Black stallions, ladybugs, and potatoes are a rare combination, especially when they all happen to a trike pilot during the same afternoon, separated by a matter of mere minutes. Could a car driver have this much fun on this highway? Likely not. Trikes are just the best way to travel if you want to get to know your environment really well. Check out these three trike tour experiences:
“Not far out of Tulelake, California a long pasture area is coming up on my left, and I see a black stallion heading my way, accompanied by perhaps a dozen other horses. He is definitely focused on me, as I am the only thing happening out here. As I get closer, he begins to run towards me, as if to greet my silent, but very visible, passage. I call out a cheery “Hello horse” as I pass, ever enjoying my conversations with other species of animals, and I give the horses a wave. I also speed up some, because it looks like the stallion is rather frisky and wanting some play.
“Sure enough, he, followed by his group, charge along the fence line only one lane removed from me. This goes on for roughly a half mile, as the fenced area is truly a large acreage. The stallion is moving his head left and right, snorting, and doing all sorts of actions indicative of an animal fully engaged with attempting to comprehend my bizarre appearance. The experience is truly exhilarating for me … and I assume also for the horses, based on their behavior, which ends as I exceed the distance of their freedom. What a grand day!
Two miles later, a little red ladybug lands upon my left knee, moving up and down with the knee as I pedaled each revolution on the recumbent trike. On a regular bicycle, such an occurrence would not be so comfortably observable. This ladybug is right in front of my eyes the way I sit. A mile later, my red friend takes off to who knows where. I say goodbye, and wonder what the ladybug hears.
“Highway 139 would be more aptly named Potato Highway, so that is the new moniker I bestow upon it as I cycle through California’s most northern reaches. Of all the farms and ranches in this vast Klamath Basin, potato farms seem the most prevalent for many miles here. The Wong Potato Farm must be the king of all such farms, as nearly every huge potato truck that passes me in both directions has the Wong name on the side. Potatoes are stacked up to overflowing on these monster vehicles, and some fall off.
“The Potato Highway is littered with abandoned potatoes along the shoulder for miles. Sometimes I have to steer around them. If I were low on food, the free supply is ample, and I could easily snatch up scores of potatoes as I ride by. With my rear end only nine inches from the pavement, it is an easy matter to pick up anything scattered on the roadway. Gee, I could even eat on the go! Some are pretty well dinged up from hitting the ground, but most are surprisingly intact. A simple washing would have provided me plenty of carbohydrates and natural sugars, but having spent so much time thus far today talking with everyone I meet, my focus now moves to reaching the distant mountains to pitch a tent later this afternoon.
“Most of the potato truck drivers find my odd appearance amusingly curious, and wave or toot their air horns. We smile and wave. This plays out for many miles and a few hours. I’ve never seen so many potatoes in my life. I should spear one on my front derailleur post for some light hearted fun, but my speed is up so I keep on chuggin’ along.”
* * * * * * *
Being one who enjoys the natural world, and tries to remain as distant as possible from the industrialized chaos of America, I opt not to own a cellular telephone. If I’m out in the wilds having another adventure, the last thing I want to hear is a telephone crying to get my attention. Whoever it is will try again later if it’s important. There’s nothing so crucial in my personal life that I feel a need to be connected 24/7 to the outside world. It can wait. People who know me know this, and simply adjust to my times in the hinterlands.
On my trike trek to Death Valley National Park however, I did have a small cellular telephone in my right rear Arkel GT-54 pannier. I broke my own rules for this trip because several folks asked to follow my trip online as it was in progress. Well, one way I thought about doing that was with one of these new netbook computers, those tiny laptops about 6×9 inches in size. It would allow me to pull into any business area with free Wi-Fi in the air, connect wirelessly, and update a blog.
I thought long and hard prior to the journey about getting an Asus Netbook for $239, but decided against it for three reasons. First, I needed that cash to buy supplies that were absolutely necessary on a trike tour, and a computer is not absolutely necessary. Second, I realized my propensity to get carried away with my writing, and knew darn well that if I stopped to update a blog, I’d lose valuable time everyday. Third, I’d have to be finding electricity on a regular basis to keep the battery charged, and since I usually camp primitively, that wasn’t going to happen.
Well, I came up with a solution that was even better in my way of seeing things. My answer to the dilemma wouldn’t allow photograph uploads everyday, but it did allow me the freedom to roam without being tied down to a wireless connection location. Three friends agreed to be my intermediary by posting to the website my daily progress. All I had to do was keep in touch with them daily, or whenever it was possible. I borrowed a cellular telephone for the trip, and called each evening with the day’s occurrences if cellular service was available in the area where I pitched my camps.
