On November 9, 2011 I flew out of Seattle to tour through the South on a bicycle. I couldn’t find anyone to go with me, so I rode 1,200 miles alone. I’m back in the rainy Northwest now, but my bicycle trip still doesn’t feel complete. When I got to my destination, Austin, Texas, I wanted to keep going until I hit the West Coast. But I had a plane ticket home for Christmas and I was short on money.
This is a story about the first half of my trip. Someday I’ll get around to doing the second half and completing the trip.
I spent the Spring, Summer, and Fall before the trip growing pumpkins, squash and other vegetables at Fall City farms. After that I had eight days to get my bike and gear ready to ride from St. Augustine, on the east coast of Florida, to my sister’s house in Austin, Texas. After leaving work on the Halloween with a car full of squash, I put on a caveman costume and celebrated Halloween. Then I finally started to think about my trip.
Before the trip I was working a lot, living at my parents’ house, and doing a little freelance writing on top of that. I had some money in the bank and I was getting eager to get out of Fall City. I wanted to take a trip but I wasn’t sure where. It would have to be in the winter, so Australia and New Zealand were towards the top of my list. Eventually I decided on the bike trip because it was cheapest and I would have some money left over at the end. Also, I wanted to see the South. The South is about as different from the Pacific Northwest as America gets. And more importantly, the weather is pleasant in November.
I bought my Cannondale touring bicycle the summer before my bike tour. It was $400 on Craigslist and really nice. I remember looking the bicycle over, searching for an imperfection that I could use to talk the price down but it was in great condition and the previous owner was firm on the price.
I commuted on the bicycle almost every day but I had never ridden it more than 40 miles at a time. The bike is made for riding long-distance with lots of weight, so I was excited to finally use it for a tour. I didn’t have a lot of money to spend on it, but I did buy new tires and brake pads before the trip. I also bought new shoes – the funny looking kind that clip in. Other than that, I needed a front rack and panniers. Since I was alone, I had a pretty big load on my bike.
I borrowed a front rack from my friend Brett, but I couldn’t make it work on my bike. At that point, it was less than a week until I flew out and I figured I would have to buy a rack and panniers. That would be tough on my budget.
Four days before the trip Ron Johnson, a family friend, dropped off a rack, panniers and a handlebar bag that he had used on a bike tour in Canada during the ’80s. The rack was not an actual front rack, but a rear rack that could be used on the front. Some people on the internet say rear racks shouldn’t be used on the front of a bicycle because it will make the bike handle poorly. But there are people who say anything and everything on the internet.
With the front rack and panniers loaded on the front of my bike, and my rear panniers loaded with water bottles and some gear, I went for a test ride – 15 miles total to Carnation and back. It was cold and I felt really slow with all the weight, but the bike handled fine. Now all I had to do was find a box to stuff it into.
Flying With the Bike
The first bicycle box I found was a little too small for my bike. After half-an-hour of disassembling my bike and trying the parts in slightly different arrangements, the box was ripping. Another trip to Issaquah netted a box big enough that I could put my bike in with out removing the rear wheel.
Once the bike was taken care of, I turned my attention towards my panniers and bags. I had two rear panniers full of stuff, a tent, a handlebar bag and the hand-me-down front panniers, which were in one piece. I didn’t want to check all that stuff separately, so I got my mother to sew a bag out of an old bed sheet and stuffed it all in. The resulting paunchy red sack was a pain in the ass to handle and looked like something Santa Claus would carry.
It wasn’t pretty and I worried about both the sack and the bike making it to Florida in one piece, but I was ready to fly.
Edit: Also, in those days between the farm and my trip I finished my zine.