There are hundreds of tire traps out on those long paved miles of your journey, little obstacles that would have no affect on an automobile, but could cause a trike pilot a real headache. Many of them are difficult or impossible to see ahead of time, and so unsuspecting trikers ride right into them. Others are so large and obvious that we literally must ride around them, which can force a wait if traffic in the lane is heavy.
One thing I’ve noticed is that car lanes are usually free of debris, while road shoulders (or bike lanes if really lucky) are often littered with all manner of junk and dangerous gremlins waiting for human powered cyclists. About the only good thing to be said for the many roadways that have no safe shoulder for trikes is that there is also little to no debris in the car lane in which we are forced to ride, which is refreshing. Some motorists throw trash from their cars, which of course, ends up on the shoulder. Most of the shoulder debris is just annoying “stuff” to ride around or over, like banana peels or dirty diapers, but other items demand prompt attention and action … or else.
One of the nastiest things to be aware of is a conglomeration of old rusted metal strands of wire that used to be part of a trucker’s tire prior to blowout at 55 miles per hour. Some are in bunches, yet easily missed because the rust diminishes their appearance. Others are single strands and nearly invisible until the last possible moment. If one of these pieces of steel hits your tire just right, it will probably puncture it, unless you have super heavy duty rubber like Schwalbe Marathon-Plus tires (of course, even they have limits). The thicker the tire tread, the better chance you have of not getting that deflated feeling. If you are tired, enjoying the scenery, or concentrating on traffic, these steel wires can really take you by surprise. And, if you’re cranking along at a good clip on a really narrow shoulder of a very busy roadway, simply turning the handlebars to avoid the wires may not be an option; I’d rather have a flat tire than swerve into a car’s grillwork.
The funny thing about these steel wires is that they appear harmless at first glance, but if you get into a large bunch of them together, which can easily happen on trucker highways, that’s a lot of sharp ends looking for your tire, and they are stronger as a group if bunched together, therefore more likely to overcome the resistance to the tire’s surface. Should you be unlucky enough to impale your rubber on one or more of these nasty debris artifacts, please use care in removing the metal. It is old, dirty, and rusty, and it can also poke you! What if you haven’t had a current tetanus shot?
Even the wonderful natural world delivers an occasional unpleasant surprise, so we can’t blame it all on modern truck tires or human-generated trash. One of the worst tire traps ever comes from the Tribulus terrestris plant, in the form of a frightening grouping of long thick thorns that will make fast work of standard duty cycling tires and tubes. A flat is almost guaranteed. There is a central mass of bone-like material, called a nutlet, from which several long sturdy spikes protrude, each one about 10 millimeters in length, and each easily capable of letting the air out of your tires. The nutlets resemble the head of a goat, thus the commonly known moniker of goatheads.
If you get goatheads in one tire, you’ll likely get them in all three, as these nutlets fall from the plant in groups of four to five. Just like ants in your house, where there is one, there are often many more unseen. Of course, once they embed themselves in your tread, you may well see hundreds at once, as I did after riding through an autumn pile of elm leaves in a city park on my trike journey. All of my treads were literally covered thickly by goatheads, so much so that the tread portion of my five tires (two on the trailer) was not visible. It is truly an unnerving sight to behold. All you can do is hope the weather is warm, dry, and bright because you’ll be sitting around for a long time pulling them out.
Be very careful when removing the nutlets, as they don’t play well with human skin either. I used a Swiss army knife to pop them out. It is a long and tedious process, made worse by the fact that when popping some of the central cores out, an occasional spike will remain in the tire, broken off at tread level. If left in the tire, these remaining spikes can deviously work their way farther into the tire and tube while riding. You could fix one flat, only to have another down the road later from a spike or two that you missed. And here’s the worst part: These little broken-off spikes are very tiny when viewed from their ends, some being whitish in color and others somewhat grayish. They are almost impossible to see unless you very carefully, slowly, and closely scan every square inch of your tires. The ends look just like a tiny piece of road grit … until you start working one out, and then discover a spike up to one centimeter long!
I had the superior Schwalbe Marathon-Plus tires on the trike, with EarthGuard tire liners and thick Kenda puncture-resistant Q-Tubes inside. This was an expensive triple protection tire setup that paid off in spades, as none of the trike tires succumbed to hundreds of goatheads. I even pulled out one of the spikes nine months later at home, which I had missed that eventful day on the road. My trailer tires weren’t so lucky, as they were just standard Kenda K-West light-duty tires, with standard lightweight tubes. I had EarthGuard tire liners in those tires too, but the thick liner wasn’t enough by itself to stop the spikes from entering the flimsy tube. Both tires went flat eventually, once the spikes worked their way deep enough.
Some trikers get flats fairly frequently while on long road trips, and that is usually due to the use of light-duty tire and tube choices. If I can stress just one thing to remember, it would be this: Do not skimp financially on placing the best puncture resistant strategies you can on the trike. You may think that changing a tire is easy, but what about three? And what about one or two that go flat a second time within the next ten to twenty miles from missed spikes? How many tubes do you carry anyway? Probably not enough to fix multiple flats! Keep this in mind also: If the weather is rainy, windy, and/or cold, the absolute last thing you’ll want to be doing is spending a half hour extracting goatheads, and then another half hour changing tires. I was lucky. My goathead revelation occurred at the day’s final camp in warm sunny weather at a city park with benches, water, shade trees, and no automobile traffic. What would it be like on the side of a busy state highway in a freak snowstorm?
I stand by the products mentioned above, and while some riders have said it is overkill, I know better. My trike trip is taken for the joy of the ride and the beauty of the scenery, not to be tinkering on repairs roadside. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Money spent to avoid the problem in the first place by using superior products pales by comparison of the hassle to be endured by skimping initially. This was a lesson well learned by yours truly, especially since I got to see the difference between the trailer setup and the trike setup in the identical conditions, something akin to a controlled science experiment.