Not all locations allowed communication, of course. Up in the mountains, were service was spotty or nonexistent, a night or two may go by with no call. I spoke earlier of the loneliness emotion. On nights where I contacted any or all of the three, I had no problem. When a night would come where the cellular telephone screen displayed “Call Failed” I felt all alone, except for the magnificent nature that was ever present. These people would then take notes, log into the website administratively, and post the latest for enthusiasts who were following my progress. The system worked well, and we all had fun with it.
But let’s say I wasn’t doing the website idea. Would I have still found a cell phone useful? As it turned out, that little electronic device may have saved my sorry triker hide. Danger lurked ahead, and since I was out of touch riding the trike all day, I had no idea. Here’s an excerpt of how it played out:
“Anyway, Jack has instructed me to call him at any time if I hopelessly break down and am in need of assistance or rescue. He can be anywhere in the northern Nevada region in a matter of hours, and he assured me that he’s got me covered. This eases my mind as I stare off into the vast expanse of tomorrow’s ride into remote Nevada. Jack is also one of three correspondents with whom I am sharing my trek as I progress. I call these folks on the cell phone, when and where there is service, tell them what the latest is, and then they post it on the Badwater or Bust blog set up for folks who have requested to follow along at home. I decided not to bring a laptop computer and do it myself, for I would never get anywhere once I started typing at a Wi-Fi hotspot. Not only that, but a tiny cell phone is a heck of a lot lighter than a laptop, and my rig is already way too heavy as it is. I can’t afford to go any slower!
“With all my camp chores complete, and dusk yet providing light, I retrieve my charging cell phone and try to call a couple of people. It has been a day since I have had service, so I must make up for lost details. Each time I call, I have my journal handy to remind me of the events, and the correspondents have pen and paper handy on their end (which is all cozy in their homes while I am out in the open wildlands).
“First, I call Desert Dune, the lead correspondent. After relaying all the latest for a new blog post, Desert Dune informs me that extremely hazardous weather is predicted for my intended path, and there has been a lot of chatter on the blog as people are worried I don’t know about it yet. True enough, this is the first I’ve heard of it. Everything seems fine looking at the sky here in Canby.
“Desert Dune tells me that I must immediately call Jack, because he has all the details printed out from the National Weather Service website. Apparently, a typhoon called Melor has been wreaking havoc out in Pacific Ocean, and it has made landfall. NOAA predicts that the remnants from Melor are striking northern California hard, with extreme winds, heavy rains, snow in the Sierras, and flash floods possible in desert areas. One hundred mile per hour winds are expected on the higher mountain ridges.
“Okay, my ear is tired from holding the cell so tightly to my head to drown out truck traffic, so after the call, I set it down for a few minutes before calling Jack. I am sitting on a picnic table top, with my feet on the bench. I have my flip flop sandals on, and since my pant legs have somewhat inched up due to my seated position, I notice my Achilles tendons for the first time during the last 24 hour period. I am still taking my Motrin tablets on schedule, but wonder if they are doing much good. The inflammation has increased for yet another day, so either the drugs are doing nothing, or they are keeping it from getting even worse. I have no idea.
“Both Achilles, the tendons that attach the heels to our calves, are puffed out in all directions. Looking directly from the rear, they are about double their normal thickness, and looking down the rear of my leg from above, instead of the normal sweeping concave look, they arch outwards enough that I am concerned. The funny thing is that other than about a mile’s worth of stiffness each morning when I begin riding, they seem asymptomatic. However, if I push on them, I can feel an uncomfortable sensation. They are not slowing me down or hurting, but then again, they are continuing to disintegrate with each passing day.
“Fortunately, Canby has excellent cell service. Must be a tower on a mountainside nearby. I call Jack. He and his wife just finished dinner, and he is happy to hear from me. He asks if I am aware of what I am about to ride into once in Nevada, and I tell him that Desert Dune just told me a little about the supposed dangers. Jack, a level-headed man whom I completely trust due to his professional law enforcement background and calm rational thinking, says things are not looking good for my intended route. He reads me multiple warnings from the NOAA website, all stating clearly that this storm can be life threatening depending on one’s location. Jack and Desert Dune have apparently been posting the warnings on the Badwater or Bust blog in the hopes I might somehow see it, since I have been out of contact via cell lately. I haven’t seen a computer this whole trip.
“Jack tells me of flash flood dangers in the northwestern Nevada desert. He says according to predictions, the remnants of Typhoon Melor are calculated to arrive there the very days I will be pedaling through, and that it would be one hell of a wild ride if I continue on. At the very least, I would be drenched for a couple of days with monsoonal rains and pummeled by extreme winds, and at the worst, I would be caught in a flash flood, washed away down some nondescript sandwash out in the middle of an endless Nevada desert where people are aliens. I’d never be found or heard from again.
