|October 18 Sunday
(About This Book)
||This is the story of my six-week odyssey riding across North America
on a recumbent bicycle: a bicycle you ride in a recumbent (seated)
position. Recumbent bicycles are sometimes called "bents",
which is where the phrase "get bent" comes from.
data for the entire journey
Mr. Elert. Now that you have your second masters degree, when are you going to get a real job? --
A Former Student
I don't know how you can stand teaching those city kids with their backwards hats and baggy pants. I'd like to slap them. --
A friend in Upstate New York
I am a teacher at a public high school in Brooklyn: a job with very
little respect from all levels of society, especially our elected
officials. The City forced us to take a cost of living freeze a few
years ago because they couldn't afford it. This year the City has
a two billion dollar surplus. Somebody miscalculated or lied. So
why teach? Two reasons: July and August. I work 180 days a year.
Most Americans work fifty, five-day weeks and have maybe ten paid
holidays, which comes out to 240 days in the average work year. As
a teacher, I get an additional 60 days each year added to my life.
What would you do with 60 more days at your discretion? I ride on
many of them. After a lifetime of occasional riding (never exceeding
500 miles a year) I suddenly found myself taking longer and longer
trips. It was a gradual thing. Once 30 miles seemed far, then 60,
then a century. The more you cycle the easier it gets. Two years
ago I found myself thinking, "I bet I could stick a bunch of
these rides together and have a pretty nice vacation."
With a minimal amount of preparation I did just that. My other bike
is a 1979 Schwinn Varsity. The bike that everyone my age bought when
they were a teenager only mine still runs! It's a great old bike,
but it's not the right kind of bike for touring. A month or so before
my first trip, I went to the local bike shop and picked up a rack,
a set of panniers (saddlebags), and some spare parts. Two days after
school closed I rode across New York, into Ontario, and then across
the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. It was a great ride until I hit
the Erie Canal towpath. Rough road,"Boink," a broken spoke.
Into Ontario, "Boink," another broken spoke. Two days riding
west into the prevailing headwinds, "Boink". Into Michigan, "Boink".
One day later, "Boink". The day after that, "Boink,
Boink, Boink." End of fun.
click on this picture
(or any other picture)
- Press Release #178-98 $2 Billion Surplus Largest in History
I've since replaced both wheels on the Varsity with something more
substantial. The wheel in the rear is designed for a tandem bicycle.
I love it. It's more solid than granite. It took two years of daily
city riding before it needed to be trued-up. It was an important
1. Don't be cheap with a bike your going to ride for thousands
That's why I decided to buy a good bike with quality components.
For reasons of safety and comfort, I also decided it should be a
recumbent. (More on that later.)
On that first trip I also learned that touring is a fun, reasonably
challenging, and pretty cheap way to take a vacation (outside of
buying the bike, but you'll be using that long after the trip is
over). Which brings me to my next point. I want to offer to the world
of cross-country cycling the most important piece of advice that
anyone can give:
2. Don't listen to advice from non-cyclists.
Basically, people will tell you that you're insane to take a long
cycling trip. They think that it can't be done. That it's too dangerous.
That you will be killed. Death awaits us all, but touring is not
the death sentence that most people perceive it to be. I ride about
eight thousand miles a year and I'm not dead.
I was told to watch out for bears and I never saw one bear. "You
know I heard about this woman who was attacked by a puma. You better
be aware of that when you're out in the middle of nowhere." I
would have loved to see a puma given their rarity. The biggest, baddest
animal I saw was a coyote and it looked pretty timid to me. Like
a really, really big dog. If it came down to a fight I'm sure the
coyote would have won, but both of us were more interested in getting
to where we were going than in a confrontation.
I was told to beware of truck drivers by several people. This is
idiotic. Truckers are professional drivers. If you make your living
on the highway, why would you do anything to put your livelihood
at risk? Truck drivers are your allies on the road. They actually
pay attention when they drive and they know how to operate their
I was told I would need an air horn or people wouldn't see me. You'd
think that being so low to the ground would put you off the radar
of most drivers, but the reverse is true. Recumbents are so unusual
that they attract lots of attention from motorists. I've heard from
a few recumbent owners that this is true even in Manhattan where
it's easy to dissappear behind double-parked cars. Drivers basically
can't take their eyes off of you. On an oridnary bike, you disappear
into the background (get some idiot on a cell phone behind the wheel
and you're liable to become Spandex-covered roadkill) but not on
I was told to carry mace or I would be mauled by vicious dogs. Where
are all these crazed animals people keep talking about? Most dogs
are house pets. Americans treat their pets like little babies and
lavish pleny of attention on them. Every dog that ever chased me
(with one important exception) was playing a game. The minute I stopped
pedalling they gave up. I was more concerned that these dogs would
be hit by a car than that they might attack me. The only vicious
dogs I ever met were feral animals in a derelict industrial part
of Sunset Park, Brooklyn. They did not live with people and so did
not have a kind opinion of me riding through their territory.
