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PART 1. Background
Travelers call the road home, and our home is a road that has no end. Travelers wake to an itch, a need to trade the weight of material possessions, creature comforts and security for what is unknown, often uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous. In exchange, they experience new cultures, see beautiful places the world has to offer, and learn about themselves in the process. The trade is well worth it. As you read this, Iím probably on the road.
I began my obsession with traveling in grade school. My father returned from a business trip in Germany with a wall map of Europe. I found it alluring that the map was entirely in the German language. My imagination was sparked! Maps, globes and world atlases mesmerized me.
I scoured my middle school library looking for books about distant countries and cultures. I can remember playing a game at the library. I would spin the globe and shut my eyes. Then, I would stop it with my finger and see what country I had randomly selected. Next, I would look the country up in the encyclopedia and search for all of the books that I could find about it.
Soon the answers I was looking for were not to be found in Indiana. The cornfields of Indiana can be a long way from anything. Little did I know that some day I would be riding my bicycle through remote villages in Guatemala or discussing politics with impoverished farmers in Nicaragua. Patience is essential for a traveling man.
Born in 1966, I grew up in Greenwood, Indiana in a good home with two loving parents. I found my calling at the age of eleven when I became a cyclist. My parents were wise to nurture this instinct in me. I firmly believe that my involvement in cycling kept me out of serious trouble. I started riding bicycles in the mid-1970ís with a Campy five-speed bike, wool shorts and one of those funny leather helmets that cyclists wore back then. The bicycle racing movie "Breaking Away," hit the theaters and I quickly fell into racing. I was immersed in racing until I graduated from Indiana University in 1991 with a bachelorís degree in Physical Education. Competing on a bicycle taught me many things, including riding techniques and mechanical skills I now use in my daily life on the road. More importantly, racing taught me how far I could push myself physically. This foundation prepared me for a future full of biking in foul weather and endless mountain climbs.
Once I was finished with undergraduate school, I was free to roam. I left Indiana permanently and headed west. I traveled by bicycle and worked in several different states in the western US. I existed on the least amount of money possible. I drifted around looking for work in each town, saved up a little money and moved on. This may sound romantic; but in reality, it was difficult. This kind of living can exhaust even a young man. I learned the ropes of basic survival and hard living. Looking ragged and being treated as an outcast taught me much about society. Many people looked down on me because I looked poor. They did not judge me on my actions but the way I looked. A few people didnít notice my appearance and saw me as an equal. This served as a strong reminder of a value I had always known: avoid bias based on appearances.
I settled in Arizona where the climate and mountains suited me. I lived in Prescott for ten years except for two years of graduate school at Northern Arizona University (NAU) in Flagstaff. It was at NAU that I met Cindieís twin sister, Cherie, and husband, Scott. They introduced me to Cindie who was living in New Mexico at the time.
Cindie was energetic and loved the outdoors. She was born in 1961 and grew up on the east coast. Cindie had previously attended NAU and finished with a Bachelor of Science in Geology in 1984. She was working as a geologist in Albuquerque when I met her.
Cindie and I had a two-wheeled romance. When I met Cindie, she owned a mountain bike. Our first date was a mountain bike ride in Flagstaff. During this date, she crashed and bruised her knee badly. I helped her up and put her back on her bike. I wondered if she would finish out our ride or go home crying. She thought about quitting for a moment but, instead, finished the ride. Years later, Cindie told me this was a tender moment for her and explained that when I comforted her I encouraged her to do what she had previously thought impossible. This was a defining moment in our relationship for both of us.
Early in our relationship, I took Cindie on her first bike tour around the Yucatan Peninsula in southern Mexico. I took the cheap way down, riding a bus to Cancun, and met Cindie in the airport well after dark. I unpacked her bike and assembled it. She asked if we were going to one of the famous beaches. She was excited to have a romantic getaway. I have never liked touristy beach resorts and told her that we were going in the opposite direction. Cancun is only an airport to me. She asked where we were staying for the night. I answered, "I will figure that out when we get there." She nervously followed me into the Mexican darkness. She must have trusted me a lot to have done this. We found a construction site and set the tent up. In the morning, we met friendly Mexican workers and over a long conversation shared our coffee. She saw that traveling could be more than glitzy beach resorts.
A few months later, she bought a used road bike. She learned to draft and ride pace lines on the roads of New Mexico. I saw a lot of potential in her as a cyclist.
After the trip to Mexico, I bought the first motor vehicle I had owned in five years; a 24-foot 1976 Ford Recreational Vehicle (RV) that leaked five different colors of fluids and burned $10 in gasoline for every hour driven. It was old when I bought it and literally falling apart when I sold it years later. I had two repair manuals and learned how to keep it working more or less. The RV would play an unexpected but important roll in making my dream come true in the future.
When I finished graduate school, I moved out of my apartment in Flagstaff and permanently into my RV. I was detached from the earth, living mobile and rent-free. I could have gone anywhere I liked, but I returned to Prescott, Arizona. To this day, I think of it as a nearly perfect place for a cyclist to live. It has great weather, endless mountain bike trails and challenging road rides. My RV was fully self-contained including a hot shower and refrigerator. I set it up so I could park free and ride my bicycle for transportation, including to and from work.
Cindie was able to find a good job in a geologic consulting firm in Prescott, and moved into the RV with me. This lasted several months but eventually we rented a house. Back then, we owned many possessions and had trouble fitting into this small space. We continued using the RV for weekend getaways. In the winter, we would go to Phoenix and participate in group bicycle rides. In the summer, we would go to Flagstaff and mountain bike in the cool mountain temperatures.
Everything changed when Cindie wanted to buy a tandem (bicycle built for two) with me. I knew, as a life long cyclist, that this was the ultimate sign of commitment. Wedding rings are liquid. They can be bought and sold easily. Tandem bicycles are individual machines that fit two specific people in terms of two sizes, style and color. I am 6í4" (1.93 meters) and Cindie is 5í7" (1.70 meters). Tandem bikes can also be quite expensive. For these reasons, it takes months of planning to buy one. A tandem is nearly impossible to sell. Where would you find two people of the same height and bicycle preferences? Buying a tandem bicycle means two people plan on riding together for life. The idea of marriage comes to each of us in its own unique way, strangely enough; this was how it started to form, for me. I knew that it was time to ask her to marry me.
I proposed during a bike ride. I simply pulled up next to her and asked. "Will you marry me?" We were married in a Las Vegas drive thru called "The Tunnel of Love." We rode up on single bikes, the Justice of the peace spoke, and we switched to our tandem and rode away. We have been joined in this symbolic way ever since. We donít have to be on the same bike to be connected.
We spent our honeymoon in the Seattle, Washington area touring on our tandem. We enjoyed three weeks of good weather while camping and riding our loaded bike. The seeds of an epic journey were planted while we casually drifted past the incredible scenery. Neither of us wanted it to end. We talked unceasingly about what it would be like to keep going.
First, we had to go back to Prescott and resume our "normal" lives. We bought a house and settled into our jobs and daily routines. Cindie continued her work as a geologist, and I worked as a Special Education Teacher in a local school. After a short time, the road would be whispering in my ear again.
I have used several brands of bicycle panniers and
highly recommend Ortlieb.
See Why I switched to Ortlieb waterproof Panniers?
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