“I like adventure! In fact, I love it. Moving forward with the odds stacked heavily against me somehow excites the essence of my adventurous spirit. Let’s assess what’s going on in my mind as I talk to Jack. Here’s what I tell him:
“All five of my tires have been seriously afflicted by goatheads, and any or all could be flat and useless by tomorrow morning. My Achilles tendons are both looking like sinuous yams. I am about to enter the longest and most remote stretch of the entire trip that has no water or people. And, to top it all off, a colossal deadly storm is going to overtake my slow little trike right in the middle of a place where I might as well be on the moon. Guess that pretty much defines some adventure!
Hmm, this has become quite a unique afternoon!
“As Jack and I speak, I notice the sky is becoming increasingly smokey. One of those guys at the old gas station said they were having a prescribed burn to the west somewhere. Now I can finally see that they were right. Our conversation takes on a more serious tone at this point, for it’s decision time. I am half a mile east of a road junction that allows for another route if necessary. Progressing farther east tomorrow morning would remove this choice. We discuss options, and I ask Jack’s assessment. It’s getting dark now.
“Regarding my tire situation, I do have two spare Q Tubes, the extra heavy duty kind that are supposed to reduce the likelihood of punctures. I also have one spare Schwalbe Marathon-Plus tire, but that would only be necessary if I end up shredding or cutting a tire, which, as bad as these nutlets are, won’t be a factor. If two tubes turn up bad tomorrow morning, having lost air during the night, I can replace the tubes, but then I would not have any backup tubes. If only one proves bad, I would still have one other backup tube. If three or more tubes are disabled by sunup, then I’m out of luck right here, unless the leaks are very slow, and I can still progress by the old “stop and reinflate” methodology from time to time.
“After thinking for a moment, Jack advises me to modify my plans. He advises that I head southwest on Highway 299 tomorrow morning, which would put me on course to reach the northern California town of Susanville. He feels that to head east on 299 could prove a big mistake considering just the Typhoon Melor issue, let alone the tendon and tire problems. Seems like the three Ts are trying their best to bring me down: typhoon, tires, tendons.
“My adventurous spirit is becoming dampened the more we talk. Jack is right. This is no time not to play it safe. This journey is not about proving anything to myself that could end up crippling me or, worse yet, killing me. There is probably not cell phone service anywhere out in that isolated northern Nevada desert on Road 447 to ultra-remote Gerlach, so calling Jack will probably not even be an option in those unforgiving hinterlands. There is too much at stake. After all, I have been asked to speak about my book, and I cannot lose sight of that objective for the sake of a thrill. I must get down to the national park in one piece.
“I tell Jack that I will head southwest on Highway 299 tomorrow. He also advises that I probably need to let my Achilles tendons return to a normal state if I wish to continue on to Death Valley, still many miles distant in southern California, and offers to pick me up in his truck the day after tomorrow so that I can recuperate at his home for a couple of days. Glancing at my tendons in the dwindling light, I concede to his wisdom. Somewhere north of Susanville, we will meet on Sunday. He describes his truck. Obviously, he won’t miss me, a lone triker on a long haul through the vast northern California forests.
“We say our goodbyes, knowing that tomorrow I will probably not have cell phone service, and our next talk will, in all likelihood, be in person way up in those mountains to my southwest. The plan is set, we hang up, and I crawl into the tent after recharging the telephone for a few more minutes and filling all my water containers. I have total privacy here. No one bothers me the entire night.”
Admittedly, that mobile telephone was a very good thing to have along on this trip. Three days later, I was at Jack’s Nevada ranch, and we watched the nightly news. Precisely the day I had originally scheduled to be crossing through the most notoriously remote and dangerous landscape of the entire trike journey was the day the typhoon remnants aggressively assaulted those parched lands. It was the most severe storm system that had passed over this huge region for many years. Extreme winds, unprecedented rains, and deadly flash floods turned my proposed tricycle route into a disaster zone that could have easily done me in.
My advice on your trike tour? You’ve probably guessed by now. Have a cellular telephone on your trike, and don’t forget to take the charging cord!
* * * * * * *
Things look different down here in the seat of a recumbent tadpole tricycle. Scenery viewed from the perspective of a trike pilot takes on a whole new appearance, even if you’ve been on a particular road before in a car. This low to the ground puts nearly all of the world above a triker’s head … way above most of the time. Pumping along in a reclined seat eight inches from asphalt allows careful study of plants, flowers, bugs, trash, and whatever else happens to be on Earth’s surface. Creeping up steep mountain grades favors unparalleled opportunities to soak it all up in great detail. It’s fun to watch little wildflowers slowly pass to your right, just inches from your handlebar grip, realizing that motorists will never have this experience, and even bicyclists aren’t this close!