Still, this was just one incident out of countless dog encounters.
Most accident-related deaths occur in the home, but no one ever uses
this as an excuse to sleep in the backyard. Millions of American's
die of heart attacks but no one is scared of butter. People can not
put danger in perspective. Cycling is dangerous, but certainly not
any more dangerous than taking a shower or driving to work every
Which brings me to my next piece of advice: The best training is
to ride as often as possible, on a variety of different terrains,
and in a variety of different weather conditions. In other words:
3. Don't own a car.
||So you want to develop the muscle mass and stamina needed to ride
50 to 100 miles a day for several weeks in a row. Well you're not
going to get in shape resting your foot lightly on the accelerator,
pressing slightly harder on the brakes, or letting the engine help
you steer a one ton metal box. You've got to be out on your bike.
My basic training strategy was to ride to work on every one of the
days that school was in session. In an incredible stroke of luck,
New York had one of the mildest winters ever and I was able to ride
173 of the 180 days. I missed seven days due to illness, one major
repair, and some extreme weather including a day when the streets
were covered with black ice. That seemed like a good day to take
In addition to gaining strength and endurance, I developed a better
feel for riding in bad weather, riding on bad roads (New York has
plenty of them), and riding in general. Did you know that the thermoplastic
paint used to draw dividing lines and crosswalks on the road is extremely
slippery when wet? I would never have considered this or other details
before I decided to use a bike as my primary mode of transportation.
I don't feel so miserable riding in the rain anymore. One of the
dumb questions I get asked a lot it, "What do you do when it
rains?" The answer, it seems, should be obvious, "I get
wet." This is something you have to be prepared for out on the
open road. Try riding in the rain before you find yourself a thousand
miles from home. I also handle the heat much better. Air conditioning
makes me uncomfortable now. The only thing I'll never get used to
is a headwind. I just can't take riding at 6 to 9 mph for eight hours.
It's the worst form of torure.
- The more you drive, the less intelligent you are -- Repo Man [real audio file]
||New York is not a bicycle-friendly place (in fact, it seems as if
people fear and hate bicycles), but New York is not a car-firendly
place either. Yet spending a hour or three, twice a day in a metal
box, five days a week is considered normal. Paying the exceptionally
high insurance rates, parking fees, and parking tickets is a lifestyle
choice. Athsma and allergies are endemic and no one considers this
unusual. The air has a toxic orange cast to it, but no one complains.
Dust and soot coat everything outdoors and blow in through open windows
in the summer, but this is seen as a reason to buy an air conditioner.
Why isn't cycling more popular? It seems obvious that automobile
access to Manhattan should be restricted to essential services only.
No more auto commuting. The quality of life would improve markedly.
It's so obvious to me, but it's like arguing with a heroine addict.
New York will never be a place with a sane transportation policy
despite the obvious advantages of its compact layout and well-developed
public transportation system.
- Alliance for a Paving Moratorium
- Bike to Work
- Bikes Belong
- Cars Suck
- Concrete Action
- Road To Ruin
- Time's Up
- Transportation Alternatives
||"The greatest human madness is the personal automobile, a plague
which makes the nuclear threat pale into insignificance." I
wish I could remember who said this.
||I decided to buy my next bicycle from Wheel & Sprocket, a major
recumbent retailer in Milwaukee. I am now the proud owner of a Ryan
Vanguard: a long wheelbase (LWB), under seat steering (USS) recumbent
with a hammock-style seat designed for an ultralight aircraft. The
seat is quite comfortable--unlike the soft tissue dammaging saddles
on stand up bikes. Because it's difficult to lift yourself out of
the seat while riding, I've added an air cushion to absorb some of
the more serious bumps. Your hands support none of your weight but
instead rest lightly on the handlebars. I thought this would eliminate
nerve dammage, but I suffered occasional numbness in my right pinky
finger for some unknown reason (atrophy, perhaps?). The Ryan is assembled
from very high quality components: thumbshifters connect to a Shimano
Deore XT deraileur with twenty-four speeds, three in the front and
eight in the rear (a seven-speed casette and an extra hill-climbing
gear designed for a mountain bike) and long lever armed V-brakes
that need only a feather touch to engage. The long wheelbase gives
a commanding road presence. With the trailer it's about ten feet
long, longer than many cars. Oh yeah, and it looks really cool, too.