Superior rubber on the road also is a plus for other tire traps as well, such as nails and tacks. Both of these bad guys can also force a tire and tube repair, but at least there is usually only one which to contend instead of hundreds, and only one tire is affected instead of three. Of course, if you are unfortunate enough to sustain a nail hole, not only will you need to get out your spare tube, but you’ll need to repair or change the actual tire too. The good news about nails is that on a trike we are often riding rather slowly compared to the speed of cars, so we might ride right over a nail and not apply the force necessary to drive it into the tire like a car does.
Along with your spare tubes, be sure to carry tire repair supplies, and know how to use them ahead of time. The last thing you want to have happen is being out on the open road with a damaged tire or tube, and then learn how to use the patch kit. Learn these simple skills in the comfort of your own garage. I carried a spare tire on my first trip, which I easily kept on the underside of the trailer, but I never had to use it. I did use one spare tube however. Trikers without a trailer may opt not to carry a spare tire due to space restrictions and hassle of where to store it, but the good news is that if your tire develops a small hole or tear (key word being small), it can be patched with a patch kit, or, in a pinch, jury rigged on the inside with a stout piece of flexible plastic or duct tape.
Glass is plentiful on our highways, especially on the shoulder where cars do not travel. People of questionable character have been known to toss liquor bottles out the window, leaving razor sharp shards of brown glass hidden in the shadows. Only the fortunate glint of sunshine or an observant eye will allow avoidance of these tire-eating gremlins. A glass shard can open up a trike tire in the blink of an eye, especially a thin light-duty tire. The more rubber the better, but no tire is totally immune from larger pieces of sharpies.
The most vulnerable time for a triker may well be on long steep descents, where speeds of 40 to 50 miles per hour can be attained. This speed, and resultant force, magnifies the damage potential for anything on the roadbed when it contacts the tires. A shard of glass that could be ridden over at 8 miles per hour just may slice right through the tire at 45. At those faster speeds, the luxury of a quick swerve doesn’t exist, so you pretty much have to run over anything you don’t see far in advance. If that happens, attempt to straddle the object by keeping it between one of your outside front tires and the trike’s center line, where the third tire tracks. Basically, if your foot goes directly over the object, it will miss your tires completely.
Rocks and gravel are almost always non issues if you’re running superior quality heavy-duty gear on your wheels. I would recommend however that speeds be kept low on rocky surfaces just to be on the safe side. Traditional high-pressure thin road tires are more prone to being damaged by small rocks or gravel, but if you’re on an unsupported cross-country road trip, I seriously advise that they should not be a tire of choice. Maximize chances of success through wise gear choices.
Another tire trap worthy of discussion is the common road drainage grate that allows rain runoff to leave the roadway. Essentially, there is a sizable rectangular hole in the roadway’s shoulder that empties into an underground storm drainage system, and the hole is capped with steel grating. There are two basic kinds of grate design. One has the pieces of metal running perpendicular to the flow of traffic, while the other runs parallel. Perpendicular grating, that which runs ninety degrees to the direction of your trike tires, is rarely a concern. On a stable trike, it’s easy to ride right over the top of them. It’s the other kind that is the trap!
Grating that runs parallel to the trike tires will suck up the tire and wheel in short order, plunging you into a situation that will probably not be repairable, either right on the spot or at a bicycle shop. There is a strong likelihood that the aluminum wheel will be bent in the shape of a taco shell, ruining most of the spokes and pitching you off the seat onto the street if you’re traveling at speed going downhill. This is a case where the slower the speed at impact, the better. Hit one of these at four miles per hour and you might get lucky. If a traditional bicyclist hits one, he’s almost sure to take a nasty spill.
All governmental agencies should be required to change out the parallel grates for perpendicular grates. These are definite safety hazards for all cyclists, and governments that use them place themselves at risk of lawsuit. Parallel grating is proof positive that the government entity in question gave absolutely no consideration to human powered cyclists. They constructed the road only for petroleum powered automobiles with wide tires. Sure, as trike pilots we can anticipate and see most of these dangers, but what if a grate is covered in leaves after an autumn storm? It might be invisible and in goes your tire. This may bring the trike to an immediate halt, and with no seatbelt, guess where the pilot goes! Essentially, our governments have told us: “You’re on your own. We don’t care. We are not liable for your injuries.” Heed this message and you will be ahead of the game!
What other kinds of hazards are we likely to find on our thin ribbon of road shoulder during a trike tour? Well, you name it and eventually you’ll probably see it on the road someday if you ride enough. Some dangers enter a category that exceeds the simple title of tire trap. A few would fall under the heading of trike trap. Things like old car exhaust systems that finally rust off and tumble onto the road certainly will be visible for a ways off, so you’ll have plenty of time to avoid them, however, something that large will likely require that you enter the car lane to circumvent. If you’re flying down a steep mountain pass, beware of tight curves with minimal forward visibility. Always be on the ready.
In Florida, trikers will occasionally come across live alligators on the shoulders of roads near wetlands. Now that’s a pilot trap if I ever heard of one. Forget about having to change a tire; just avoiding being on the lunch menu of this carnivore is enough of a job. One could be lurking behind that next roadside bush! Hobo artist Dan Price has a photograph of a flat alligator that had been hit by a car in his journal of riding his TerraTrike from northeast Oregon to the Florida Keys. They’re out there. Adventurer Heidi Domeisen rode a tadpole trike from North Carolina to Alaska and back … alone. She came around a curve in the Alaskan highway to find a female grizzly bear and her cubs in the road. The bear bluff-charged her on the trike. Bet that got her adrenaline going! To read her story, visit the Crazy Guy on a Bike website and search her name.
Out on the open road of the trike realm lingers many a varied object or creature to surprise you. It’s what good triking stories are made of. Without these unknowns, a little bit of the adventure would be missing, so rather than seeing them as unfortunate aspects of an otherwise perfect trek, envision them as part of the challenge that makes a trike journey worth the effort. Knowledge is power, and being ever vigilant is your best defense against mishap. Experience these tire, trike, and pilot traps in a safe manner by being ready for them in advance. Don’t fall asleep at the bars, as I did once at around two in the morning while traversing the Cascade Range in the snow (fortunately, there are no drainage grates on that long mountain passs)!
