About Face

Mike Tyson is not known as a statesman but he came up with a quote that fits my situation and so many others that people face as they go through life. “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth”. We all have things we plan, and with the best effort, go and do. I had a plan and then I got a taste of reality. You could say that I have been figuratively punched in the mouth.

As I geared up for retirement I laid out a plan the ride cross country. Back in my college years, at the end of the spring semester, for three years in a row, I bicycle camped my way from the NY metro area of my youth to the tip of Cape Cod, via Long Island, taking advantage of parks, beaches and ferries. These were vacation adventures. The first year I rode with two buddies, the second with four of us and the last with my future wife. The next summer we got marrried and the bikes were an afterthought for some 30 years. Not so fast forward, with retirement looming and wiyth it the opportunity to start doing some things that took some time, riding to Cape Cod became a “goal”. I did a lot of internet surfing about the current status of bicycle camping, learned that bikepacking was a thing, that many people were doing bicycle vacations across the world. For my effort, I hoped to find a group ride I could join, hoping to latch on with some cross country riders but I did not connect with anyone “going my way”. No worries I thought, I could go it alone.

I proceeded to plan my retirement ride, bought a used touring bike complete with most of the gear I would need. Amazon and REI provided the rest. I did a couple of test rides on my new bike and found it comfortable. I bought a new seat and raised the handlebars to fir my size and upgraded the tires to ones more suitable for gravel as well as pavement but did not get around to adding a front wheel dynamo hub for charging devices like a Garmin and cell phone. I was going to rely on a small solar charger pack and some battery blocks. As the departure day approached my family expressed their worries about my safety, as well a making sure I got back back home in time for my youngest daughter’s wedding. I had 60 days to get this thing done and being open to the idea of that I might have to park the bike with friends at some point along route and come back to finish was accepted as a potentiality.

The start date came and I hit the road. It was uneventful at first. I had to stop a few times to adjust the seat position and straighten out the H-Bar, but mostly the bike was ready to ride. Reality cames to you quickly, as riding alone for 30, 40 or 60 miles a day gives you plenty of time to think. In the beginning the thinking is about adjusting from a riding style that focuses on getting as much out of your legs as you can stand based on the conditions, with the expectation that you can average a reasonably fast pace. It takes a bit of minset adjusting to not crank it up the hills and use up your legs. There is no shortcut back to the car!

As the start date approached I kept an eye onthe weather forecast. I wasn’t going to leave in the rain. No rain, but the ride began with a forecast of very strong winds for two days, but mostly predicted as a tailwind. This was a great benefit for the first day but it was still very tough. I had a 28 pound bike, and at least 50, probably 60, pounds of gear. Even on the flats, with a tailwind there was no break from pushing the pedals if I wanted to move forward. As the day progressed I entered a hilly area as I headed toward the campground. Hills are not your friend with that much weight.

The first night was my first indication that this was going to be a lonely trip. I was alone in a Army corps of Engineers boat ramp campsite. A couple of boats pulled out and left but not a word was said. I was grateful for the work crew that clapped for me as I rode by, and the one guy who commented that I was making him feel guilty about his exercise habits, as I rode past. The convenience store workers weren’t all that friendly either. Nevertheless I called the day a success, with about 58 miles completed. I packed up early in the morning but overnight the forecast changed. I still had some tailwind but I was now riding 20 miles of hill country on a road construction detour from my planned route. It was a very scenic ride but it took its toll on my legs. As the day progressed I received texts from my family warning me about a storm coming my way. It was suggested that I adjust my route to get to a hotel for the night and I changed accordingly, and headed for a Motel 6 north of Waco. Now the tailwind I was counting on was a steady 24 mph side wind with gusts over 30, for 20 miles. It was a lot better when I got to Waco and turned north for a while. The day totalled 51.5 but it took a lot out of me. I looked forward to tomorrow and getting pushed straight n orth to Mansfield.

Overnight the forecast changed up and the southeast wind flipped to a Texas norther headwind, somehow maintaining the same velocities. My route was pretty much straight north, on what I learned were the old and discarded routes to Dallas, old HWY 81 and old HWY 77. 81 was replaced by IH35 and 77 moved off inthe distance. These roads were mostly well maintained dirt roads to service farms and ranches and I found that the bike was well suited for the combination of road base and gravel. If it wasn’t for the wind I would have found it enjoyable. I stopped in the McDonald’s in Hillsboro to charge up the devices. This took longer than I expected and having stayed that long I decided that another cheap Motel 6 would be my stop for the night. I only accomplished 31.6 miles but again I was whipped.

The wind forecast dropped from the mid twenties to the mid teens for Thursday. I was using Google Maps to route me to Mansfield and I didn’t realize that Google chose a scenis route, way west of where I needed to be, until it was too late. If you ever need a break coming from Ft Worth south check out the area around Keene over toward Cleburne. There are some pretty piney woods up inthose hills! Unfortunately the routing turned a 48 mile day into a 56 mile ride. I rolled into my daughters driveway, with my son-in-law and 3 of my grandkids waiting and watchiung for me late in the afternoon. This was the highlight of the trip and left me feeling like I had accomplished something. The overnight stay turned out to be a turning point for me. I obviously enjoyed the company of my grandkids and family, and was tempted to stay an extra day, but the I had a fear that if I didn’t leave the next morning, and stick to the plan I would lose my mojo. So I headed east according to plan. I’m not sure thay my mojo left with me.