I highly recommend a recumbent for touring as it provides the best
posture for looking around at the scenery while riding. Last year
I spend most of my time looking at the ground ahead of me as I rode.
The first day I had my Ryan I did a test run around Central Park.
I never noticed how attractive the park was before. I really appreciated
being able to look around while riding through the vast open spaces
of Montana and North Dakota. It was like a ten hour IMAX movie.
Although I can't verify it, I feel a recumbent is safer on the open
road, especially on long downhill runs and at high speeds. Crash
on a stand up and you'll fly head-first over the handlebars, landing
on your head, neck, and shoulders. Crash on a bent and you'll fall
on your ass. Granted that will hurt, but the likelihood of joining
the Christopher Reeves Club seems greatly reduced. Still, I wear
a helmet at nearly all times just in case.
On the whole, the Ryan is a bit slower than a typical bike. When
you ride a recumbent (especially one with under seat steering) you
project a larger surface area than on a standup. This results in
more drag and there's no position you can adopt to reduce it. In
a headwind it's like driving with a parachute. Tailwinds blow you
along like a sailboat, but not enough to balance out the time lost
to headwinds. Zzipper makes a fairing (aerodynamic shield), but it
seems like I'd be giving up on the view if I installed one. The Ryan
is also slower starting and climbing hills. You can't cheat and stand
up in the seat for a gravity assist. You're riding on pure leg power.
Still, many of the speed records for bicycles are held by recumbent
riders. Go figure.
- Wheel & Sprocket
- Recumbent HeadQuarters
- Ryan Recumbent Cycles
- E-Bent E-zine
- FAQ for Recumbent Bike
- Recumbent Bicycle Center
- Zzipper Bicycle Fairings
||I decided against panniers and went with a trailer instead. I think
part of the reason I lost so many spokes on the Schwinn Varsity was
that the panniers put a lot of stress on the rear axle. Granted,
I didn't have the most appropriate wheels for touring, but I never
broke any spokes on my old Schwinn riding it around unloaded. Panniers
also do not hold much gear despite their bulk and few of them are
waterproof. These seem like unnatural constraints on a touring cyclist.
My trailer of choice was the Coz Bob--a solid RubberMaid box that
locks shut with a nice solid clunk. It's a cousin to the more popular
Yak Bob -- a flat metal platform with a big dufflebag on it. The
Coz is less roomy that the Yak, but the RubberMaid box keeps your
gear dry and clean whereas the dufflebag is basically a thirty pound
sponge. It comes with it's own reflector and a safety flag. People
aren't expecting to see a bike towing a trailer so the flag is a
pretty good idea. Thankfully no one read it and thought my name was
A loaded trailer is heavier than panniers, but half of that weight
rests on the trailer's single wheel, effectively doubling your carrying
capacity. (The Coz is rated to 50 pounds.) Still, I packed rather
lightly: cycling attire for seven days (I couldn't see doing laundry
all the time), one pair of non-cycling shorts, a windbreaker, spare
parts, tools, a pump, hand soap, maps and guides, a Sports Walkman
radio (but no battery consuming tape player), a quart of water and
1-4 quarts of juice at all times (lost my taste for Gatorade after
a few days), lots of snacks but never a proper lunch (crackers, cookies,
Raspberry Newtons, donuts, penut butter and jelly sandwiches), a
medkit I never really needed (bandages, antiseptic cream, Pepto-Bismol,
tweezers, aspirin), spare contact lenses, sunscreen, insect repellant,
eyeglasses, and a five-pound laptop computer.
- BOB Trailers
Here's my last piece of advice. One that doesn't start with the
word "don't". I read it in a fortune cookie in North
I saw three seperate cyclists riding solo across Canada on the Tran
Canada Highway last year. I consider the Trans Canada one of the
worst highways for cycling and yet here these guys were wrestling
with double-bottom trucks for their sliver of a heavily-trafficked,
dangerously-narrow highway. Many of the highways in Canada are like
this, so either these guys didn't know any better or didn't care.
I thought, "If they can do it in Canada on the only crappy road
for three-hundred miles in either direction then I can do it in the
United States where there are more and better roads to chose from." There
are a lot of people out on the roads with this attitude. I met about
a dozen people riding cross-country this year and heard stories of
a group of twenty not far away from me. If I knew a bit more about
sampling techniques we could get an idea of how many coast-to-coast
riders there were in the United States in 1998. My guess is there
must be close to a thousand. That's not a large percent of the population,
but it's not as rare as climbing Mount Everest. The biggest obstacle
to overcome seems to be lack of free time. You can't go cost-to-coast
during a two-week vacation.
