With fall and winter approaching, work in Bar Harbor, Maine slowed, and I decided to take the winter off. My daughter was in college in Bellingham, Washington, and I knew that was a great starting point for a riding, wherever I decided to go.
I began spending more time on my bike, an oldie, which the local bike shop guys, who were friends, promised to get ready for heavy-duty riding. Through Acadia National Park, I rode up and down mountains, getting stronger and feeling like it would work.
Years blur the bike’s history, a classic grownup’s red bike with all the gears and tough as nails. Upon finishing the trip, I gave it to a young guy who couldn’t afford one.
I flew to Washington State, spent time with my schoolteacher-to-be daughter, and readied my trusty bike for the adventure ahead.
After saddling my bike with gear, I headed south, my destination yet determined. I was greeted by the Northwest’s signature rain, which wasn’t tent weather, so I found cheap motels when necessary. It was great being on the road, and when I got out of the rain, I made good progress.
On clear, sunny days, I enjoyed everything the southern Washington area had to offer. Riding through various cities in Oregon was new and included beautiful countryside and access to the ocean. Ashland especially made me happy, being such a well-known source of Shakespearian theater.
I met other bikers, but usually, it was a local mom or dad who stopped me to ask questions (often as I left a Post Office), and then invited me to dinner and spend the night. As it turned out, they all, in several states, wanted me to share my experience with their kids. I was reluctant to do so during the day, with so much mileage ahead of me, but later, I did say yes (on nine occasions) for late afternoons. It was all dinner and talk, then staying in an extra upstairs bedroom, or my tent in the backyard.
I made my way into California and began seeing things I recognized, ones I’d passed on another bike trip while visiting my oldest best friend and his family in Hollywood. It was great fun then, and again on this trip, with them for a few days. Then, I got back on the road.
I made a point of riding as far and as fast as made sense, glad about my weeks of preparation. There were so many cities, so much landscape, so
many thoughts of where to stay for the night, how early and where to eat, and when to work, so that I didn’t overdo it.
After a while, I got the hang of setting up my tent at night, which made things much less complicated at the end of a long day. I met so many people in campgrounds: young and old, male and female. Most were in cars and vans, but I met other cyclists every so often. Along with the beautiful cities, mountains, sunsets, and the ocean, it made it all worthwhile.
Further into California, I stopped at a beach for a swim, which reminded me of my months spent lifeguarding in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, while waiting for my call from the Army. I asked a dad with his kids if he’d take a picture for me.
Riding through various cities in Oregon was new, with its beautiful countryside and access to the ocean. As I began down the length of California, I enjoyed the weather, seeing so much and thinking about another ride down to Big Sur before heading south.
At the Big Sur bridge (one of my happiest places), I rode 1/4 mile before being ordered to turn back. Crews were knocking down mountaintops to prevent dangerous falling rocks.
I rode back north, turned south through farm country toward the bridge’s bottom, and then stopped for food nearby. The owner listened to my woes and then, incredibly, asked if I wanted to stay in the upstairs area. Life was good!
There was a wicked rainstorm the next day, so I remained dry and warm in my new “home” while it passed. Then, I continued into the beautiful landscape.
Once I reached the southernmost part of California, I rode east across Arizona and New Mexico and visited Big Bend National Park in Texas, set among a vast, gorgeous desert and beautiful mountains.
After stopping for a brochure, I decided to climb the most difficult seven miles on my entire trip. It was worthwhile, though, as the views were incredible. I continued riding, hiking, and climbing in the area—including more gracious dinner invitations—for a week before landing a bartender job at the Lajitas Resort.
I saw a “workers wanted” notice in Marathon, called the number, and was asked a lot of questions by the woman in charge who answered. I guess she was satisfied with my answers since she told me she’d pick me up in an hour.
Back at the resort, I had the opportunity to meet everyone, some of whom became friends. One even took me to his home in Mexico.
Lajitas depended on income from passing buses, which were filled with mostly older single women and some terrific family couples. And as tourism increased, it was clear that they were glad I was there.
Luckily, my job started in the late afternoon, so to stay in shape, I rode between Lajitas and Terlingua and spent time in the pool almost every day. On the best days, I rode all the way to Marathon for groceries.
Eventually, a woman from Texas also arrived on her bike. After a brief discussion about my plans, I was fortunate to gain a cycling buddy who accompanied me on many rides. Other times, I was glad to ride alone.
With my bartending experience, most evenings were easy enough. And when it got full and really busy, I thankfully had help from the waitresses.
Over the winter, I had a great time riding, making friends, and earning some much-needed money. Once it ended, I put in my notice, paid all of my bills, and spent nine days riding to Houston. There, I stayed with family friends since the 60s, bought a plane ticket, flew back home, and prepared for tourist season in Bar Harbor.
Despite expected inconveniences like flat tires and painful muscles, the trip was fantastic, which is reflected in my notes.
In the end, I rode 4,000+ miles, saw parts of the country I never even knew existed, met more people than I could count, stayed in strangers’ homes in three states, found a job that provided housing and repaid all my expenses, rode a horse across the Rio Grande to a different country, and shopped there for my next meal. Who knew a bike would bring me all that?