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Emotional stability is challenged whenever we set out on a new adventure where the safety of our home becomes but a memory. Loneliness can become a companion to any solo trike pilot covering hundreds of miles across the countryside. A few seasoned cyclists who actually prefer to be alone for protracted periods of time might not experience such a feeling, but I would imagine most of us do when by ourselves in strange lands. Maybe some of us are better at subduing emotions than others, but if we set our ego mask aside and honestly evaluate our thoughts, we’re not always as stable as we might appear on the outside.
Here is a little excerpt from my story to tell the point:
“After lunch, I faced my second little traumatic test. Matt pointed his Catrike 700 north, and rode back home. I continued east towards the summit of the coastal mountains, along the beautiful Umpqua River. I had enjoyed his company, but now was truly on my own. He had delayed this final feeling of oneness at least for the majority of the first morning, perhaps easing me into this journey in a kinder and gentler way … two steps instead of one giant one. He and I had fun riding together. Now, the authenticity of the trip came to the forefront of my mind.
“Where would I sleep tonight? No bed awaited me. Would it rain? No house would shelter me. Would I be safe? No locked door would protect me. Could I find a place to camp legally? Governments do not design roadways for cyclists’ convenience. Questions filled my mind, and answers, in one form or another, were only hours away.”
Sure, the emotions were there, and I’m the type of guy who is aware of them and willing to share with others. Yet these concepts remained just emotional thoughts, never reaching any point of genuine fear that led me to doubt my desire to take this trip. The way I saw it was that I would learn much on the trike journey, gaining knowledge to expand my horizons and life experiences. An adventure that is new to the adventurer is like picking up a new good book: You can’t wait to turn the page and see what happens next!
This loneliness thing gets easier though with each passing day. The routine begins to make sense, former questions are now answered by doing, and the mind slowly eases into accepting a new model of existence out on the road. Our minds are highly adaptable, and for those of us who are able to adjust to new situations by allowing the mind the time it needs, the rewards are many.
Only those who risk going too far will discover how far they can go. To discover this necessarily involves moving through several stages of emotional instability. Until we actively make life happen in a new way, we can only speculate how we will react to the new situation. Being lonely for known and psychologically ingrained people and activities is normal. If we move to a new town, we suffer for a while from loneliness brought on by the old town’s memories, but soon we are getting in the swing of things and emotions settle in again.
Same on a trike. The really neat part of triking into the unknown is that we are very physically active during the day, and thus our minds are engaged in the necessities of continuing forward progress. Physical activity keeps us mentally healthy as it boosts our endorphin levels, which leads to sensations of well-being and confidence. During the days, any fearful emotions were well contained because I felt marvelous out in the wilds on the roads. I was in control and making a new adventure become my reality.
Setting up camp each evening was equally labor and thought intensive, so all was well. I’d say the time that proved most challenging was usually after I got into the tent to sleep. All the activities for the day were over. All was calm and I was left with my thoughts … and perhaps fears. Images of friends, family, and familiar places tend to surface prior to sleep. Of course, the good thing about this time frame is that trike pilots are usually so bushed after pedaling each day that sleep quickly overcomes them, shortening any periods of self-doubt.
For anyone who feels this emptiness or loneliness after dinner, a cell phone call works well to create the illusion that all is as expected. Trouble is, you may not want to hang up. That voice on the other end is your tenuous anchor to normalcy as you lie in an unprotected tent deep in the wild woods all alone, and the other person is in a secure home with all the comforts. Just like when we were kids though, after saying the final goodbye, getting down into the sleeping bag and pulling it up over our heads will keep the monsters at bay until morning!
Morning is a time of positive anticipation. A new day has dawned, and we are busy with eating a filling breakfast to power our pedaling for a few hours. Breaking down camp, putting the panniers back on the trike, and checking for any mechanical glitches keeps us busy again. The expectations of today’s road trip allow the brain to remain actively engaged in things other than potentially harmful emotions. We are eager to initiate the first rotations of the crankset. Maybe the only idea that has time to enter the mind is that we may miss what was our temporary home last night.
Funny as it may sound, I do find a unique emotional attachment to each camp I create. It doesn’t last long, of course, but I know it’s there in my head. After all, by myself I crafted a unique living arrangement that saw me successfully through the night. I became one with the flora and fauna, existing simply on the ground with them. I chose the locale because there were probably things about it I liked (landscape, scenery, serenity, etc), and I will miss them, however transitory and minimal that emotion may be.
There is a certain personal satisfaction to be gained in making a home for oneself in remote lands. I enjoy doing this. It is an important aspect of touring on a trike for me. Even taking an overnight weekend jaunt brings the same thrills and fulfillment of the camping process, but on a two-day trek, the emotion of loneliness is generally a non-issue because you’ll be home tomorrow anyway.
Going on a trike tour with a group of people, or at least one other person, usually keeps emotions such as loneliness at bay. Just having another human to talk to and share things with is enough to keep the mind engaged even during quiet times on the journey. Most humans seem to be inclined to function efficiently under conditions of partnerships of one sort or another. There is safety in numbers, both physical and mental, or so the mind usually believes. And if you get on each others nerves, then the mind is engaged in that, and even though it’s emotional, loneliness doesn’t enter the picture.
Not all emotions leave us sad however, as loneliness often tends to do. The vast majority of emotions experienced by yours truly are highly positive and spiritually productive (when I say spiritually, I am not referring to any religious ideology, but rather the essence of who I am as a person). My spirit is continually refreshed by all the sensations around me every minute of the ride: The shape of my planet through which the road travels, the wind and birds singing in the trees, the wide green pastures of horses and cows, the immense beautiful blue sky and white fluffy clouds, the sounds of my natural world welcoming me home, the serenity of a long flowing high-country valley, the annoying tire whine of an eighteen wheel just off my port side. They all play a part in keeping me engaged in the now. Nothing else matters. I am here and I am happy.