- Adventure Cycling Association
- Trans Canada Trail Foundation
- 2 Chicks, 2 Bikes, 1 Cause
- Cycle Across America
- East West 97
- Open Directory Project
- PeaceRide (around the world)
- Robert's Bike Tour Reports
- Stony's Links
- Trans-USA Bicycle Trip 1996
- Team Snail
||I thought I should start on the West Coast to take advantage of
the prevailing winds. Once again, I learned this during the trip
last year when I found myself riding into the wind for several days
in a row. I've been meaning to visit my old Peace Corps friend Phil
in Portland for some time now. This could be the perfect opportunity.
Flipping through a map of Oregon I spotted a town called Rockaway
Beach on the Oregon coast not far from Portland. How crazy is that?
There's also a Rockaway Beach in New York City (in the Borough of
Queens, inspiration for the Ramones song of the same name). It seems
so obvious: Rockaway Beach, Oregon to Rockaway Beach, New York. That's
the ride I'm going to do.
||Bought a one-way ticket from New York to Portland. Packed the bent
and trailer in a set of three boxes. Shipped them via UPS second
day air. Flew to Portland. Tossed the return ticket in the trash.
Dipped the rear wheel in the Pacific Ocean at Rockaway Beach, Oregon.
Rode for 41 days with a one week break in Milwaukee to visit my parents.
Dipped the front wheel in the Atlantic Ocean at Rockaway Beach, New
York. The best summer vacation in ten years of teaching.
You can keep your real jobs.
Facts at a Glance
- Distance: 3682 miles.
- Cost: US$ 3549 (not including the cost of the bicycle
- States/Provinces: Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ontario,
and New York (with brief excursions
into Pennsylvania and New Jersey).
- Terrain: an ocean and a sandy beach,
mountains, several waterfalls, a
semi-desert, a plateau, valleys,
bigger mountains, bluffs, badlands,
plains, prarie, woods, many small lakes, coulees,
a few great big lakes, two great big waterfalls,
hills, some long lakes, bigger hills
(or smaller mountains), a fjord, a megacity, another sandy beach
and another ocean.
- Passages: Interstates 84 and 15,
US and state highways, county highways and rural roads, city streets, one
urban freeway, rail trails (asphalt and gravel), urban greenways,
sidewalks, a power utility right-of-way, a
boardwalk, two suspension bridges, unlit
rail tunnels, mountain passes, causeways,
and the last ferry still crossing Lake Michigan.
- Traffic: commuters, tourists, campers towing cars, pickup
trucks towing campers, prefabricated housing units, shipping containers,
a liquid nitrogen tanker, cattle trucks, horse trailers, cattle,
horses, a crop duster, farm equipment,
construction equipment, buses, street sweepers, taxis, an
intercontinental ballistic missle, Harley-Davidson convoys,
pedestrians, in-line skaters, kids on bikes, and other coast-to-coast
- Animals: songbirds, raptors, waterfowl, turkeys, chipmunks,
woodchucks, squirrels, deer, a coyote,
loose dogs, cattle, horses, domesticated buffalo (or
bison, if you prefer), and not much else.
- Oregon Tourism
- Travel Guide
- Oregon Transportation
- Bicycling Guide
- Washington Tourism
- Travel Packet
- Idaho Tourism
- Travel Guide
- Montana Tourism
- Vacation Packet
- North Dakota Tourism
- Travel Packet
- Minnesota Tourism
- Travel Guide
- Minnesota Natural Resources
- Trail Maps
- Wisconsin Tourism
- Bikingin Wisconsin
- Wisconsin Transportation
- Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin
- Wisconsin Natural Resources
- Michigan Transportation
- Highway Map
- Ontario Tourism
- New York Tourism
- Travel Guide
- New York Transportation
- Bicycling Information
Get Bent Awards
- Best States
- Wisconsin. Scenic, clean, world's
finest network of trails, nice people.
- Minnesota. Not quite as scenic and
has fewer miles of trails (but in better condition).
- New York. Hundreds of miles of smooth
highways with wide paved shoulders. Not many good bike paths,
but they really aren't necessary.
- Worst State
- Michigan. Ugly, over-developed,
comparatively heavy traffic, mediocre roads, sometimes unfriendly
- Best Day
- Glasgow, Montana to Williston, North
Dakota. 150 miles at 15 mph. A strong tailwind all day.
Like riding on a conveyor belt.
- Worst Day
- Ludington, Michigan to Big Rapids, Michigan.
