Tuesday, July 31. Newport Beach, CA.
Stayed up late last night – 10:30 – watching the Olympics on the couch at Glenys’ house and I ended up pretty much falling asleep in the seated position with old guy drool beginning to dribble down the side of my mouth. Time for beddy bye! And what a wonderful feeling it was to sleep until 7:30 AM. THAT was just like nirvana. And not having to get on the bike to ride for the first time in 60 days. THAT feels good.
Now I realize that I’ve been able to do some things that you just cannot take for granted, such as for example these cross-country bike trips. So to hear me say that I’m happy to not be getting up early to ride my bike, that probably sounds heretical. But honestly, sometimes when you get used to something for a long period of time, no matter how precious that particular activity or lifestyle might be, you tend to get a bit complacent, or stale, or even a bit tired of the routine, of the hum-drum. That’s me right now. The end of this trip as opposed to the ends of the previous three, this one was the most anticipated and the most appreciated. Really, and I’m not exaggerating here, it’s a sense of relief to finish this one. It was just that hard mentally and physically. I’m ready to get back to the routine I’d left 60 days ago.
So here I am sitting in this beautiful, cozy little house on the bay of Newport Beach trying to put into words what all this is, what it was, and what it means to me. First let’s go through the stats on this trip: 3710 miles from DC to Oceanside, CA in 59 straight days. No off days on this trip. The daily average = 62 miles – very low compared to my previous trips and yet I had support this year. I’ve easily spent triple the amount of money for this trip as I had in the previous three. And yet I’m still light years from actually accomplishing my vision of American Dirt having done about 1700 miles of dirt out of those 3700 miles of riding. The physical difficulty of this year’s journey was exponentially tougher than the previous three. Ditto for the mental difficulty. The preparation for this one, the equipment, the logistics, the terrain – ditto, ditto, ditto, and more ditto. But hey, that’s what I had wanted to do, to do something way more challenging that what I’d done on the previous trips. On that side, this was a total success.
But let’s get to the crux of the matter – riding across the country totally on soft surfaces – American Dirt. You could boil it down to the simplest of questions: success or failure now that I’m finished? Had you asked me how I would answer that question several months prior to doing this trip, back in the formative days, I’d have answered that it would be failure to not accomplish the goal, or at least come very close to accomplishing the goal. Today, having been through what I’ve just been through, I’d have to say that it was a success in that I’ve gotten just a bit closer to accomplishing this grandiose goal. I suppose that having put so much sweat, blood, time and money into this, and then calling it a complete and utter failure would take away from the numerous positive gains that I’d made. Now I am still kind of second guessing myself on a number of different fronts here, you know, the woulda, coulda, shoulda stuff. And I think that’s only natural. But honestly, I think you’ve got come away from an attempt like this with an air of optimism, with a sense of what you’ve learned and what you need to do differently to get closer to the prize. And by God I’ve really learned a ton on this attempt.
In my first blog back on 5/21 I stated that I did not think that I’d be able to do the complete American Dirt in its purest sense, and that I’d have to create some parameters to live by where I could kind of “cheat” my way through certain situations and terrains. These I’d erroneously figured might make it possible to reach the west coast with a “pseudo-AD route established. And those guidelines I lived by for 17 days of riding, where I managed to get from DC to Hocking Hills SP in Ohio nearly the whole way on soft surfaces – save for at the VERY most a couple miles of pavement on super dangerous descents where I had only two choices: walk or ride pavement. I rode and bike-a-hiked on trail, ATV track, dirt roads, foot trails, RR tracks, and on gravel and earthen berms alongside asphalt roads. But during my ride on 6/18 I came to the realization that even with the “cheat” parameters as options we were just so far away from making it across the country at that pace with those parameters. Back then I was averaging a mere 25-30 miles/day and putting in 5-7 hr days that were just kicking my ass. Forget about doing 100/day – that belief was a pipedream once I got down to the real deal!
What followed next on 6/18 was “The Decision,” blog, my sarcastic parody of Lebron Jame’s asinine TV program about his choosing an NBA team. I had come to the decision that I’d rather get all the way across the country with even more “cheat” sections than I would by spending a fortune in time, money and effort and only getting as far as the Mississippi River by staying true to the cause. And staying true to the cause meant long sections of berm riding through Southern Ohio, Southern Indiana and Southern Illinois. That berm riding was the hardest, most intimidating, brutal - and dangerous – riding that I’d ever done on a bike. That was my undoing so to speak. As I think back, the fact that this revelation occurred in Southern Ohio makes total sense to me. I mean down there riding up the relentless and steep asphalt hills is hard enough, but when you try to do it on the gravel and earthen berms of those asphalt roads it’s just so difficult that I cannon truly describe it with any sort of justice. You have to experience it day after day to feel the total and complete beat down of going only 25 miles in a whole day of riding.
