The Road Less Traveled

Have you ever gone on a long trip via bike? By “long,” I mean more than just a few hours, all day or perhaps overnight or through several days. I also mean a trip via bicycle straight from your door – no intermediate car or plane ride, just you pedaling out from home and eventually returning.

One of my favorite stories from back when I was a subscriber to Dirt Rag (the original publication from this office, before Bicycle Times), before I got a job here, was “À la Flahute,” from issue #101, authored by someone named “Flexiflyer.” (Sadly my current position hasn’t yet allowed me to discover the author’s true identity.) This was a story about just such a trip, taking minimal yet well-chosen and complete supplies and heading out for a tour on some disused roads in the mountains, “à la flahute” or “like wild geese.”

Earlier the previous day, tired of work and bike people in general, it was time to go. The route formed in my head. Escaping for a day or three would really hit the spot. Nothing beats a long, solo journey on the bike to reset the psyche to a more simplistic, benign state.

The story’s appeal for me is partly the fact that the author goes solo, departing at the unusual time of 6 p.m. (the last detail perhaps inspired by Tolkien). Also appealing is the winding and lonely route, composed of part dirt, part pavement, pushing up high for spectacular views but sneaking around civilization except to refuel the engine with calories. Nothing ties him to any specifics.

The closest thing I’ve ever done was a long time ago, in high school, my first major cycling trip. It was a three-part camping excursion down the Greenbrier River Trail in West Virginia, via foot, bike and canoe. We weren’t totally self-sufficient for the hiking and cycling parts, but we did carry our food and gear for the canoe leg, down mostly gentle stretches of the river but also through some rapids up to Class III. Aside from the camaraderie, what has stuck with me is the remoteness, yet efficiency, of the trail. The previously busy C&O railroad line, that had hauled the old-growth forest north out of the hills in the early part of the last century, came upon the odd backyard or cluster of houses, but not into any real towns until its end in Marlinton. Marlinton is qualified as a “town” by its one stoplight, the tiny railroad depot and a restaurant or two, but it looked like Manhattan to us after three weeks in some very deep woods. At the end this little crushed-limestone path had led us nearly 80 miles south. It took a while, and we were tired at the end of each day, but it wasn’t the insurmountable task that most modern minds would assume it to be without the aid of a motor vehicle.

Recently some other folks in the office have been able to go out on some backcountry tours via bike: Eric in more of a race situation, across most of Pennsylvania, and Justin for some exploring and product testing. (It’s a hard job, etc.) I find myself feeling rather jealous and wishing I could ditch responsibilities and go out for a solo ride. Of course neither of them simply ditched things – they planned out their trips. I’ll have to make the effort to do the same… then I can pretend to be a wild goose for a little while.

fargo by spring

Photo by Justin Steiner, of his test Fargo out on a tour.

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