BIKING
by Brett Lehigh
June  16, 2004

A number of years ago I took scuba lessons. The basics of scuba are not difficult- the equipment is reasonably straight forward, the concepts are easy to understand and as long as you keep breathing underwater, you should do alright. However, when I left the class with my new certification, I felt like I knew just enough to be dangerous. There is a huge number of variables involved in diving- tide, altitude, currents, depth, visibility, access, water temps, and underwater geography just to list a few. If I didnít have a buddy who was as intrepid as I was, I believe that my scuba gear wouldíve lied dormant in the closet until the advent of eBay and then I wouldíve sold it.

            Getting involved in something new can be scary. There are so many things that you donít know and that you will only learn through experience. Thereís a ton of advice out there- be it on the internet, through clubs, or even talking with salespeople at sporting goods stores. Still, no matter how well prepared and informed you are, making the leap from wanting to be involved to actually being involved can sometimes be intimidating.

            I always wanted to do some bicycle touring. In the past, Iíve owned motorcycles and was very aware of the differences of traveling in the open air as opposed to being inside a vehicle. You experience the country- the smells, the sounds, the temperatures, the humidity. And as you reduce your pace from motorcycle frenetic to the cadence of a bicycle, you get a bargain basementís worth of sensations.

            So I investigated bike touring and it seemed complicated. It appeared that I would need to almost totally re-outfit myself to do even the simplest of trips. Checklists in some of the books written on the subject seemed to go on forever. I felt my bike grinding to a halt before Iíd even mounted it.

            But then I got to thinking, and I may owe part of this to an old sociology professor who daily chanted, ďthe whole is the sum of the parts.Ē It seemed that I was familiar with all the parts of bike touring but fitting them together to make a whole was where I fell down. I was a frequent traveler, I could read a map, I knew how to ride and how to maintain a bike, I knew how to check into a motel, I was an avid eaterÖ. Instead of following all the expert advice, I decided to keep it simple and to do it my way.

            My girlfriend and I discussed some route options. Again, the logistics involved couldíve been a stumbling point. Would we need to drop a car somewhere after transporting our bikes, would we fly somewhere and ride a large loop, would we have to depend on friends for support? Again, we decided to keep it simple.

            In early May, we boarded AMTRAK in Fremont. Their regular cars are fully set up to accommodate bicycles. We had about 25 pounds of gear loaded into the panniers and rode from home to the station. After strapping the bikes down, we found a booth to sit in just down from the snack bar and set ourselves up with a couple of coffees. AMTRAK took us to Sacramento where we changed from the train to the bus. The driver was very accommodating and all we had to do was remove our front wheels to make the bikes fit in the hold. We grabbed a couple of seats (what a difference from airline seating!) and we were off to Redding where we started the biking leg of our trip.

            Our route took us from Redding to Eureka to Garberville to Fort Bragg to Gualala to Bodega Bay. Those were our overnight spots (except Redding). The final leg was from Bodega Bay to San Francisco where we finally jumped on the BART and came home to Union City. The trip was delightful- sweeping views of the Pacific, misty mornings, sleepy little towns with city-center cafes and a huge variety of flowers, trees and wildlife. But Iím not here to talk you into touring the California coast, Iím trying to show you how easy it is to become involved.

            We are minimalists and our gear reflected that. We had a couple changes of synthetic bicycling clothes, rain gear, a two person tent, sleeping bags and pads and a repair kit but that was pretty much where we diverged from the lists I found on the internet. We were riding through civilized areas and we didnít need to be ready for everything- in fact, after riding in rain from Eureka to Garberville, we opted to stay at the Best Western and indulge in pizza for dinner and enjoy their continental breakfast the next morning.

            Realize where you are and pack accordingly. We didnít stock up on gourmet foods and the kit necessary to cook same. Instead, we loaded some Ziplocs with cheese and trail mix, we made sure we had a baguette aboard, we decided on an assortment of energy bars and used some fruit as ballast. We realized that if we got hungry, we could snack until we found a restaurant or a grocery store. We didnít take a stove as we knew we could find hot food (or coffee!) pretty much on demand. Hey, maybe this isnít the puristís way but it worked well for us and most importantly, we went in as rookies and now feel like we could go anywhere and do just fine.

            And as to outfitting our bikes, again, we didnít follow the expertís recommendations. We rode mountain bikes with knobbies which made for slower and more difficult going but a better workout overall.  The lower gearing of the bikes helped us crank up over some of the daunting hills on the PCH.  We decided not to ride at night so instead of high amperage lighting, we included a couple of lightweight diode headlamps in our kit. Our repair kit would take care of the most common breakdowns: flats, a broken chain, a loose screw. Beyond that, weíd have to seek professional help but again, that was available with a little looking and with the ever increasing network of cell phone coverage, youíre never very far from being out of touch.

            Itís easier than you think. The most difficult part may be getting to your start point. Once youíve decided where you want to pedal however, treat it like any other trip- how would you get there if you didnít have a bike as luggage? Check with the airlines, AMTRAK, Greyhound or local shuttle services. Chances are good that someone will take you for a reasonable price.

            So, building on what my sociology professor said, ďreduce the sum into the parts and youíll probably find familiarity and then go with it.Ē Keep it simple and remember, a smile and a credit card will probably get you out of almost every bind- if not, call a friend with a car who owes you a favor. Have fun out there!