It was a picnic put on by a group at a church attended by a good friend of mine. Obviously I’d ridden the bicycle to the event. Figured I’d kill two birds with one stone. Attend and get a bit of a ride in.
I’d never met any of the people at the event before. They were all nice, friendly, gentle people. (As I would expect most church-going folks to be.) Since I arrived in full biking gear (biker shorts, clipless pedal shoes, Camelbak “hydration system,” iPhone app for biking), bicycling became the topic of choice as I sat down to drink some delicious sweet tea.
We were all pretty much in the same age group. It was a “singles” group from the church, so in addition to being at the same point in life, all of us had been through divorces and separations; we all had children who were grown, and children still at home. I secretly made fun of the “damned Yankees” who ate watermelon with a knife and fork. (We Rebels just pick up a chunk of melon and start gnawing.)
Everyone there had some experience in bicycling. Most were content to ride “periodically,” i.e., a few miles here and there every now and again. One gent had ridden just that morning about 10 miles and was justifiably proud of his ride.
The most interesting stories came from a guy named Larry. Back in the 80s he’d gone over to mainland China to ride through that country. The group he was with had to sign agreements that they’d ship their bicycles over to China. But when they were done, they could not leave them in country. They had to ship them back to the United States. They couldn’t just give them to their guides upon their departure.
The guides were, of course, provided by the government. The bike tourists weren’t allowed anywhere without the guides. They also couldn’t deviate from the “approved” routes the government had set up for them.
Larry said when they’d ride into a new village, the people there would come up to them and just stare. The bikers were all in bright bicycling colors. (Sometimes the color combinations bicyclists wear would put pimps to shame. Well, pimps and golfers. Ok, maybe not golfers.) The locals were all in black. And, of course, those round eyed folks just flat looked different, too. Larry said that was the strangest part of the tour — the feeling like you were a strange creature who’d arrived from another planet.
All of them seemed to be very interested in my “giving it all up” to ride across country for years. Truth be told, I guess I expect that reaction from people in their late 40s, early 50s. Not so much that everyone in that age group wants to ride a bicycle thousands of miles. But that most of us wouldn’t mind an . . . escape. A chance to . . . “do something different.”
I don’t think most people are miserable or even slightly unhappy with their lives. But there’s something to be said about taking off an a “grand adventure.” Starting a new chapter. Exploring new things, new people.
As the picnic reached its end, I got ready to head back to the house. The topic subjects had gone on from bicycling. Multiple games of cornhole had been played. I drank my last cup of sweet tea and mounted my Camelbak for the return ride. That’s when all of the folks who’d been talking about bicycling formed a semi-circle around me to . . . well, talk about biking some more. There was a keen interest in the bicycle itself. The men all wanted to pick it, see how light it was. There was very specific questions about the number of gears, the brakes, how to shift the gears, how difficult it was to ride in wind / rain / uphill. Questions about the seat. Rather, how tiny the seat was and how hard it was.
That’s something I rarely experience. All my friends and family pretty much know I’m nuts and they just accept it. But to strangers, I’m doing something familiar (nearly everyone’s ridden a bicycle) and completely foreign (almost no one plans to store everything and ride across an entire continent) at the same time.
The stories I’ve read of people who’ve gone great distances on bicycles all say pretty much the same thing: people are friendly and interested in the journey of the bicyclist. I guess I’m looking forward to meeting those people and telling some stories.