Trikes are great conveyances, for nothing else brings travelers closer to their world. There is no battle of balance on ultra-slow uphills due to the three wheels, so speed becomes less relevant. A trike pilot can simply stop at any time, take a digital photograph or get a drink of water, and then just take off again, all without swerving or reattaching to the pedals. And if a trike pilot finds a nail or other nasty tread-ripping item lurking somewhere in the roadway, it’s a simple matter to pick it up while riding by so that it will not find a victim later on.
The yellow diamond-shaped road signs that depict an eighteen wheeler on a steep downhill grade are a welcomed sight for nearly any cyclist who just made the long trek to the summit. Often, there are summit signs at the tops of passes, and a quick digital photograph may be on the agenda if getting up for a stretch, snack, and a drink of water. This means your work is over for a while because you get to rip down the other side, faster than a speeding bullet (or so it would seem – everything is relative). The downside to flying downhill is that the descent never seems to last long enough. Just about the time when the triker is mentally high as a kite from the awesome adrenaline surge of raw sporty speed, up comes the bottom of the mountain to spoil all the fun.
Of course, trike touring is such an exciting thing to do that it’s all fun. The flats have their appeal, as do the ascents. Long open stretches make for a quicker pace. Things seem to even out over the hours, and just about the time you lament that the uphill section is taking forever and cutting into your daily mileage, the ensuing downhill section makes up for it all with milepost markers zooming by so quick that they are a blur.
Touring on a trike seems to bring the most fulfillment when out in remote rural settings, where people and cars are not so much a concern. These are times when a trike pilot can really relax regardless of the incline that may happen to be under his tires at the time. No matter how adept a triker is at navigating the hassles of city traffic, leaving the city limits brings a tranquil sense of happiness as the exhaust pipes of passing polluters are no longer pumping their defiling contaminants into the triker’s lungs. On any trike tour however, towns are a reality when pedaling across the miles.
However vexing they may be, human-infested municipalities give you the opportunity to stretch your weary legs, and walk around seeing males in business suits and females in white-collar dresses chatting on their cells while they down their midday lattes. A professional woman, smartly dressed with cell phone in hand, parades from the Starbucks counter with her caffeine towards the comfy couch by the front window. She sits down, crosses her legs, and revs up her heart with the java, prepping for the afternoon’s client meeting. Those nylon clad eye-catchers and spiked heels wouldn’t get her too far on a tricycle though. After triking for several days, you’ve gone over the edge into another world. You no longer belong here.
You’re an alien on your own planet.
And to those who see you getting off your trike to take a break, you do look like some kind of an alien! They’ve never seen a trike before, and you look as weird to them as they do to you. You have a helmet on your head, something that the female business elite would never consider putting atop their expensive dyed waves. They wonder how you could be out pedaling around the countryside while they’re gulping down their lunches between meetings. You wonder how you have survived this long in such a chaotic high-pressure world. You’re glad to be on a tour, where your greatest challenges come in the form of where to find tonight’s camp. The “suits” are all stressed out drinking caffeine and laying waste to their bodies, while you are maximally sedated and building your longevity from the morning’s 30 mile stretch.
Life in the city goes on as you finally exit the hectic hamlet of humanity, on your way to big blue sky and gentle country breezes. Of course, sometimes those wispy winds evolve into more than a tranquil brush of air on your recumbent tadpole trike. Wind can turn your modest little tricycle into a aerodynamic three-wheeled rocket when its origin is from your hind side. A good stiff tailwind is a welcomed aspect of planetary weather for trikers touring on a long haul, as the winds find much resistance in the form of the panniers and trunk straddling the rear wheel. And that resistance means a notable increase in speed, especially if triking through a level stretch of valley lowlands.
All of a sudden, the trike pilot can upshift to the largest chainring as he takes advantage of this transient invisible helper. It’s a situation where the wind makes a chain transition to the big ring easy, and the resultant rapid locomotion is further assisted by yet more fast air molecules working their unseen magic. Sometimes this wind-speed cycle appears to be limitless, and the triker maximizes every last bit of speed available while he can. On days where the winds are consistent and your direction is essentially downwind, this can go on for quite some time, artificially inflating your mileage for that day. Too bad this phenomenon can’t happen every day!
But alas, the world is full of antagonists. For every “this” there’s a “that” and that’s how the story goes. Headwinds, despite their commonly perceived evil by cyclists, are in reality a good thing (yeah right … how so?). Okay, before I launch into why headwinds are our friends, keep in mind this single heart warming fact that puts all this in relative perspective: If you had chosen a diamond framed bicycle for your tour (an admittedly poor second choice, but still much better than an automobile), the headwind would be having a field day with you, slowing you way down and tending to knock you off balance when your line of travel was slightly askew from dead-on. Ever seen a bicyclist riding down the road at an angle to compensate for powerful cross headwinds? Any minute you can imagine him being blow off into the barrow ditch or into the farmer’s barbed wire fencing.