If my emotions start to grumble as clouds darken the sky and rain falls upon me, I shake the feeling knowing that I am truly alive, truly on a wonderful adventure as part of my life, and happy to be healthy in the clean and remote hinterlands. The wettest day on a trike tour, after all, is far better than the driest day in a toxic big city where I am only a nameless one of thousands, a place where stress determines the fate of most. I would rather be rained upon pedaling a backcountry byway, where I am free on three, living on the edge, and silently passing through my natural world. People get all worked up over getting wet. Why? Humans are waterproof!
It’s our clothing that engenders that common belief. People are unprepared for rain, and run through it like it’s poison. Of course, in today’s industrial machine, that very well could be the case. Preparation is the key, as I’ve said before. There’s no such thing as a bad weather day, just bad preparation. If it starts raining while riding your trike across the Nevada desert, do one of two things: Either get your rain clothes out of the panniers and put them on, or take everything off and ride naked. Both solutions avoid wet clothing.
Enough talk of emotions. Enjoy the trip. You’ll never be in that day again. Make the most of it all, even potentially sad emotions like loneliness. Savor those feelings. They are part of what makes you who your are. They make the ride all that sweeter once you do return home!
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Construction zones are a fact of modern human life for those who use public roadways. Long ago, when I was little, I always thought it strange that huge road construction projects always occurred right smack dab in the middle of summer when dad, mom, sis, and I were taking summer vacations somewhere. What’s the matter with these people anyway? Can’t they wait until summer is over?
Well, no, they can’t, because many Earthly locales experience less than ideal weather conditions to pour concrete and work outdoors other times of the year. Everyone it seems takes advantage of the warm dry weather, what is typically called “good” weather by most folks. Personally, I like my planet just the way it is, and accept all weather as a natural part of my life. There is no good or bad association in my mind at this point in my life. Anyway, back to road construction.
It can be daunting enough in a car, with colossal yellow construction machines roaming about like ancient dinosaurs devouring a meal. The pavement may be rough, or may be missing altogether, with only dirt temporarily on the roadway. How does that feel to a trike pilot on a tiny machine powered by his own legs? Yeah, it’s something trikers generally prefer not to see during their days on the road!
There is one notable advantage though. On the trike, we can ride right up to the front of the line, no matter how many cars there are. We just keep pedaling on our narrow road shoulder, and come to rest right under the nose of the dutiful flagman, or flagwoman as the case may be (interesting: my word processing program just showed flagwoman as an unknown or misspelled word, although not so with flagman – goes to show our cultural bias towards males – like how everyone refers to mankind instead of humankind).
So, there we are on our diminutive tadpole tricycle, with all the car drivers staring at us wondering what we are riding and why we are out there in the first place. The flagger looks down at us, and you can see the wheels turning in his head as he attempts to solve any potential problem on how to get us through the construction zone in one piece. No one likes these places, especially trike pilots.
For one thing, when the pilot car pulls away and the car line follows, even though they are only traveling 25 miles per hour, the triker surely can’t hope to keep up, and soon enough, the entire line passes us again, and we are alone. Eventually we know that the pilot vehicle will be coming back the other way, with a line of cars in a one-lane setting, heading directly for our little helpless trike! Where’s the fairness in life? Why doesn’t anyone think of us in the grand scheme of things?
Well, as it turns out, sometimes they do! When I encountered my first big construction project in the Coast Range of Oregon, it was on a narrow two-lane road that snaked along the Umpqua River. The scenery is first-class, with gorgeous forest everywhere. Here are my thoughts of that construction zone from my Silent Passage story:
“A flock of geese flew along the surface of the Umpqua for a period, and my road was just alongside. What a treat to see and hear the magnificent birds so close. Up ahead, a flagman stopped me. The highway was being refinished. Soon, a long line of automobiles was stacked up behind my diminutive tricycle. Amazingly, my nervousness had diminished enough that I realized the road also belonged to me, and happily, the State of Oregon agrees with their “share the road” law. Not only that, but motorists had been very respectful thus far on the trip, so fear of cars was, as Matt had predicted, lessening in my mind.
“After some chatter on the walkie-talkies, the flagman motioned me on ahead to give me a long lead on the metal monsters that would follow. He told me to ride on the newly refinished pavement because my rig was so light. I did not have to wait for the oncoming traffic to clear like everyone else did. About half way through the construction zone, some workmen said I had better get out on the old pavement, as the newly surfaced asphalt was about to get too hot for my tires. I had to pass the oncoming line of motorists in only one lane, but because I was so small, my rig easily fit by.
“Finally I came out the other side of the construction zone, and still no cars behind me! How refreshing. It was as though I had the forest road to myself. A lady driving a Toyota Prius the other way slowed as she passed and said “Hello fellow cyclist”, which put a smile on my face. Perhaps I was not truly alone after all.”
Overall, it was a very pleasant experience. I enjoyed the special treatment. When the long line of cars came from the opposite direction, I had to sometimes make myself very small by squeezing to the right, but since trikes are little, it wasn’t too difficult to accomplish. Besides that, motorists were fascinated by this small bizarre vehicle coming their way, and they also moved over and gave as much room as they could. I did not feel threatened or vulnerable at all as it turned out. This construction zone was another page in my experience as a trike pilot.
A few days later, after having made my overnight passage across the mighty Cascade Range, I encountered another few miles of road work. It was on Highway 97 that runs through central Oregon from Klamath Falls to the Columbia River. I was south of Bend and north of Klamath Falls. Here is the description:
“I have come more than 25 miles from the lodge, and it is not quite midday yet. The shoulder is wide so far, wide enough for at least two trikes to ride side by side. If I had a companion triker, we could easily be talking up a storm right now. Along the way, I occasionally stop for more energy bars, a seemingly endless supply of which is horded inside my large cargo trunk on the trailer.
