By Thomas Kurt
Two summers ago, I decided I needed an alternative to my physical conditioning routines of tennis and interval running. My son Jim is an avid rider, with a Surly Long Haul Trucker touring rig and a very light road bike which he built up from a titanium frame. It all looked good to me, and on a whim I picked up a used GT Windstream, a black hybrid model which, as best I could tell, was manufactured sometime in the late 1990’s.
I wasn’t looking to immerse myself into another hobby, and I swore I would not be doing anything more than fixing the occasional flat and riding the thing around town. Well I guess some vows are meant to be broken and soon (under my son’s tutelage) I was doing everything short of packing bearings. I’ve replaced the drivetrain, rims, brakes, handlebar, saddle, etc., to come up with a respectable touring rig which I christened The Raven.
Editor’s note: How We Roll is a collection of first-person stories of rider’s rides and how they came to be. If you’d like to share the story of your favorite bike, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Riding around town wasn’t enough either, and Jim and I have taken several multi-day tours, including a three-day, 252-mile trip from my hometown of Toledo, Ohio, to a relative’s cottage near the northern Michigan town of Clare, and a four-day, 358-mile trip from Toledo to Jim’s place, where he is a PhD candidate at SUNY Buffalo.
Last August, I had the opportunity to attend a federal criminal defense seminar just two miles from Jim’s place, so I put together a detailed route using Google Maps, loaded the panniers, and hit the road for another ride from Toledo to Buffalo, this time three days and solo.
My plan was to leave Toledo at the crack of dawn Monday, ride 140 miles north through Detroit to the St. Clair River and cross into Ontario on a ferry at Marine City, stay over in Sarnia, ride 120 miles Tuesday east through London, Ontario and stay over in Brantford, Ontario, and finish 90 miles into Buffalo via the Peace Bridge at Fort Erie, Ontario on Wednesday. The seminar ran Thursday through Saturday, and I would return to Toledo in the quad cycle with my wife, with the Raven on the bike rack.
In 1785 Robert Burns had something skeptical to say about “the best laid plans of mice and men.” The contemporary phrase is “shit happens.” Indeed it did, all on day three.
The map had me on 13 miles of dirt and gravel, I caught three flats (including a front-tire blowout), and it rained so hard on the final one hour/15 miles of the trip (Friendship Trail between Port Colbourne, Ontario and Fort Erie, Ontario) that I might as well have finished that leg swimming through Lake Erie itself. My smartphone battery was dead (taking out the GPS), my headlight battery was near dead, and I had used my last CO2 cartridge fixing the third flat back in Port Colbourne. The topper was riding around Fort Erie in the rain for an hour trying to find the entrance to the Peace Bridge, thanks to a certain map service directing me to a non-existent trail.
But it’s the finish that counts. I made it all the way to Buffalo, experiencing the great city of Detroit up close and personal (you better believe it will rise again), and, in Ontario, some of the most beautiful farmland you will ever see.
It was all worth it, and when the U.S. customs officer asked me what the heck I was doing crossing the Peace Bridge at 4 a.m., soaking wet and with a huge grin on my face, I could have told him, “This is how I roll”.
This piece originally appeared in Bicycle Times #29. To make sure you never miss a story and to help keep the magazine rolling, purchase a subscription here.