Touring on a trike changes everything! First of all, there is no such thing as balance. A trike is always upright and stable regardless of where the wind is originating. Yes, it may be stiff, but a triker won’t fall over when all hell breaks loose. Secondly, trike pilots are low to the ground in a reclined position, allowing the conspiring forces of the sky to simply whisk right over the top of them. A trike’s ultra low profile is a real plus when it comes to slicing through the atmosphere.
So why are robust headwinds good for us? Well, that which does not kill you makes you stronger, and the winds are likely not going to put an end to your adventurous lifestyle. This means the added effort needed to keep forward momentum going translates into calf, thigh, and glute muscles that rise to meet the challenge, which in turn speeds up the heart muscle, making it stronger in the process. An athletic heart beats slower during times of rest, much slower than the average stressed-out sedentary cubical worker, meaning that the ever-faithful pump will keep you going many years longer.
Everyone’s heart has a maximum certain number of beats before it finally gives out from accumulated fatigue and wear over time. On average, let’s assume an average sedentary person’s heart beats 108,000 times per day. That’s 39,420,000 times per year. A trike pilot’s heart may beat only 86,400 times per day by comparison, which is roughly equal to 31,536,000 times each year. The triker’s heart has 21,600 fewer heartbeats per day, and 7,884,000 less beats per year. That’s almost eight million fewer heartbeats every year. Magnify that to a decade and we get 78,840,000 fewer heartbeats, or take it out to 50 years to see the gulf widen to 394,200,000.
If you had a job pumping up trike tires for a living, your muscles would feel a lot less weary at the end of each eight-hour shift if you had to pump 324,000 fewer strokes. Your tire pumping work could go on for many years longer (oh, the joy!). But in the case of our hearts, it is a desirous outcome to maximize our beats. We only get a finite number … might as well keep the daily total less and add more days!
The bottom line is this, in our theoretical example: If the common physically-inactive human can live 75 years at 75 beats per minute, how long can a physically-active trike pilot live at only 60 beats per minute? Some quick calculations on my Linux Fedora laptop compute the following answer: Mister couch potato’s heart beats 2,956,500,000 (yes, billion) times during his life, which would translate into about 94 years for a triker. But that fails to take into account that an exceptionally fit trike pilot will be healthier overall due to his penchant for pedaling, so odds are even more useful years could be forthcoming because the heart is much stronger than the sedentary example. Assuming the minimum though, the good news is that trikers can expect to live 19 years longer than normal people. All this goes to prove, at least here in this article, that potent headwinds and really long super steep mountain ascents on our trikes are the best things we could possibly hope for! Sure, downhills are fun, but the killer uphills with a wild headwind are truly the keys to lasting happiness!
All right, that’s enough health and fitness talk for now. Perhaps I should inject the traditional disclaimers perpetuated by a society fearful of lawsuits, such as this advice is not intended to replace that of your medical professional, along with the note that these words have not been evaluated by the food and drug administration. Your results may vary. You could tumble onto the ground at 62 from some rogue genetic anomaly despite logging 50 trike miles three times per week. Life has but one guarantee, and we all know it’s simply a matter of “when” that ominous termination occurs. The way I look at it all is this: I do everything that is under my control to maximize my chances of living fit and remaining fully functional, including such things as eating a Spartan organic vegan diet, working out with weights three times per week, walking regularly, and climbing into the trike’s cockpit as often as I can in my pursuit of adventure.
* * * * * * *
What does the average motorist ponder as he sees a group of bikers? Not the kind who pedal bicycles on the shoulder, but those perceived miscreants astride a number of almighty Harley-Davidson choppers, rumbling boldly down the middle of their lanes. Well, first off, a surge of fear may course through Joe Average, who has been taught that bikers are always bad news, even though we live in a world where elite professionals such as surgeons and lawyers are known to don the garb and take off cross country on their polished chopped machines.
The car driver may make sure his doors are locked, windows are up, and he remains in traffic so that other innocent motorists are around to witness any potential problems. It’s another of those unfounded fears that holds the masses hostage in their collective minds. While triking across a notably secluded stretch of western Nevada desert during the fall of 2009, a group of these machines appeared on the horizon headed my way.
The road was long and mostly straight, and as my travel took me from the northern end of Sarcobatus Flat and west into Bonnie Claire Flat, I noticed a small group of Harleys coming the other direction. There were four, and the sight was something that would probably be a point of concern for the conservative collective of our refined society. If there really were any basis to this fear of bikers, then my immediate future may have been in question. After all, I was all alone on a vehicle that can’t exactly outrun a fire-breathing Harley. And the height of my eyes from the ground made the thunderous two-wheeled machines appear gigantic as they approached.