“At one point, there is a three mile section of highway striping in progress, as many miles of this road have recently been repaved (makes for superb riding on a recumbent, by the way – no rough jitters). The flagman tells me that the huge striping truck is northbound, and when it gets to the northern end here, will turn around and probably pass me heading south. He says I’ll have to pick up my vehicle and move it off into the dirt by the woods. I don’t like that idea at all, as I am heavily weighted down with supplies, so I shift up to high gear again and really stoke the pedaling fires. Slightly downhill, it is no problem keeping the large front chainring spinning quickly.
“A half mile into the striping area, I see the gigantic truck pass me going the other direction, spraying a fine white mist onto the new asphalt. That means he is one mile behind me, so if I can keep up my current speed, and keep him from catching me in the next two and a half miles, I won’t be breathing any paint fumes today, or have to lug all my gear off the roadway into the loose dirt. This provides extra motivation to keep knocking down the miles. As I pass out of the southern end of the striping zone, I cannot even see the truck in my mirrors. Oh yeah! I kept the monster at bay.”
It was actually a fun challenge to see if I could outpace that huge paint-spraying monster truck. I got plenty of great cardiovascular work in those three miles, even more than I had been getting earlier that day, which was considerable. Highway 97 is ever so slightly downhill heading south, so I made excellent time the entire day. I just made even better time staying ahead of the paint man!
During the first minutes of my first day on the journey, a time when initial apprehension was running high, my friend Matt Jensen was along on his trike. He rode the first twenty miles with me, and then turned around and headed back home. At the south end of town, we crossed a narrow bridge, with one narrow lane in each direction. Some refurbishing work was underway, so this construction zone was relatively short and sweet … well, short at least, but not too sweet, as I’ll relate next:
“Within minutes after leaving, we crossed the first river on an old bridge built in the 1930s. It had deteriorated with the years, so a state work crew had recently begun a year-long refurbishing project. Traffic was nearly nonexistent this early, so Matt and I rode leisurely across in the center of our lane. As we passed two Oregon Department Of Transportation (ODOT) workmen, I happily waved and spoke a cordial greeting to them with a smile. The second man, overweight with a cigarette in his mouth, replied: “You guys are fuckin’ idiots!”
“Well, that was not exactly the type of reception I had expected, and certainly not the best way of starting off my trip. Hopefully, this was not a harbinger of things to come. It was an odd feeling to think that a fellow human being could be so blunt and nasty, especially considering that he was a state worker and had been greeted appropriately by me. It was even more intimidating because he was walking on an elevated sidewalk, and I was sitting in a recumbent trike cockpit only nine inches from the pavement. He was an insulting man, his face looming several feet above mine. He was also not worth spending an instant of my life force worrying about, because I refuse to let toxic people erode my spirit. The problem was his, so I left it on the bridge!”
Oh well, I suppose this stereotypical macho male workman was only thinking about our safety that early morning, knowing perhaps that he drives his own tough pickup truck like a bat out of hell, and probably doesn’t like having cyclists get in his way. Here he was an Oregon state employee on that job, and he didn’t even know about Oregon’s share the road ideology. It’s his road after all, and he aimed to keep it that way.
Construction zones! Truth be known, they can almost be welcomed at times, as pedaling along hour after hour, day after day at such a slow speed can on occasion become somewhat mind-numbing. These zones provide an injection of excitement and drama, and in most cases, a time when fellow humans realize your vulnerabilities and try to help you through.
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Motorhomes are driven by people. People come in all types. It’s the person who makes the difference to our safety on a trike, not the vehicle that person is driving. The vast majority of people allow plenty of leeway to trikers on the highways and backroads, thus most motorhomes also allow plenty of room when they pass. The difference between a motorhome and a standard sized automobile however, is that the car is much smaller and narrower, and thus has more room to move over. Sometimes, depending on where a motorhome overtakes a trike, circumstances of the moment can make for a thrilling or perhaps frightening few moments.
Here’s one motorhome experience I had on a very constricted mountain road with vertical rock cliffs sandwiching the pavement, and where the shoulder was only about five inches wide if I was lucky. Five inches are hardly ample for a trike and trailer over six times that width! There was only one narrow lane in each direction, and the road was fraught with tight curves. From my story again:
“South of this town, there are some steep and long uphill grades, which have no affect on people being propelled along the asphalt by gasoline engines, but really slow down cyclists … especially those laden with over a hundred pounds of additional cargo. It was a low gear affair to the top of each hill, with a top speed of about 3-4 miles per hour. Fortunately, the scenery is top notch, passing rolling hills with farms, pastures, and quaint old barns mixed amidst the evergreen forests.
“On an Oregon bicycle map, Highway 138 is shown as lightly traveled and bicycle-friendly. For the most part, this is true. The apprehension came occasionally at curves in the steep road that had absolutely no shoulder, thereby forcing me into the automobile lane. Normally, this is not an issue when the road is open, as cars can see a cyclist ahead of time. However, when a cyclist enters into what I term a “blind right” curve on a shoulderless road, he is in danger if a car does not see him enter.
“A blind right hand curve is anxiety producing when one is cycling at 3 miles per hour on a steep hill because a car can come speeding around without knowledge of the cyclist’s presence. Well, on this stretch of road, precisely this happened to me with a huge motorhome, and was to be the only incident on this entire trip where anger was clearly demonstrated towards me. Due to my slow speed, I was necessarily in the curve for what seemed like eternity, and I heard the behemoth vehicle’s engine heavily straining to maintain speed as it labored up the long curvy mountain hill, soon to overtake my diminutive trike and trailer. In fact, I knew this noisy box was coming long before I could see it, hearing its engine get louder and louder, becoming an ever swelling blight on the serenity of my silent passage.
“This road is one lane in each direction, and it is narrow. This particular blind-right was in a section that was cut out of the mountain on both sides, meaning no leeway beyond the lane whatsoever. As soon as I saw the motorhome in my rearview mirror, the driver saw me, with only feet to spare. Obviously, he was not expecting a ten-foot long trike and trailer to be here. The driver adeptly slowed and moved over the center line, and there was no honking of horn or anything to indicate he was upset. His wife, on the other hand, had different ideas.
