Winging My Way West

Bike and duffle in Boston

My duffle is on the conveyor and the boxed bike about to be loaded. I spotted this as I was making my way to my seat. Click on photo to enlarge.

I’m at 35,400 feet as I write this bog. Despite some anxiety on my part, my bicycle was boxed and ready to go at Burrows Specialized Sports this morning. I bought the last few items on my list (the last being some over-booties for my bike shoes—after checking the weather where I’ll be biking the next few days). I managed to keep the canvas duffle bag holding my four loaded panniers, tent, and assorted parts removed from my bike, to 48.5 pounds—just under the limit at JetBlue. And I was able to check in all right (I had a lingering concern that I needed to call in advance to let the airline I was traveling with a bike).

As evidenced by the photo posted with this blog (taken from a window on the plane as I was making my way to my seat in the way back), my large duffle and bike made it to the plane. I didn’t stay long enough to see just how roughly the bike was handled, but I have a lot of confidence that it’s with me here!

So, here I am, en route to San Diego and the start of what will almost certainly be a memorable bike trip. I don’t have a fixed schedule, so I’ll have the freedom to poke along at my own pace—or push myself if I wish. I’ll be able to detour off my planned route to go head down to Tucson if I want to spend some time in Saguaro National Park (where Jerelyn and I spent some wonderful time a year-and-a-half ago). I can bike north to Santa Fe, my old stomping grounds from the late-70s if I wish—though I’d have to check the map and weather to make sure I’d be able to deal with the Rockies that far north, since it’s still early in the season. I’ll be able to spend a few extra days in Austin (if I get that far) to visit friends. Being on my own, I won’t have to keep up with power-bikers going for records.

Rain at the San Diego airport

It was raining steadily when we got into San Diego, but my bike seemed okay. Click on photo to enlarge.

Just how I’ll do physically is a big unknown. I last did a long bike trip (about 600 miles, as I recall) in the early 1980s. I did okay then, but we had a support vehicle that carried out gear (though I ended up leaving a few days after the others, so peddled long days alone to catch up—100 miles a day for a couple days, as I recall). It was a fundraising “bikathon” for the New England Solar Energy Association (of which I was executive director at the time) and our sister organization, the Mid-Atlantic Solar Energy Association, based in Philadelphia. We peddled from Pennsylvania to Knoxville, Tennessee for one of the National Passive Solar Energy Conferences—I forget which.

I did fine on that trip, but I was in my late twenties, not my mid-fifties. During the summer in Vermont I bike to work regularly, but that’s only seven miles each way, it’s over relatively flat roads (one hill at each end), and I’m not carrying more than a some clothes to change into, my laptop (on my back), and a bit of assorted other gear. On this trip I’ll have more like 50 pounds—including over a gallon of water in water bottles. If I fill the bladder I’ll have with me (for at least the longer stretches between water as I travel through the desert), that can hold another gallon—another eight pounds. It adds up?

My gear laid out and ready for packing

How will all this fit into my four panniers? Click on photo to enlarge.

I have to say that the irony of flying across the country to spend a month or two biking is not lost on me. If the timing of my sabbatical had worked out to start in the summer, I would probably have done a biking trip closer to home—one that didn’t require burning such large quantities of jet fuel—but for various reasons it made sense to begin in March, when it’s too cold for biking in the Northeast. Relative to flying, at least this is a fairly full flight, so the fuel economy per passenger-mile is reasonably good. In fact, I think about the only free seat is the one right next to me—my strategy of choosing an unpopular seat almost in the rear of the plane paid off this time!

Time on the bike will allow me to reflect on exactly what all this means. I resist air travel, when possible, to minimize my carbon footprint. But, obviously, that isn’t a strict rule. I admire those who have largely given up air travel and, even more, those who can get by without a car. Maybe one of my unconscious reasons for making this trip is to explore the viability of bicycling as a real transportation option. I’ll no doubt return to these ideas in future blogs.