A Century & Then Some


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North America » United States » Georgia » Athens
November 16th 2003
Published: November 16th 2003
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Having procrastinated almost as much as possible today, I’m finally sitting down to write a belated blog (If I had procrastinated as much as possible, I’d still be procrastinating and not writing these words.)

I’ve covered almost 400 miles in the last 5 days: 60 miles from Asheville to Brevard, North Carolina, another 60 to Greer, South Carolina, 126 miles to Columbia, South Carolina, 85 miles to Augusta, Georgia, and 55 miles yesterday to Athens Georgia. Even given a month of riding and conditioning, the past week has still been a hard one. Long days in the saddle and almost as long nights spent talking to Quakers have cut into my time to write about my travels. I’ve felt physically and mentally exhausted. And to an extent, I haven'’ felt like there's been much to write about. I did surpass my previous record of 100 miles on a bike by riding 126 miles, and I was proud of that, but at the same time I was exhausted. I rode through mile after endless mile of Sumter National Forest without seeing anything but pine trees and roadkill. I finally stopped and dug out my Discman, just for the opportunity to hear something. After a while it was only the music that kept me going as my mileage approached and entered into triple digits. It took me nearly ten hours to ride so far, but at the end of it I thought about how much faster I could have ridden without the added weight of a trailer and panniers. If I maintain my current level of fitness I could probably do a double century, or 200 miles, in the same amount of time. A century, or 100 miles, is the equivalent of running a marathon. Riding a century on a loaded touring bike is probably the equivalent of running a marathon with a loaded backpack.

Once I descended out of the mountains and into South Carolina, I’ve been riding across some fairly monotonous territory. The rolling hills and pine forest of South Carolina look pretty much like the rolling hills and pine forests of Georgia. And while I’ve been happy to be on the road, I’ve also been happy to know that my trip will soon be coming to an end. Five week of bicycling and five weeks of talking with Quakers has left me physically fit, but mentally exhausted. After riding all day and speaking to Quakers throughout the evening, I found myself looking forward to the opportunity to sit for just a few minutes and escape into a good book before falling asleep and repeating it all again. Arriving in Columbus, Georgia next week for the annual vigil at Fort Benning will be a relief-my trip will be at an end, I will be returning to my friends and family.

So today I’m in another strange home, enjoying another stranger’s music collection. I’m getting back in touch with early Neil Diamond, from back in the day when he still rocked and hadn’t metamorphosed into the disco lounge lizard. I miss my own collection of Neil Diamond LP’s at home, and the opportunity to mess about in the kitchen while listening to a good record that was put out before I was born. This trip has been a continuous potluck for me: almost every Meeting I’ve been to has had a potluck prior to my talk, and so I’ve been able to sample and enjoy Thai noodles, good old spaghetti, tofu casseroles, Kentucky Fried Chicken, hummus, bean soups, French peasant bread, many a pizza and more. But I miss being in my own home, baking a pizza from a mishmash of ingredients and influences. The road is good, but it’s good to go home. I especially find myself looking forward to sharing Thanksgiving with Quakers in Virginia Beach when I return home. I’ll be with Friends again, but I’ll be at home.

I’ve spent the past week riding massive, lonely miles, and often looking no more than twenty feet up the road, while reflecting upon my trip. People continue to ask me a question that I haven’t yet found an answer for myself: What have I learned on my trip?

So I’ve decided to list some of my obeservations, devoid of any narrative structure or ranking. These are just some thoughts that have occurred to me while looking past my rolling front wheel at the pavement passing below:

Most Dogs Don’t Bite.

Most Drives Wave Back.

Call ahead for directions, even if you can find it on a map.

The more you have, the more you struggle to get rid of it. Even on my small trip I’ve had to repeatedly turn down gifts from people because I had no space to store them in my limited baggage. I can only eat so many granola bars, distribute so many flyers, read so many books, pocket so many worry stones, show so many videotapes to audiences. The Quakers that I’ve met along the way struggle with materialism just as I do. A Quaker couple making the transition into their new home fights the urge to fill it with more stuff. Another couple observes that they have more furniture than they can reasonably use. When I consider joining an intentional community my biggest concern is, “But what do I do with all my stuff?” Yet our culture tells us that the more we own, the richer we are. But my richest experiences on this trip have come by dragging a minimum amount of possesions up to a 5,000 foot tall mountain peak.

It’s entirely possible to mix gatorade from powder while still bicycling. Just don’t try it on a congested road.

Too many miles spent staring at the road in front of you doesn’t get you there any faster than it gets you bored.

It’s never too early for ice cream.

Front panniers are well within reach while riding, just keep your eyes on the road.

Keep your eyes on the road.

Keep your eyes on the road.

Whatever you do, keep your eyes on the road.

One broken spoke and no flat tires in 2,000 miles is an acceptable proof for the existence of the divine. (If God didn’t exist, then I should have had many more broken spokes and at least a couple flats.)

It’s neither friendly nor productive to give the finger to rude drivers. But it does feel good in the short term.

Everyone thinks they could do better. Our society is inundated with the ethic of personal failure and the correlative ethic of personal improvement. No matter where or who we are, we compare ourselves to our neighbor, and chastise ourselves for not doing better. Quakers I meet compare themselves to me, and think that they could be doing more, while I compare myself to the likes of Peace Pilgrim and John Woolman, thinking that I could be doing more.

A front rack is the best place to mount directions.

Read the map carefully, and write out directions all the more carefully.

You can’t have too many flashing red tail-lights or too much reflective tape.

Aerodynamic handlebars save time and numb nerves.

After four hours of riding your feet will go numb, there’s no way around it.

Padded bike shorts and gel seats make the pedals go round and round.




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