I’d was willing to lay odds that these guys have never seen an “old” man with a gray beard pedaling a tricycle pulling a trailer before. They had beards too, but they also had black leathers, and a few other expected decorations that I did not. All eyes were on me during the final few yards before our passing, and I noticed their engines were slowing so they could figure out what the heck they were seeing. Those guys really got a kick out of me and my bizarre rig, which I cleverly deduced by the ear-to-ear grins on their faces, along with thumbs-up, waves, and nodding of the heads. One fellow even called out “Way to travel!” A happy grin seemed etched on my face too.
My passage was silent. Theirs was not. It’s a euphoric few moments when two different species of travelers connect in the wild desert hinterlands. Anyone traveling out that far on anything other than a car is surely not your run-of-the-mill citizen. A mutual respect was the result. I felt confident based on what I saw that had I needed assistance, those fellows would have gladly come to the rescue.
A couple of cars with normal people passed during the next few miles, and I waved and smiled as they went by. One older couple in a sedan stared at me as they sped past in the other direction, but did not return my visual greetings. Perhaps they were in such shock at beholding an unidentifiable pedaling object (UPO), that their brains didn’t reach the point of even realizing I was waving to them.
I love being different!
About a half hour later, a second group of motorcycles was headed my way. There were at least a dozen of them, but that group consisted of what is commonly referred to as “full dressers”… long distance cruising motorcycles with saddlebags, trailers, and full gear for extended cross-country camping. In stereotypical America, those guys are supposed to be safe to normal folks, probably a bunch of doctors, lawyers, cops, and respectable citizens.
They also slowed down a bit to gawk at me, and so I waved and smiled just like I did with the previous group of bikers, however this time, there was no obvious reception forthcoming. A couple smiled, and one even waved, but most just looked somberly towards me and rode on by. Of course, since those were “high-class” bikers, they also had expensive two-way radio communications between them, and since their engines and wind speed distorted noise, they had the volumes on their radios turned up … far enough that I was privy to their conversations chatting about me. It’s gratifying to know that I was earning some “air time” on their radio waves: “Did you see that? What was that guy riding?” They weren’t all friendly like the “bad” bikers were, but they did notice.
* * * * * * *
We spoke earlier about hills, both up and down, and the varied emotions associated with each. Here is a short excerpt from my Death Valley tour about the joy of descent:
“Yes, it’s funny the things you think about out here pedaling across the Nevada desert. I’ve been triking for about twenty-one miles when a couple of things happen in short order. First, I reach a summit of this road, which has become progressively steeper in the last few miles as it climbs into the gradual slope of the Grapevine Mountains, thereby necessitating the use of my midrange gearing (the thirty tooth chainring). Now, it’s easy cycling time for me because it’s all downhill from here, at least to tonight’s camp. I upshift onto my 50 tooth ring for maximum speed.
“Then, no sooner am I picking up higher speeds pedaling and coasting down the western slope of these mountains, than I see the familiar Death Valley National Park sign up ahead. The afternoon is getting on, and I have to yet find a camp, but I must stop and photograph my ICE Q trike in front of this entry marker. Having never ridden a tricycle into Death Valley before, the photo opportunity is simply impossible for me to ignore. I’m like a tourist here for the first time, taking pictures of paved highway entry placards, something I have never done before, having passed them countless times during the past 30+ years that I’ve been coming here on my own.
One would never think I first came here in 1955.
“Photographs taken, I settle in to the Q’s recumbent cockpit for a thrilling mountain spin through the tight Grapevine Canyon. This road is truly constricted, and it requires that I regularly use my dual braking system to keep the speed down. The sun is low enough now that half my time is spent in deep shade during my descent. This trike is engineered so well, and is so stable, that I simply cannot disregard the overwhelming temptation to attain the maximum safe speeds possible. Miles of uphill seem to psychologically breed a deep seated need for speed.
So, it’s race time!
“I’m a kid once again. The two outrigger front wheels provide a stability that is difficult to describe. This, in union with my extremely low center of gravity (nine inches off the deck), allows for swift travel through the spine-tingling turns. It feels like piloting a Lamborghini through a race course. But some of these turns are so tight and narrow that additional measures are needed.
“On open highways where I can reach speeds between 40 to 50 miles per hour, there is plenty of lateral room for maneuvering, and the turns are gradual enough that leaning is not necessary. This evening in snakelike Grapevine Canyon however, I must add a touch of body English to my repertoire in order to negotiate the curves successfully at speed. Trikes can tip over … it just takes an awful lot of lateral force to make it happen. This road could make it happen because it is steep, which consequently leads to faster forward motion!