“It all happened so fast that I did not understand a word she said, but my experience as a human told me that she was clearly not a happy passenger. For the briefest of split second, her hateful and obnoxious voice showered down upon me like poison-tipped arrows from the sky (good thing I had a helmet), but since hubby didn’t want to slow his trip, they were gone in mere seconds around the next left-hand curve. My trike was so close to the rock cliff face on my right that I was darn near scraping it at this point. I guess she was unaware of Oregon’s “Share the Road” law. Some good the law does though, when governments pay little regard for the life of people who use human-powered vehicles.
“My ride returned to the silence of a primitive forested world once again. A notable upside of trike travel is passing through the natural countryside in silence, as no engine or tire whine spoils the sounds of nature. It is indeed a silent passage. At nine inches from the roadway and slow speed the norm, a trike pilot’s realm allows for true appreciation of all that unfolds in this mystical forested world. Happily, automobile traffic is indeed light and scattered, so nine out of every ten minutes are enjoyable.”
The only reason that hysterical female exhibited her rude and inappropriate behavior is because my presence took her by surprise. Had this been a section of road where I was visible in advance, I doubt she would have lost her cool and flamed out at me. Even if her husband shared her sentiments, he was too busy avoiding me to be able to honk the horn. The encounter produced more anxiety as I heard the beast straining up the grade getting closer than it did when actually passing. If nothing else, that couple now knows to better anticipate that a cyclist could be on the road with them.
When I do drive nowadays, which is rare since I no longer own a petroleum powered vehicle, I constantly assess my own driving techniques when on tight and curvy mountain roads, asking myself if I could safely pass a trike at the speed I’m driving. It takes a conscious effort to modify driving habits to allow cyclists safe passage, and that is from my own mind, which is keenly aware of the situation. Think about that 95% of the public that doesn’t ride a bike, or that 99.99% that doesn’t ride a trike (or even know what a trike is). Considering this, it’s truly amazing to me that folks provide so much room and courtesy to trikers on the road. I guess it’s a testament to the inherent good nature of the human, a statement that most people are kind and do the right thing most of the time.
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When on a trike tour, the best time to ride is the daytime. In fact, that’s the only time to ride, right? You’d have to be crazy to ride at night, or so conventional trike pilot wisdom may assert. To be safe, it’s essential that a triker ride in bright daylight with brilliantly colored flagging displayed prominently on flexible fiberglass poles. Car drivers can see you way off in the distance. We sleep at night. Trikes sit outside the tent or motel room at night. A triker has no business being out on the open road after the sun departs behind the western horizon. Right?
Well, maybe not. When the night is warm and the full moon shines bright enough to read a book, accepted conservative beliefs tend to be challenged. Life is an adventure, and for genuinely spirited adventurists, new horizons beckon on a regular basis. Just riding a trike hundreds of miles day after day was a new experience to me on that first trip, something I had never imagined doing, so anything beyond that was really pushing the envelope.
The night of the second day, I could not find any really good place to pitch a tent like I had done the night prior, so I decided to get some shuteye on the trike’s recumbent seat in a church parking lot in a tiny little town on the Interstate. This was not ideal. A street lamp nearby, passing trains, and the barking dog next door made for a tough time. The weather was good, but as the hours wore on, the air became nippy, and I was becoming chilled even with all my jackets on because I totally sedentary. I knew the next section of road would be hot pedaling during a sunny day, as it had many long uphills, so my brain began to evaluate some options:
“Finally, around what must have been about midnight, it dawns upon my restless mind that the sky is perfectly clear and the moon is perfectly full … and very bright!Gazing towards the full moon, I started to debate the wisdom of just leaving this little berg of Wilbur right now, in the middle of the night. Even though I was under a large tree, the nearby streetlights kept it bright enough that sleeping was a challenge. And when a freight train would slowly rumble by, it made me wonder how long it took the neighbors to get used to it. I figured that remaining here would probably not get me much more in the way of restful sleep, so I might as well be pedaling, especially since it was so bright out that a headlight would not be necessary.
“All things considered, I decided to resume my journey. Since I was already dressed and not in the tent, it was a simple matter of putting my feet on the pedals and heading out, and since the trike is noiseless, no one would even be aware of my departure. The road out of town is straight and uphill, so warming up came quickly. It was cold enough though, that I wore my water and windproof motorcycle gloves instead of my lightweight cycling gloves.
“Within a few minutes, I felt confident that traveling this stretch at night was a good idea. The moonlit sky was so bright that I kept my headlight turned off unless a rare car motored by. I did keep the flashing red tail light operating however, as well as my marine rescue strobe on the back of my trailer. With this setup, I was as visible at night as in the day. My tail and head lights were manufactured by a company called Cateye, and the products were doing a fine job.
“Road 200 climbs in elevation as it proceeds east towards the Cascade Range, yet there are many downhill portions that make for rapid progress. Night travel required less water intake, but I still stopped atop one summit hill for a couple of energy bars. It was incredible … the moon was so illuminating that I accessed my food supply in the trailer with no other lighting necessary.
“I learned about an aspect of trike travel this early Saturday morning that I found interesting. Thermal regulation is something that must be constantly monitored and adjusted. When I was sitting idle on the trike at the church, I was barely able to keep warm with my clothing. After pedaling the weight of my heavily loaded rig up a few hills, my body temperature rose rapidly, and I had to remove a layer or two, even though it was the middle of the night. But then, on the downhills of the North Bank Road, with wind whipping me at 20 to 40 miles per hour due to my trike’s speed, I quickly chilled once again. This led to the big question of whether to endure the cold on the downhill grades until the next uphill, or stop and put back on the warmer layers of clothing. I chose to endure the cool air, knowing that it wouldn’t be long enough to become totally miserable.
“Fortunately, being the first week of October, temperatures were still bearable at night. The still night air helped. Of course, the Cascades were yet ahead, where I figured it would be much colder. But then again, neither would I be riding at night up there – I’m not that crazy! I’d be all cozy in my tent by the time the sun left my sky. I prefer staying warm, and my mummy bag does a top notch job of seeing to it.