With the wind now coming from a more traditional Texas style southeast, dirt devil making blow, I continued my trek, but now on an eastern path toward Seagoville. This took me through some varied wetlands that included everything from an alligator sancuary to bird migration stops. The ponds looked to me like sand or gravel pits that have filled with water. Square in not a natural shape! Having just left the family, the sense on lonliness was really beginning to hit. I had my iPod turned on but the music was most often drowned out by the parade of belly dumps sharing the road with my, so listening to a book was out of the question. It was just me and my thoughts, and they turned sour. Although this route was relatively flat the wind made it a challenge. I had adjusted to a moderate new goal of hitting Seagoville rather than getting all the way to Terrell as on my original plan. I considered going another 10 miles to an RV Park by IH 20 but I could not get them to answer the phone to tell me if camping was allowed and I decided to call it a day at 41 miles. If I hadn’t found a mobile home park that allowed me to set up for the night it would have been another hotel stay. I camped behind a newly placed but unoccupied single wide for the night. The rain that night turned the dirt around me to muck. It took a while to dry the tent and get on the road.

With the help of my daughter, I had a campsite reservation for the next night at Lake Tawakoni State Park. I rolled in after 4 PM and the the office was closed for the day. A Ranger rolled up in his truck to chase me away but I was ready with my reservation and knew my campsite number. He knew it was vacant and his tone changed. I got the sense that cyclists must roll up looking for a place to camp without reservations and get turned away. The place was booked solid. In the 40 ensuing years since I last rode on a trip like this camping has changed completely. Almost every “camp site” was occupied by some form of RV. I did not see and pop-up trailers or pickup truck bed campers. Apparently the lower end of camping is now a van conversion. I was in the tenting area and only the site next to me had a tent. I have to say it was nice having a raised sand bed for the tent, and a two outlet power pole. I didn’t need the other 50 AMP outlet. There was alot of activity arounf the campground. Big fires roaring, big screen TV’s set up, camp site perimiter string lights, lights hanging off the sides of RV’s displaying the Aerican flag and even a couple of huge Trump flags. These are his people.

I was 6 days in and contemplating the rest of the ride. Tomorrow I headed to Sulpher Springs. I had already fallen two days behind the plan I worked so hard on, and trimmed out the fat (fun) to make sure I could get where I was going. The riding I had accomplished so far brought me to the conclusion that I should hold my miles per day to around 40 miles. According to my plan I would need to average 45. I’m pretty good at basic math, and knew that wouldn’t work inthe 60 day plan, but the real problem was that I was not enjoying the ride. I have watched enough YouTube videos of bike camping expeditions to understand that my plan had missed the mark. All I was doing was travelling from point A to point B daily, figuring out sleeping and meals, wash (if available) rinse and repeat. Ahead of me were three more days in Texas, many more in Arkansas and then Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio before I got to the GAP, rails to trail route that had captured my attention. It was a punch in the face, Tyson style. This is not what I envisioned. Did I really want to just push on, day after day like this?

I slept in a little longer than I should have on Sunday morning. I was dragging as evidenced by the the tent campers next site over, with 4 little kids and a big tent, who beat me out of the campground. It was 11 AM before I checked out at the campground office. A couple of folks wished me well as they drove off. One of the challenges of camping at State Parks is that they are some miles out of the way, off the course. Today it was 3 miles back over the same roads I took to get in, straight south and into the wind to get back to where I was yesterday. In another few miles I reached a point where I Google said that I needed to turn left to go east toward Sulpher Springs. I couldn’t do it. I turned right knowing it was over. I couldn’t face the lonely road I had chosen. I turned right, straight into the wind and back to family.

Seven days, averaging over 40 miles a day of lonely riding was enough for me. I learned that I can do the miles in some very tough conditions. I can face the wind and get where I am going. I just can’t do it solo. I could not face having the same questions crossing my mind, day after day. I could not do this alone. At that intersection I decided to call it a ride. I thought I wanted this cross country ride but as it turns out I was wrong. Sometimes it takes a shot to the face to know it. I’m sorry to those that wanted to follow me across the country but I chose to do this because I thought I would enjoy it and I am choosing to call it quits because I just am not enjoying it.

Solo bike camping will not be my thing, I’ve learned that. Honestly, it didn’t take the full week, but a week was more than I could stand being out there alone. It would have been better with a partner but maybe 4 people would make a good sized group. We could share the wind at the point and be there for each other when the going gets tough. Having co-dependents along for the ride certainly would alleviate the lonliness. In place of the long ride I think we can do more vacation oriented bike camping, with destinations, in scenic areas, with my wife, and maybe others will be. Yes, I think the better plan might just be to take a vacation to scenic bike trails like the ones in this article. I was going to use the GAP Trail on this ride so it will be first. I’ll just have to schedule the trip within my wifes vacation time. And buy her a touring bike.

There is something to be learned from getting pounched in the face by Mike Tyson. Once is enough. I’m back in Mansfield with my grandkids and after a few days I will head home. I don’t think it will be onthe bike but I’ll check the wind forecast one last time before I go.


3 thoughts on “About Face”

  1. Howdy Bob, when I heard about your trip I imagined being alone would be the hardest. You have the training to make it I believe.
    I’ve went on hunting trip of a week. I wanted to do it alone. ALONE is tough… kudos for having the drive to even try it.

    1. Yeah, the riding was tough, and I ended every say worn out, but was ready to go again the next morning, so physically okay. Being totally alone just about all the time wore on me.

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