Traveling by bicycle teaches you many things. That’s probably the biggest understatement I’ve made in a while. In my nearly 17,000 miles of bicycle traveling experience, I’ve learned a thing or two about the open road, about being lonely, about using the bathroom in the woods and thankfully, about life.
like most journeys, on a bike trek, you choose your own route. The flat-lands are easy riding but trust me, that boredom will drive you to the point where talking with the roadside cows is the only thing you have to look forward to.
It's simple: the winding roads have the most potential for adventure. There’s no way to predict the thrill and danger that lurks around every corner. Yes, it’s scary. And yes, it is most definitely more difficult, but if you settle for a mediocre route, it’ll rub off on you.
And that's most of the lesson, but keep reading.
I vividly remember a day when I was confronted with the choice between the flat-lands and a potentially beautiful mountain road. I was on my way to Sequoia National Park, home of the world’s largest trees. I had just taken two days off to recover from a cold when I was looking up the route to the highly anticipated Sequoia trees. The only problem was that the Sequoias grow above 6,100 feet elevation. I was only at 300 feet. The massive trees were no more than 60 miles away. I’m no genius but I assumed that somewhere along those 60 miles, there was a lot of road going uphill.
And looking at the map, I was right. I biked my way towards the increasing grades and there before me, was the windiest clump of switchbacks and hairpin turns (picture) I’ve ever seen. I thought to myself, “This is what pain on a map looks like.”
The climb took me hours. Hours of narrow turns met with the constant dodging of rental RV’s. But as I climbed, the landscape began to thicken with greenery and I felt the damp coolness of evening. The passing cars grew fewer and fewer as visitors were making their way home from a long day of exploring the ancient giants. I knew I was getting close. My stealth camping senses were tingling. Either that or my legs couldn’t take much more of the strain.
I crested the plateau around six in the evening and began searching immediately for a campsite. I looked to the west and saw a giant dome of granite, perfect for a nights sleep. The day was complete, or so I thought.
As I sorted out my cooking gear and set up the tent, the sun began to set. I quickly climbed the small granite dome to have dinner and get a view of the valley below. It was beyond breathtaking. My small meal of broccoli and rice stew boiled on my camping stove as I snapped pictures and rested against the warm rock.
Then they appeared.
Apparently, the smell of cooking stew was appealing to bears because two were quickly closing in on me with their noses in the air. I fumbled to pick up my camera and ran, leaving my meal behind. I jumped into my tent to hide, which is about as defenseless as a sheet, and listened to the two bears fumble around with my stuff, eat my food and then settle in for the night, about 20 feet from where I was laying. To some extent, I was panicking so I grabbed my only defense, a Swiss army knife and two rocks, and decided to try and fall asleep amidst the unexpected company.
The next morning I was surprised to wake up still clinching the open knife and to still see the bears passed out next to me. I quietly put away the tent and supplies and thankfully recovered all my cooking gear without too much damage. After a gentleman's nod to the bears for killing me, I mounted the bike to go see the world’s largest trees.
Standing among those ancient and colossal living trees does something to you. The fact that some of them were close to 1,000 years old when Christ was walking the earth gives a sense of revere and awe, or that some are 45 feet in diameter and nearly 300 feet tall. It was a special day and it changed my life. Between the climb, the sunset, the bears and the trees, I couldn’t have been happier with the way I had chosen. It beat any day in the flats. To think, none of it would've happened had I gone an easier way.