Now I’d anticipated and embraced this facet of riding when training for the trip over the past year, but NEVER upon anything on par with the severity and frequency of the terrain I encountered in Southern Ohio. I had struggled up and down so many of those climbs on berms that I think it just broke me mentally. Seeing one berm climb after another, and one berm descent after another and knowing that I’d either be pushing the bike, or climbing and descending in weeds, rubble, gravel, or in ditches, that really helped me see the light as to just how complex this American Dirt thing really was. And not only was it just the physically taxing nature of the trip, but it was also the whole concept of the time and money needed to do it properly. That just completely showed me the reality of such an endeavor. The light bulb went on in my head.
So yes, American Dirt could be certainly be done by bridging all the soft surface tracks I’d researched by riding on berms, but the cost of said berm riding – SHEEEEEEEE IT was that a high cost indeed! Thus, I decided to concede to riding asphalt instead of the berm as the bridges to my soft surface tracks, thereby continuing on the trek westward with a savings of time, money and effort. So that was really my first concession of the trip, and as much as I broke my initial rules, I was ok with the decision.
Enter next the heat wave, actually heat wave #1 of the trip. And damn there were many on this trip. Heat wave #1 began in Southern Ohio, where temps had risen to the 90’s, and it just continued with me all through IN, IL, MO, and KS. Riding on the regular road is one thing in heat and humidity, but go on gravel, dirt, trail, ATV track, and suddenly the efforts are more strenuous, more time consuming, and much slower. That heat just made each and every twist and turn in the road that much tougher to get through. And this is where, for the fist time in 4 straight years of crossing the country that I actually had thoughts of quitting cross my mind. Now I know that part of it was from having done it three times previous. Somehow, the act of replicating a challenge is harder because you’ve already accomplished it. I remember the time I crossed Canada, and it was my first trans-continental crossing, and I’ll tell you what: there was NEVER a second where I considered quitting. I was as driven as I’d ever been in attaining my goal. Such was also the case for my second trip across the US where I went solo. And honestly, it was the same for my third solo across the US.
But as I look back on this trip, could be that my having conceded to letting go of those initial goals, that may have been a catalyst to the negative vibes I was getting once the going got tough with the heat. I mean what the hell, I’d given up on crossing the country as I’d envisioned it for American Dirt, what was the use of going on in that way with that heat on asphalt roads? And there were several times where I would talk to Judy in the evening and relay to her my feelings about quitting. She was always willing to stand by me no matter what the decision. So I’d sleep on it, get up in the morning, put on the game-face and do it all over again. I think it all came down to the fact that despite me loosing hold of my initial goal, I still had some kind of goal to reach for, and that was finishing the job – riding across the country. It was still a challenge. And beside…I just hate quitting!!
So we made it to MO, with me having ridden a combination of asphalt and soft surfaces through some extremely challenging terrain in Southern OH, IN, and IL. The heat only continued as we rode the gravel Katy Trail 265 miles through MO. But once in KS, the heat long heat wave died down enough for me to really regroup, refocus and get down to business and go for the gusto with dirt and gravel riding damned near through the whole state of KS. I’d felt re-energized, reinvigorated, reborn with my American Dirt concept. And I have to say that this was some of the most enjoyable as well as challenging riding I’d done in all my life. Those 4-500 miles of dirt, gravel, sand, that was what I’d dreamed about for American Dirt. But again, more setbacks came along, this time in the way of thorns that punctured and ruined every tire, tube and patch kit I’d had on board for the trip. From far Western KS into Eastern CO, I was flatting 1, 2, 3 times per day from the notorious “sandbur”.
Suddenly I just felt totally deflated again, having made such good time and distance with the gravel and earthen riding, and feeling like I had a real shot at redemption, but then being suddenly shot in the ass by stuff I’d never even anticipated. That was frustrating, I think mainly because it was a very big detail that I’d not even considered when planning this trip. It was from out of left field and it was formidable. My dirt riding ground down to a halt until I could get the proper equipment to deal with it. That had meant that I was going to have to ride half way across CO before I could get to a bike shop that would have the right gear. I mean hell, on the KS/CO border there was nothing in the way of bike shops. Had to drive to Pueblo, CO for the gear.
Once I did get that situation taken care of with thorn resistant tubes, tires and liners, the tubes began failing on me. Why I’m still not sure. Was it operator error in the installation of all these pieces, or just plain ole equipment failure of the tubes? I mean there were several situations where I was just so pissed off that I wanted to cash it in and end the madness right then and there. That was a time of some real soul searching, because I was really still a long, long way off from reaching the coast. You get to the Eastern border of CO and look at a map – that just BARELY a smidge over half way across the country!
