Hello World

June 4, 2012 at 10:15 pm

An idea can take years to gestate, feebly pushing through the soil and flowering. Eventually.

My plan for a bike tour didn’t happen like that.

I made something of a New Year’s resolution to become conversationally fluent in French by 2013. Generally, New Year’s resolutions have a one month half-life. This one stuck.

I purchased books, listened to French radio, and started taking a class. But the folks around me kept saying that in order to actually learn French, I had to go there. Fair enough. I kicked around a few ideas. And then I walked into a cafe to put up a flier for the French class I was taking at The French Class.

There I saw a cycling magazine with an article about the grueling Bordeaux-Paris race. Apparently it was part of the pro circuit for years until the riders protested and had it removed. It was too grueling and didn’t provide the chance for physical recovery before the next major event on the circuit. I flipped through the article, put up a poster, walked outside, and texted my brother:

“I’m gonna go explore France on a bicycle.”

His response:

“I don’t see why not.”

And that’s when the planning began, little by little. To be honest, I didn’t know the first thing about bike touring. Still don’t. The research reminds me a lot of the reading I did before my first long hike on the Appalachian Trail. Everyone has ideas about what is essential, and everyone’s ideas are different.

A buddy once told me that the most vitriolic debate on the internet is over the proper way to sharpen a chisel. Equally serious wars of opinion are daily waged over:

  • Whether wool is, or is not, essential.
  • Whether panniers are bulky, or a trailer is bulky.
  • Whether camping adds 20 pounds of misery to your ride, or 20 pounds of blissful freedom.
  • Whether “stealth camping” is an easy necessity or crazy illegality.
  • Helmets.

As a daily cyclist, I’m pretty used to these debates. I ride many miles a day, to every place in San Francisco that I need to reach by bicycle. I do it on a fixed gear, and I usually do it in jeans. This is near-heresy for many riders who think riding more than 3 miles in a pair of jeans will lead to ambulatory asphyxiation.

Whenever I feel like I need to spend $100 on a merino wool moisture-wicking chamois-padded infrared-equipped pair of cycling shorts, I remind myself that the first guys who rode their bikes around the world did it dressed like this:

That ain’t no triple in the front, neither.