Clinic Stories

Why? And Other Questions Answered

What made you decide to do this? Or simply WHY? I usually answered “Poor judgment” but the truth is, if you have to ask, you wouldn't understand. It is a challenge, an accomplishment, a gratification. It is amazing how many people treat you like a rock star – shouting out their car windows, shaking your hand, high fiving as you pass, expressing their admiration. Those ones never ask “Why?”

Where did you sleep? - Motels, camp grounds, hostels, RV parks, and hosts on, a web site for long distance cyclists. I slept in a police station, a fire house, homes, sheds. I did not sleep in a church but several were available.

What did you do before you retired? The younger person's version is, "Did you just get out of school?" Of course I am not retired and many of the younger people saved up after working to make their trips. The demographics are such that many of the men biking cross country are retired. The women tend to be in their twenties and make up only a small percentage of the total.

What did you eat? Breakfast – instant oatmeal and a Cliff Bar. On the road – nuts, Cliff Bars, chocolate until the weather got too warm and it melted. As soon as I stopped for the day – four servings of instant mashed potatoes. Later on for dinner – rice and tuna. I drank a lot of Power Aid. In general it was about 3000 calories a day.

Did you take any supplements? Oddly, I normally take a multivitamin and fish oil daily but did not do so while biking. I did take 600 mg Ibuprofen twice daily, known in endurance athletics circles as Vitamin I.

How do you get your food? Keeping kosher I was not able to eat in restaurants as nearly everyone else could. I had my food mailed General Delivery to post offices or sent to Warm Showers hosts.

How did you know where to go? I followed maps produced by Adventure Cycling for the Southern Tier.

Did you travel with anyone? I was solo. The organized trips can be so large that their numbers overwhelm all other travelers. As groups always travel West to East (more on that later) I passed several. One had 50 cyclists, another 14, I heard of one with 300 bikers. Even without a tour group many people are in groups of twos or threes, or are biking alone with someone in a van offering support – carrying gear, driving to a motel at the end of a day, preparing meals.

Was it scenic? Or It must have been beautiful. Not where the traffic was heavy. There I had to pay attention to the road and saw mostly asphalt and road kill. In the wide open areas of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California it was God's country and at times breath taking.

What was your favorite part? West Texas. There was very little traffic, on one 20 mile stretch I was passed by one car and it was headed the opposite way. The shoulders were a little rough but wide and clear. The hills were not excessively steep and the towns though far between were interesting. The people are friendly and very multi cultural. I was invited to stay in a guest house on a ranch in Langtry by an archeologist doing a dig of cave dwelling hunter gatherers dating back 8000 years. New Mexico was next for most of the same reasons.

How any miles/hours did you ride per day? How fast did you go? Daily mileage ranged from 60 to 120 miles taking six to twelve hours including breaks, averaging 10 miles per hour overall and averaging about 85 miles daily. Distance was determined in large part by reaching a destination. In the Western US there are stretches as long as 90 miles between towns and between water. Often I stopped earlier than I would have liked to to avoid dry camping in the open desert.

What are you going to do when you reach San Diego? As planned, I took a few pictures, rode directly to a nearby bike shop, boxed up my bike and flew home that night.

How many flat tires did you get? Seven. The first was before I started as the stem on a tube was damaged in transit. Dodging road hazards is a constant bicycle rodeo event but hitting rocks and steel thread from belted tires accounted for the others.

Would you do it again? Short answer, probably not, but if I did I would ride West to East. The Westerly winds keep getting stronger West of the Mississippi and can cut your speed and mileage in half. Often winds were over 25 miles per hour, as high as 35 miles per hour, and bikers going East told me of traveling 25 to 30 miles per hour on a level without pedaling.

Did you get sore? The weak point of biking is your butt and that only got worse. Initially I got numbness in the heels of my palms but that went away and biking is incredibly low impact. I had zero problems with my neck, back, hips, knees, etc. . It is great exercise for people with joint issues.

What kind of bike did you use? I initially rode a Fuji Newest 2.0 with very narrow tires. On the second day the back rim bent but was ridable. I had the rim trued but it bent again and ultimately the rim cracked. I switched to an REI bike, a Navaro Randonee. It was heavier – 29 lbs. - but being steel with bigger tires was very comfortable and I had no mechanical problems.

What wildlife did you see? I saw plenty of deer, rabbits and squirrels. I saw two rattlesnakes and two Javalinas – wild pigs. I got chased by a few dozen dogs including two Chihuahuas, one at each heal. In Alpine, TX a Husky joined me for over a mile until I was able to out distance him on a downhill.

What was the highest point along the way? Emory Pass in the Rockies of New Mexico was 8228 feet elevation. The Imperial Valley of California, south of Death Valley is below sea level.

What was the temperature range? I had a low of 29 on a couple nights of camping in Louisiana and Mississippi, and a high of 100 in Arizona.

How much did your gear weigh? Generally I carried 35 to 40 lbs. including food and water in panniers on the front and back.

What was the hardest part? With any sustained effort the hardest part is psychological – convincing yourself that you can do it, tolerance for varying conditions – how you see the world when you are what I call “cold, tired, hungry, wet,” but which also includes hot and dehydrated - getting up each morning with the same determination and the willingness to deal with what comes. The sun was intense. I burned badly, scabs on the top of my ears and blisters on the back of my calves, then always kept my arms and legs covered with silk long underwear even in 100 degrees. What wasn't covered got sun block. Next most difficult is the logistics – what to carry and what to do without, getting food and shelter lined up, and making the time to get away. Navigating through the cities was tough. The physical effort makes up no more than a quarter of the difficulty.

Things I did not get asked.

  1. Biking so close to the Mexican Border – at times right next to it – I saw many border patrol agents and went through four checkpoints.
  2. I got pulled over for going through a red light in Surprise, AZ and got a warning.
  3. Where there are no other roads it is permitted to ride on the Interstates. It loses it's appeal quickly, the shoulders are smelly and loaded with debris and trucks at 65 to 75 miles per hour have a powerful draft. On occasion there is no shoulder and you have to ride in the traffic lane, a situation that I would not recommend.
  4. On a drizzly morning as I approached a cross street, a car stopped and seemed to wait. As I rode in front of the car she started to pull out, forcing me to move into the opposing lane of traffic which was empty at that moment. I shouted uncomplimentary remarks, she stopped and I crossed back over. She drove next to me with her window down and apologized profusely. On a rural highway in California a car approached in my lane at 65 miles an hour. I pulled off the road and dismounted in the sand to avoid a direct head on collision. She continued to drive on the wrong side of the road. Biking can be dangerous.
  5. Technology made things easier, Google maps was not always accurate but better than doing without, a Kindle reduced the weight of carrying books and I was mostly able to get in touch with the office and receive Emails.

Final Question

What will you do next? There are several National Parks I would like to visit and I would like to hike in New Zealand. I thought about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail but this biking trip made me reevaluate that. The trail, as well as cross country biking, has a lot of uninspiring miles and biking or hiking in popular areas is not my idea of a good time. I will likely just hike the more interesting and the less popular sections of the trail.

If you have other questions, let me know.

Dr. Michael Morris

Animal Care Center
Riverdale, NJ

Companion Veterinary Hospital
Wayne, NJ

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