At that point I’d really reckoned with the next direction we’d go, what with all the sandbur trouble and the route logistics. Prior to reaching Limon, CO the logistics were pretty simple with respect to keeping the trip on dirt – use tracks that parallel the interstates such that we had easy access to support and communication. But west of Limon, support logistics became exponentially more difficult. No longer did the dirt tracks parallel the interstates. Many of the tracks drifted for tens if not more miles off of parallel. And ten to twenty miles away from the interstate you loose cell-service. What’s more these were roads that turned out to be totally out of the question for Judy to drive an 8-passenger van on for support. From my experiences on the dirt roads of MO and KS, these were tracks that were usable only to motocross motorcycles, ATV’s and 4-wheel drive vehicles. Yup, that’s what I learned in MO & KS about dirt roads on maps: it may be listed as a road, it may look like a road, it may have a name like a road, but in reality it may be nothing more than an access path or a rutted out ribbon of dbl track. Good thing about MO & KS was the fact that the van would be a mere 1-5 miles away along the paralleling interstate, so I was always within support distance. Not so from Central CO westward.
So despite having new skins for the mt bike, and an ability to take on the thorns of the west, I had to figure out whether it was prudent or not to do the second half of the trip on truly remote stretches of dirt through mts, plains and/or deserts. Either way I decided to go, whether it would be north across WY, UT and ID, or south across NM, AZ and CA, I’d still have two things to deal with the remoteness of the dirt tracks. Couldn’t get around that fact that I’d either be truly unsupported in many sections or that I’d have to take a chance and have Jude drive the van on dirt tracks that could be real trouble. Just couldn’t get around that one.
In the end my decision was to go the southern route through NM, AZ and CA into new territory for me with respect to riding X-country, and to do most all of the riding on asphalt, with the support dilemma being a real consideration. But honestly though, let the truth be told, by that point I was fried, burned out, tired and wanted to finish the friggen trip. So even when we were next to frontage roads that were gravel, dirt and sand, I opted for the asphalt only because I could go faster, ride easier, and finish quicker. Could I have tacked on another 3-500 miles of soft surfaces to the trip’s total? Unequivocally yes!
But mind you now, even doing the asphalt through NM, AZ and CA, that was just a total bitch what with the desert heat. Never had I experienced such severity of heat on an hourly basis. It was a major deal to get up every morning at 3:30 AM to be on the road at 5:30 AM in an attempt to try to get a jump on the heat. You’d get in maybe like 2.5 hrs where you’re pretty good, and then by 10 AM it became otherworldly. It was like riding in a blast furnace. Again, cashing it in would have been so easy to do each and every day. And I knew from past experience that if I could just went one more day, and then one more day, again and again and again, that once finished I’d be proud of the fact that I didn’t give up, no mater how far off of my goal I was. And that’s why I finished – I just did not want to give in to that negative voice in my head.
Up until now I haven’t really touched on the most important component of this trip - Judy. Really, without her help, encouragement and support there is no way in the world I could have done what I did this year. Her job in many ways was so much harder than what I did. And her mental strength to do so day after day was amazing. I mean the last 60 days she’s run that van all over hell’s half acre, getting food made for me, buying supplies, setting up hotels and motels, getting information, listening to my rants and raves and my periodic episodes of insanity. She boiled her buns off in the heat waiting patiently for me in remote areas, all alone, and always (almost) with a smile. The list goes on and on. There is just no way in the world that I could have done this particular route solo – impossible. She was my sounding board in the evening after so many days when I wanted to just say the hell with it. She endured many, many mornings of me getting up at 3 & 4 AM to get ready for the day on the road, and endured my having to work for 3-4 hrs every afternoon as soon as I got off the bike. She put up with this nonsense for two months and is still here by my side. And for that I’m deeply happy.
So there it is…Take it for whatever you think. Now comes the big question: Do I believe that American Dirt is possible? Absolutely, yes I do. But with this addendum: I can and will not attempt to do this again as we did it this year. It’s for too big for two people – a rider and a support person in a non-off road vehicle. To really accomplish American Dirt takes more money and time than I alone have to put in. It’s really a major endeavor that will take at least triple the finances that I’d put into this year. Not only that, but it will take at least 3-4 other support members and at least 1 more vehicle – a pilot vehicle that is a 4-wheel drive and able to go on every road the rider/riders go on. It will take someone other than just the rider/riders to negotiate the ever-changing route in real time, not just the night before as I had done on this trip. It will take a minimum of 3 months, and quite possibly 4-6 months to do it right, berms and all.But as I stated in my first blog back in May, I’m taking a break on this cross-country stuff, even if I came upon a sponsor who would be willing to give this American Dirt thing a go. I just need a break for a bit. I need to recharge with some other trips and other adventures, and then maybe, just maybe come back to American Dirt with a new attitude and a new sense of adventure. I also owe my girlfriend a very big trip of HER choosing for what she’s just endured for me. And with this I’m going to close it out and say thanks so much to all of you for your continued encouragement through this trip. I have to say that there were days when that one email helped to pick up my spirits and keep me moving west. Love you guys and I look forward to seeing each and every one of you when we get home. All the best everyone……….pete and judy.