Inadequate sleep, heavy rains in the morning, no sun, ugly
landscape, moderate to heavy traffic.
- Hottest Place
- Montana East of The Rockies. High
temperatures approaching 100 °F for several days.
Few and often no clouds in the sky. Hot winds.
- Coldest Place
- Pacific Coast of Oregon. Painfully
cold water. Colder than Lake Superior in the summer. Permanently
damp and overcast (or so it seems).
- Windiest Place
- Columbia River Valley seperating
Oregon and Washington. Riding there near the start of my trip
gave me a false sense of how fast I could cycle.
- Montana East of The Rockies. The
wind blows constantly, but changes direction. Depressing when
you have to ride into it. Awesome when it's at your back.
- Highest Place
- Rogers Pass, Montana: 5610 feet
- Lolo Pass, Idaho-Montana: 5235 feet
- Alpowa Summit, Washington: 2785
- Coastal Range, Oregon: 1586 feet.
- Flattest Place
- Eastern North Dakota, especially
around Devils Lake. So flat The only hill was a 100-foot-tall
cone-shaped glacial depost called a kame. The only steep grade
was on either side of the Sheyenne River Valley. Recumbent
country. [On a later trip I discovered the joys of Central
Illinois. Gloriously flat. One of the few places where you
can see your next destination by just standing up.]
- Greatest Danger
- Montana Highway 200. Close encounter
with an oversize load.
- Longest Trail
- Great River, Lacrosse
River, Elroy-Sparta, The400.
Total distance: something like 150 miles. OK, so it's not
one trail, but it may as well be. There are no significant
gaps between the different segments.
- Worst Road
- North Dakota Highway 19. A twenty
mile long pile of dirt that will someday be a road. The old
road is underwater.
- Worst Road Kill
- A one mile segment of Minnesota Highway
34 east of Detroit Lakes was coated with pulverized frogs
spaced six to ten feet apart.
- Best Radio
- CBC Saskatchewan. An interesting
variety of magazine-style programming and news.
- Worst Radio
- Some gospel station near Wallula, Washington.
One of their selections was a song about how heaven is full
of simple country folk. Sounds more like hell to me (see Most
- Most Unusual Radio
- In North-Central Oregon, every FM
radio station I could tune in was running Paul Harvey simultaneously.
- Near Branchport, New York I briefly
intercepted an FM broadcast of The Howard Stern Show on K-Rock,
which is about 400 miles away in New York City.
- Dumbest Question
- "How do you steer that thing?"
It's obvious if you'd just look at the bike.
- "What do you do when it rains?"
Think about it people.
- Most Irritating Yokel
- A guy from Nebraska who peppered
me with irritating questions for what seemed like hours while
we waited in the cold rain for the ferry across Lake Michigan.
- Rush Limbaugh. The guy
can be heard in every radio market in the United States. (What's
up with that, America?) I found myself listening to him just
for "irritainment". The show has minimal content
value at best.
- Best People (22-Way Tie)
- My family and "host families" in order of apearance
Phil, Sharon, Ashley, and Andrew;
Merry and Sam;
Leif, Marcia, Maureen, Anika, and Lars;
Renée, Scott, and Brian;
Brabara, Gordon, and Jessi;
Arthur, Judy, and Connie; and
Links to this Site
- arielannotated [4.27.2002]
- Bicycle Touring Zone: Trip Reports: Travelogues, Mark Boisseau
- BikeMojo - mojo ridin'
- Bike Tour, potat0man
- biking, Graeme
- Coast to Coast Sports Links - Real Sports Network
- Cycling Sites Which Link To Mine, Ken Kifer
- dropsafe : articles : cycling, Alec Muffett
- East West 97, Vilmar Tavares
- Michael's Excellent Adventure, Michael Wolfe
- Misc. Interesting or Useful Biking Links, Kingsport Bicycle Association
- Not My Desk - Temporary Insanity, 9-8-2000
- Open Directory Project <dmoz.org>
- Radreisen (Gerhards Fahrradseiten), Gerhard Wilhelm
- Reanna's Recumbent Bike
- The Recumbent Blog, Alan
- Recumbent Riders' Home Pages, Kathy Bilton
- Robert's on-line bike tour reports, Robert Ashworth
- Routes 2002, Bill Cotton
- Ryan Owners Club
- Show Me America! Jim Damico
- Sojourner's Huge and Growing Collection of Cycle Tour Stories, Goeff Howard
- Stony's Links - Touring Pages and Travelogues, Stony
- Tourismo Bents & Coast to Coast Cesare Marranghello Major
- Wolverbents, League of Michigan Bicyclists
No condition is permanent.