Although I spend a lot of time and column inches writing about urban cycling, what gets me really excited is going rural on the bike. It’s a big reason why, when it was time to buy a new bike a few years back, I went with a long distance, drop bar, ride over anything rig. I’ve ridden this bike a lot of miles and love it even more now than when I bought it.
I do most of my riding around town, but I get out into the rural hinterlands whenever I can. I especially love small towns like Greencastle Indiana, Marysville Kansas and Minden Nebraska. There’s something special about rolling into town after being out under a big sky for miles and miles. If town has a courthouse square or a quaint Main Street, even better.
Lately, I’ve been hearing the call of the open road more and more, and like John Muir I feel a compelling need to get up and go. I broached the idea of a coast-to-coaster…a ride across America…to Jan last night and she said I should go for it.
Cool. Truth be told, I wouldn’t do it if she wasn’t behind me. That said, I’ve already been working on the route for a few weeks. I know what I like to ride and the published national routes all leave me wanting more. Besides, half the adventure is blazing your own trail so that’s what I’m doing.
Interestingly enough, my planning hasn’t started at one end of the country or the other, but smack dab in the middle. I’ve already decided that the Katy Trail is the crux of it all. It’s iconic and symbolic and was bicycle nirvana long before the rest of America caught on. To the east, I will ride mostly rural back roads through Illinois, Indiana and Ohio. To the west, I’ll ride two lanes and rail trails through Kansas, Nebraska and up into the Dakotas. The Flint Hills, Cowboy and Mickelson trails all play into it.
I haven’t decided how to cross the Rockies yet. I suspect I’ll probably ride through Yellowstone and up into Montana and Idaho before hitting the coast in the northern half of Oregon or southern Washington. East of Ohio, my plan is to get from the coast to DC and then hop the B&O towpath and Great Allegheny Passage to Pittsburgh.
There’s plenty of time to figure all that out. I probably won’t take this trip before 2018. Ideally, I might do it the following year as a 60th birthday present to myself. We’ll see.
In the meantime, I’m heading west in early April to ride the Katy Trail. The plan is to ride 142 miles from Machens west to McBaine the first day. The next day would be a monster. I’d go all the way to the western trailhead in Clinton and back to McBaine…a round trip of 190 miles. If there was anything left in the tank after that, I’d ride back to Machens on day three, completing the circuit of 470 miles, more or less.
As I think about this, I find myself getting really excited. Now that I’ve put it out here, I have to do it and that was part of the plan…not that I wouldn’t have done it anyway. For me, the open road is pure bicycling joy. I feel about it much the same as I used to feel when taking road trips by car. This is better, though. The journey isn’t just better than the inn. The journey is everything.