Milt Lowry and I daydreamed about cycling across the country when I was a first year university student. At the time, it seemed frivolous, a waste of a whole summer that could be spent learning to be an engineer. It also seemed impossible. Of course, I had in mind the one-speed balloon bomber of my high school days.
In the ensuing years, the idea was forgotten. When I began getting serious about cycling, I remembered the desire, but getting a substantial chunk of free time seemed impossible. There were always too many things going on.
Finally, I realized I could wait forever for the right time, and die of old age without ever having made the trip. If I ever actually wanted to do a cross-country ride, I would just have to make time for it. This realization came during the summer of 1987 when GenRad was dying. But that summer I needed to find another job, and in any event it was too late in the season to have done anything but a short fast tour.
The summer of 1988 was to be the great adventure! I negotiated agreement for a leave of absence when I went to work at Raynet. But start-up pressure wouldn’t let me go, so I deferred the trip until 1989. Up until this point, I intended to travel on my own.
Meantime, Jacky decided she wanted to come along, not willing to miss the adventure of a lifetime. It would have seemed like cheating to drive a car, and riding the tandem had some disadvantages. For one thing, we would have been able to carry less; for another thing, we thought we might not want to be that close together all day, every day. Finally, I think Jacky wanted to prove she could do it under her own steam (I, of course, wanted to prove the same thing).
Why would anyone cycle across the country? Maybe the best answer came indirectly from someone Jacky was talking with along the way. After summarizing our adventure, Jacky mentioned that we lived in California. “You didn’t have to tell us that,” said the other, “All the crazy people live in California!”
These are a few of the books that provided a framework within which we made our observations.
- Jane Jacobs, The death and life of great American cities. Although we spent very little time in real cities, we still profited from Jacobs’ perceptive observations about what makes a town interesting and what destroys it.
- Joel Garreau, The nine nations of North America. Observations about boundaries defined by common interests rather than political divisions. On the ground, we discovered boundaries that disagree with Garreau’s, but that’s what makes life interesting.
- George R Stewart, The California trail. History of the development of the trail, and the alternatives and cutoffs along the route westward. This provided us a historical perspective through the first half of our journey.
- Robert M Pirsig, Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance. This is where I first heard about Chautauquas. Pirsig’s theme of caring, of giving a damn, of creating quality, was very appropriate to everything we saw. After the fact, we realized that the travel industry, road travel at least, is a good measure of people’s intrinsic commitment to quality, since they have almost no incentive from prospective repeat business.
Throughout the following pages, entries from Jacky’s diary are in italics.