grand adventure! I must have looked like the quintessential bag lady.
My destination was simple – a dam 100 miles from Boise. It sounded like a good idea at the time. The way I figured it, I would pedal fifty miles per day, making a four-day trip. Sounded perfect for the novice I was. I kissed my mom goodbye, promised to call home every day, and set off to find my rainbow.
Five miles from home I almost crashed; something was throwing my bike terribly off. Maybe my mechanical prowess wasn’t as good as I had imagined it to be… It didn’t take long before I discovered a screw had fallen out of my $5 rack.
I found a stick to fit through the holes and continued on my way. Three miles later my stick broke and the rack wobbled dangerously. I replaced it with another. And then another. And another….
Fifty miles went by quickly – fifty miles of sugar beet fields. And cornfields. And onion fields. And broken screw-sticks. I started looking for a place to sleep, but sleeping in some farmer’s field wasn’t an option I considered at the time. Ten more miles went by – ten miles of sugar beets. And another ten miles of onions. I was getting tired. I wanted to stop, but the farms showed no signs of letting up.
98 miles from home (and countless broken sticks) I finally found a spot. In retrospect, it was perfect – a flat grassy spot right next to a meandering creek.
How young and naive I was! I know now that nobody knew I was there. And even if they had known, nobody would have cared.
But at the time, all I could think was, “What if?” What if someone saw me come back off the road? What if someone knew I was camped there? What if someone came back here in the middle of the night? I wasn’t the least bit concerned about being attacked. Or robbed. Or raped.
My greatest nightmare was that someone would come and tell me I couldn’t camp there, and I would be forced to climb back on that god-forsaken bicycle again. I lay there all night long, sure that every passing car was bringing that person who would kick me out. And I didn’t sleep a wink.
I was up and out as the first rays of the sun graced the earth with their presence – eager to escape my torture chamber. I pedaled away … and found a wonderful little campground with a hot spring-fed pool a mere two miles down the road. If only I had consulted my map I would have known that.
I still marvel at the fact that I made it back home in one piece and that I’ve toured many miles since that day, but I learned a lot from that trip. I learned that a good rack is essential. I learned that panniers are a better option than plastic bags. And I learned that it is helpful to consult a map every once in a while.
In many ways things haven’t changed at all. I am still footloose and fancy free. I’m still out chasing rainbows. And the magic of bicycling hasn’t diminished one bit.