“Up ahead, I spy what looks like a large black cat in my lane, but this one has a wide white stripe spanning its length, telling my sleep-deprived brain to take the oncoming lane and give the skunk a wide berth. Along the 17 mile route from Wilbur to Glide, I encounter a number of animals, most of which I either hear or see a glimmer from pairs of eyes off to the side of the road. None chose to examine my trike or me up close. A small part of my mind wondered about mountain lions, so I did keep my knife in the jacket pocket, but these beasts did not appear.
“Had I been traveling this road tonight in an automobile, I would have missed many sensory delights. I would not have heard the rushing Umpqua River down below the embankment, nor would I have noticed the moon’s distorted reflection on its churning waters. I would not have listened to the crickets’ melodic notes for mile after mile, nor would I have even been aware of animals at all. I would have missed the owl’s hoot, and as I neared Glide, the rooster’s early morning call would have deflected right over the top of the speeding car. Seated only nine inches from the roadbed, out in the open air, many new experiences awaited me, things that could only be possible from a trike.
“First light had not yet appeared when I rolled into the outskirts of Glide, a landscape dotted with nice homes on acreage. I crossed the river and came to Highway 138, where cars were already active even this early. My appetite was again calling, so I sought somewhere to dine … primitive style.
“Mister moon was beginning to play hide and seek with me behind increasing cloud cover. I found a truck scale station with a street lamp above it, so chose to pull in to the unmanned area to get well off the highway, behind a three-foot high concrete wall, partially hidden from the road. Down the thorny embankment to the north was a property littered with many junk cars. I ravenously chewed through two more high-calorie energy bars, and could have easily eaten a third, but realized the value of modest rationing.
“Matt had told me a few weeks ago that during my trip, I would be expending between 5,000 to 7,000 calories per day. I was beginning to believe it. By my calculations, my planned daily allowance of food would supply about 2,000 calories at most, which indicated that I would be in at least a 3,000 calorie deficit each day at the current rate. Since the human body requires a shortfall of 3500 calories to lose a pound of bodyfat, I wondered what the future had in store. One thing I already knew was that the number of bars I was now consuming exceeded what I had planned … and my morning bowl of Nutty Nuggets was destined to overflow with those tasty barley crunchies. Well, I had a lot of nuggets in my trailer … and a lot of food bars … and a lot of rice and veggie packets … the big reason for my slow progress.”
That night ride in the early hours of Day Three was totally invigorating and sooo incredibly worth the experience! I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I would encourage any trike pilot who happens to be on a trike tour during the phase of a full moon to seriously consider pedaling under the supervision of Earth’s environmentally sustainable night light.
Visibility from the car driver’s standpoint is not an issue at all. If you have a brilliant flashing 10 LED tail light as I did, they can see you way off, perhaps even better than in the daytime. I also had a professional-quality marine rescue strobe that flashed once every second or so, which can be seen literally for miles. I kept the headlight off because the moon lit my way effectively, and allowed me to see my planet in a way I usually don’t. I pedaled 17 wonderful and exciting miles in a world so incredibly different than the one I would have seen had I waited until the next sunny day.
One month later on this same trip, when the moon came to full once again, favorable circumstances just happened to smile a second time on my situation. My camp in Death Valley was becoming increasingly intolerable due to motorhomes crowding out my tiny tent, and a loudly snoring man in his big trailer only six feet away was more than I could bear. Being a man of the natural world, I couldn’t stand it any more, and decided to try another moonlit ride. Here are some excerpts from that night:
“These trailers and motorhomes have become a steel city, tightly imprisoning my modest REI tent in what would otherwise be a tranquil setting. I have always been one to steer clear of over populated locales when in the backcountry, and this experience is further teaching this to me in spades. What happened to my lone nights out on the road, where my stealth tricycle camps were visited only be a rare wild critter now and then?
“There’s no way I will get back to sleep with that man’s persistent guttural gasps slicing through the thin fabric of my tent like fingernails on a chalkboard. I could try making some noises to jar him into silence, but that is not worthy of my time.
“The moon has just passed the full stage by one day. It is essentially bathing the desert landscape with a full beam of white light even tonight. The spherical cratered orb sits watchfully in the eastern half of the sky, not quite overhead at this early hour. Air temperature is pleasant and balmy, only faintly chilled, but not requiring a jacket for a quick walk to the men’s room. A month ago, I took a night trike ride from the tiny burg of Wilbur to Glide in Oregon. It was a satisfying experience despite the colder temperatures in the mountains. This night in Death Valley is much warmer.
I will strike out now!
“On my walk back to the tent, I realize that stealth maneuvering will be essential in this restrictive situation. Sleeping people surround me. Jack is in his tent the other side of his Jeep, only feet away. Just like out of an Arnold Schwarzenegger action movie, I must covertly break down my camp and escape unobserved.
“Fully awake, I stand and assess my camp in the shade provided by the huge tamarisk trees bordering my tent’s south edge. I am dark enough that I blend in, and only become obvious to the eye if I stand in the direct moonlight. On the other side of these trees is a small paved parking lot for the golf course, which has sections of moonlight on the asphalt.
“Breaking down the tent where it stands is not a good idea. First, it sits in the dirt, and second, I am just too close to my neighbors to be making any noise whatsoever. I have to get all my gear over onto the little paved area. I will start with the trike and trailer, for they will make a handy place to set other gear. The paved area is only about thirty feet south, but the thickness of the trees and a downed log prohibit moving the trike directly there. I am able to step over the log, but lifting the trike over it while partially loaded will not work, and would make a lot of noise in the process.
“My only solution is to silently walk the trike and trailer there, which requires me to make a large arc around Jack’s Jeep, his tent, and the monster motorhome on the other side of his tent, where there is an opening through which people can easily walk. I attach the trailer to the trike and begin pulling the ten-foot train by the trike’s front derailleur post. This is awkward and tedious on this sandy surface, as I must hunch over to reach the trike while walking backwards, but I creep along ever so slowly to avoid any sound that might give away my clandestine mission.