“Oncoming traffic is a slight concern, as the road is uncommonly narrow, but since I have my ears exposed to the open air and have no engine noise to muffle sounds, I can hear if a car is coming. As it turns out, I am the only vehicle in the canyon at this time today.
“Even with my heavily laden Burley trailer in tow, the trike handles superbly as I rocket towards Scotty’s Castle, properly known as the Death Valley Ranch. I lean into each turn, brake as necessary, and forget entirely that the trailer follows me. A faster speed could be attained if I had the standard Q model with a 31 inch front wheel track, but that’s okay because I prefer my narrow track version of 27 inches due to its ability to maneuver better in really tight places, like roads with little or no safety shoulders. The Qnt does admirably well, and I am exceedingly pleased with its performance!
“In short order, the five miles from the summit to the entrance to the castle are over, and I coast into the driveway of Scotty’s Castle. There is a large palm tree grove to my left, shading a generous lawn area on which visitors can eat lunch in the midday heat. The late afternoon sun is filtering through the palms as I ride by and up the hill to the castle, where I snap a couple more photographs of the worthy Q in front of the striking buildings of grandeur. A castle it is!”
* * * * * * *
Road angels are wonderful creatures! They come to the rescue or meet the needs of trikers battered by the rigors of pedaling across the surface of Planet Earth on the human road system. Sometimes it’s hard to spot them right off, as they usually aren’t white and they never have wings. But they’re out there, and often appear when we least expect it, like the one who delivered two cans of ice cold juice to my camp one evening, and then two more cans the following morning. Or the three who made sure a luxurious hot lunch followed by a calorie-laden ice cream made its way into my pitifully thinning bag of bones. Road angels can somehow tell that a trike pilot on tour needs something.
Theses guardians of tricyclists’ well being were first mentioned to me by my friend Matt Jensen, the local fellow who has ridden recumbent bikes and trikes many thousands of miles. He reckons he’s logged over 100,000 miles to date, and he has had plenty of positive experience with road angels personally. In fact, he himself has filled the role when other cyclists have been in need.
A road angel is simply a person or people who assist a triker on tour with some perceived need, be it food, companionship, or whatever else they can offer. I am so grateful when another human, who is a total stranger to me, would come forth and volunteer their time in a caring way that I always react in the most joyful of ways. First off, triking solo can become somewhat lonely at times, and just interacting with other people is fun. Secondly, if they offer food, which is common, who am I to refuse a few morsels that I would otherwise never see out there in the backcountry?
Road angels are ordinary people who perhaps take pity upon a solo road triker, introduce themselves, and make something available to you. This phenomenon may be limited to lone trikers when they pull into camp or a local market on their way overland, or maybe even husband/wife trike teams who appear to need a little tender loving care on their journey. Having never triked with a group, I am not so sure that most road angels would approach several trikers at once … possibly too intimidating, or they figure that since the trikers are in a group, they don’t need any assistance. A group of trikers will generally be loud and happy sharing the day’s stories, and may exude a aura of confidence that silently sends the message that no help is needed.
While on a solo tour once, Matt met a female cyclist on his same path one day. She was apparently near tears on the side of the road, pondering what to do since she had lost the skewer attachment that held her BOB trailer to her bike’s rear axle. Matt, being the consummate cyclist who is generally prepared for any eventuality, just happened to have a spare unit because he too pulled a Beast Of Burden trailer. Feeling the positive forces of the universe, and knowing what goes around comes around, Matt happily gave the part to the woman to get her through the rest of her trip. Matt was one of her road angels.
Here are three instances when I met road angels while solo on my trike, taken from the Silent Passage story:
“The crickets are starting to sing their songs, and frogs by the springs are also heard. A light breeze drifts through the trees and across my campsite. After eating my packet of rice and vegetables for dinner, a fellow named Mike Cole from San Luis Obispo, California walks up to my aluminum picnic table. He is a private investigator who saw my strange and ragged form wander in to camp a little while ago. Mike offers me two ice cold V8 juices … says it looks like I could use them. He is right! We chat for a while, and then darkness calls Mike back to his tent. I take a walk around the perimeter of the campground, being careful to watch for sidewinders, which are nocturnal, then into the tent I crawl for a great end to a fantastic day.
“Oh, by the way, I neglected to mention that midway on my ride this afternoon, I pedaled past a rattlesnake on the centerline of Highway 267. I kept my trike way over on the shoulder as I slowly rode by up the grade. Needless to say, I chose not to extend my hand in my usual friendly wave.”
And yet another road angel instance:
“There must be something about my appearance that spurs people to deliver assistance to me. Mike Cole up north at Mesquite Springs campground kept ice cold juice coming my way, and now Nancy and Jim want to know if I’d like a sandwich, some Fritos, and something to drink. Well, I’m the kind of fellow who has a hard time saying no to food, especially since I’ve been eating rationed minimalistic provisions that most folks wouldn’t even consider food, so I eagerly agree to be showered with their hospitality and chow.
