advice from a novice

I’ve run the numbers, and by my estimation, I am approximately 645 miles into my journey. This means that I am approximately 45% done!

That exclamation mark is not so much jubilation as astonishment. I have been averaging 90 miles a day on my actual travel days. I’m about to hit the Appalachians and the climbing involved is bound to bring that average down, but I can’t say how much. If it brings me down to 60 miles a day, then it should take me 13 more traveling days to get to D.C. I’m not sure how I feel about that. On one hand, these traveling days are so full that I feel as though I left St. Louis weeks ago. On the other hand, I feel like my journey has barely begun and certainly shouldn’t be ending anytime soon. We’ll just have to see how it goes.

Berea has a pretty remarkable vibe. It is a college town and has the expected trappings of a college town: coffee shops, centrally located local pizza place, quaint homogeneously-designed campus building clusters. But it’s built into and surrounded by densely wooded mountains. It’s in a dry county, so there are no bars (you can’t even get a beer with your pizza). There’s some kind of fantastic local radio station that they play in the coffee shop I’ve been hanging out in: playing lots of Tom Waits, the Band, Lucinda Williams, etc. There’s a disproportionate number of kids riding bikes around the little city, and occasionally some weird person, bike overburdened with stuff, comes rolling through on their way out one direction or the other.

The town was built up around the college and the college has a very cool history. Look it up if you’ve got a moment. The upshot of it is that the town gives a very strong impression of having maintained continuity and progress within the mountain culture from which it sprang. I don’t know that I’ve ever visited another community so in step with and celebratory of it’s culture. It’s a great place to stop and rest my muscles.

But, as in all college towns, leaving is a subject that pops up regularly in the conversations of Berea’s student population. And I can’t help but daydream about getting back on the road. I’m eager to see what comes next and happy and proud to know that I have the luxury of making that decision at my leisure. I think I’ll take one more day here, then I’ll start making my way toward Virginia.

None of this is what I’d intended to write in this post. I wanted to pass along some thoughts I had as I was climbing the hills yesterday:

– Hills are never as oppressive to climb as they are impressive to roll down.

– Remember to take your eyes off of the road on a regular basis. Scenery is nourishment.

– Embrace the land of plenty. All of that stuff that is killing the average American in the sedentary work-a-day life is just fuel to your biking fire. If it’s cheap and plentiful, have seconds. If you stumble across a buffet as you’re getting started with your day, do not be afraid to go in and have at least two platefuls. The indigestion and unpleasant sensations will pass after your first five miles or however long it takes to get your internal fires properly stoked. After that you’ll have fuel to run on for hours. Some days I’ve skipped lunch, some days breakfast, and some days dinner. I let the availability of food and the desire to stop or keep going dictate my dietary habits.

– Embrace technology. The iPhone is probably the most useful item I brought along with me, beside my bike.

– If you’re inclined to listen to music, bring some with you as an option. It soothes a sore soul, and gives twitch to tired muscles. Some days I’ve had the earbuds in almost the entire day; other days I haven’t listened to them at all.

– Bring lots of chapstick. You’re going to need it.

D Rex


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