“At long last, the trike and trailer are now sitting in the middle of the little parking area, but since no one will be here this early, I am not worried. The 5:00 AM lawn mowers won’t be in the area for another three hours or more. All that now sits at my campsite is my tent, still loaded with my sleeping bag and gear.
“Gently, I slip back over the log, slowly unzip the tent, and ready all my gear for transport to the trike and trailer. Quietly, I take each piece over in several trips, and set it on the trailer top and recumbent trike seat. I work the six stakes, which have held my tent securely during the high winds, out of the ground. Fortunately, there is no wind tonight! Carrying them in my hands requires care, as the short aluminum spikes make sounds if struck together unthinkingly.
“The snoring man, only six feet from me in the trailer, yet persists with his raucous breathing, and there is no sign of stirring from Jack’s tent. So far, so good. There is still plenty of moonlight left. I can sleep when I’m dead.
“Right now, I have a goal to attain my freedom. The tent is empty, so I pick it up fully assembled and inaudibly carry it over the log and onto the pavement. The beauty of these modern tents is that they can readily be moved when necessary. Now, I break it down farther away from the sleepers, and on relatively clean pavement, which allows me to shake any dirt and twigs out of it that may have accumulated over the past weeks.
“With the panniers fully loaded and now on the trike, and the trailer ready to go, I make one final stealth inspection of my camp to ensure that I have all the gear. Atop my head goes the foreign legion styled cap that I wore to Badwater, for there is no traffic in Death Valley at night. The helmet is in my trunk. No jacket is necessary, as my pedaling will soon keep me sufficiently warm in the cool night air. There is no evidence that my midnight madness has affected anyone here. My mission is nearly complete as I enter the Q’s cockpit and noiselessly pedal out onto the highway.
Arnold would be proud.
“I have been so mentally engaged in my covert activities that I even find myself checking my rearview mirrors as I pedal north from Furnace Creek, as if someone might actually attempt to stop and capture me. Circumstances reveal that success is now mine, as I glide silently northwest towards Stovepipe Wells, only 24 miles distant.
“A trike pilot could not ask for better touring conditions. When I was visiting the visitor center after first getting up, I noticed the large outdoor thermometer the National Park Service has attached to the brick wall. It disclosed 62 degrees Fahrenheit … cool enough that vigorous pedaling feels great, but warm enough that there is no unpleasant chilling of my skin. The moon is so bright that I do not need my headlight to see the road ahead. I keep the blinking red LED lights illuminated to my rear in case a rare car happens to overtake me, as well as the retina-frying marine rescue strobe on the back of my trailer. Neither of these rear lights can I notice from my cockpit, unless I turn my head rearward to either side, in which case I can see the desert creosote bushes briefly illuminated by the strobe as it fires.
“Deserts are magical places in the dark. I have grown up spending countless nights out in this Mojave region, and what I grew to love as a kid even now mesmerizes me as a 58 year old man. Words cannot serve justice to the feelings swirling inside my head, particularly this year when I am moving silently, only nine inches from the roadbed, in a vehicle like no other. This tricycle has proven to be a grand mode of travel, opening doors to fresh, never before known experiences that demand my continued vigorous participation. Not only is my body being well prepared for the centenarian years that lie ahead by pedaling instead of driving, but it is so completely fun to move down the road in this manner, while not contributing toxins in my wake.
I’m having a blast out here … all by myself!
“Water offloading stops are not an issue at night. I can see that no car is coming for miles in these circumstances. Stretching my legs allows me to just stand motionless and totally appreciate the wild world around me. There are no sounds of internal combustion engines. There are no motorhomes and house trailers out here. This is indescribable freedom from the scourge of sprawling humanity that even finds its way into the depths of Death Valley on occasion.
“My lowest gears are not needed on this ride. My net elevation gain from camp to Stovepipe Wells will be only about 200 feet over the course of 24 miles, which is nothing compared to what I’ve been through so far, and what is yet to come this Friday. I am easily able to maintain my midrange and highest gearing during the ride, thereby ensuring swift progress in the moonlight on Highway 190. As the night begins to wane, automobile traffic begins to appear, but I can count the total number of cars before sunrise on my two hands.
“The highway is at least temporarily mine, and I ride in the middle of my lane as I did all the years I drove cars. As I round the bend where the road to Scotty’s Castle intersects this road, and begin my westerly leg towards Stovepipe, the eastern sky is lightening as the Earth rotates into the first stages of yet another day in eastern California.
“Approaching the Devil’s Cornfield, the sun finally is illuminating Tucki Mountain, a gigantic landmark at the southern edge of Stovepipe Wells Village that is seen for miles in many directions. Arrowweed bushes abound on this vast stretch of ground, taking on the appearance of corn shocks. Soil erosion is a factor in their growth pattern. Ancient American Indians have used this plant to make arrow shafts, hence its unique name. Much of the cornfield is across from the sand dunes, south of Highway 190, east of Stovepipe Wells.”
Not taking a long and remote ride in the light of the full moon is missing a unique joy of triking. I can type reams of words here to attempt getting the feelings across, but they are probably in vain. Until a triker actually finds himself alone in the backcountry, pedaling silently under the smiling face of the bountiful moon, the ambiance, sensory perceptions, psychological impressions, and a vast array of emotional flavors will remain elusive. Simply put: You won’t know until you go! And another incredible aspect of night riding is that you get to watch the sunrise. Sure, you may be sleepy, but there is always time for that later. Live the ride. Do it in the dark!
On that same solo trip, I did also take one unplanned night ride across the seemingly endless Cascade Range, which morphed into a dangerous life-threatening situation, but even that had its upsides. How many people have ridden a human powered recumbent tadpole tricycle pulling a trailer over a major mountain range after a freak snowstorm all night long? Well, I certainly wouldn’t do it again of course, but since it happened, I am pleased to have lived that adventure. As I always tell myself: I’ll never know how far I can go unless I risk going too far!
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