“I go through my first sandwich so quickly that Nancy asks if I want one more. Naturally, I say yes. Before I know it, another sandwich sits on my plate, and Jim opens a new bag of dip-sized Fritos. As I am making apologies for my intense appetite, they say not to worry, and continue to be entertained by my story of the trike trip and my ravenous hunger. I tell them I got a room for tonight, but will go back to camping tomorrow. Jim says he’ll get me a spot just west of the stage area for my tent.”
Okay, here’s a third instance of road angels coming to my aid:
“Just about the time I am pondering accessing my energy bar stash in the trailer for some lunch grub, I spy two men and a woman walking across Highway 190 from the general store, seemingly intent on converging on my shady and highly desired location. Sure enough, these three folks come to rest all around my trike. They look like giants from my low vantage point. Trikes are most decidedly very low to the ground.
“Wayne and Eileen Kading, along with their friend Terry Peterson make their acquaintances. These folks are so darn friendly that I am thinking that we may have already met somewhere around Furnace Creek, but no, this is the first time, verified by all their interest and questions. I’ve met so many people during my time here that I have a hard time remembering them all. Wayne and Eileen live in Anaheim, California, and Terry lives in Pollack Pines, California.
“Terry says there are no sidewalks or street lights out in his neck of the woods, and he prefers to live out in the middle of a forest, far from the suburbs and crowds, for a life of peace and solitude. I tell him that those are exactly my own sentiments. Wayne asks more than once how I can ride this trike and trailer on the freeways. Interestingly, this is a common question that I have been asked by a number of people during my trip. People who drive cars all their lives apparently come to believe that freeways are a necessary path that all vehicles must take to go long distances, although I have come all this way on secondary backroads. It demonstrates to me the degree to which our society has been indoctrinated to automobiles and the roadways that support them.
“By the third time Wayne asks the question, which I had answered before, Eileen smacks him hard on the shoulder and says: ‘Don’t you listen? He says he doesn’t ride on freeways!!’
“Well anyway, these friendly folks are so spellbound by my story that they invite me to lunch at the resort’s old western restaurant. They want to hear more! Being one to rarely turn down food, I graciously accept and we head the 25 yards south to the café, which is a visual feast inside, all the way to the large wooden beamed hallways that simulate an old mine tunnel. I just leave my trike and trailer parked right next to the highway, full of my gear and with no lock. My fears of theft have long since diminished in the past five weeks, and with so many people milling around this place, it would take a truly daring criminal to abscond with my belongings. So many people gather around to look at the trike that a thief would find it difficult to steal without someone noticing.
“At this point, if someone wants my dirty and perhaps odiferous gear, they can have it. There is always more where that came from. I am in desperate need of a modern digital camera anyway, and a theft would provide my perfect excuse to acquire one. I do take my small fanny pack containing my wallet with me though, so I can pay for my lunch.
“Our lunch goes on for quite some time. We are all merrily eating and telling stories. This fare will cost me a few bucks, but the company is well worth the expense, and being able to forgo my usual energy bar is a exclusive treat for a guy who lives on the road. By the time a couple of hours elapse, I swear I know everything about my new friends, and they know plenty about me. These are the kind of people who you just feel totally at home with right from the start. They could be family, and sometimes seem like it when Eileen balls out Wayne for some statement she doesn’t like.
“Finally, our congenial waitress, whom Terry has questioned so much that we all know about her too, presents the bill. As I bring out my wallet to ante up, they all say that this is their treat, and I am to put my wallet away! Well, doesn’t that beat all? I get a great lunch with great people, am entertained for two hours, and it doesn’t end up costing me a penny. Riding a trike across the countryside certainly has its perks! As we part for the day, they all assure me that they will be in my audience this Friday morning to hear my further tales of Death Valley.
“My old friend Matt Jensen, whom I last saw out on the Oregon coast, mentioned to me on a number of occasions prior to this journey that there are people who eagerly help cyclists on long distance tours. He said I would meet some of these people on my trip. I told him that was unlikely because I was going to be riding on the most remote backroads I could find. Matt just smiled and reiterated that I would meet these folks one way or another. He calls them road angels. Wayne, Eileen, and Terry are three more road angels I have had the privilege to meet on the Death Valley Tricycle Expedition.”
* * * * * * *
What would you think if I told you I had to actively pedal downhill to avoid coming to a stop? Crazy, huh? Well, on one day of the trike expedition precisely that happened … even with my aerodynamic profile. As the hours passed, the wind grew, until it overpowered the pull of gravity on my tricycle. Here’s a brief excerpt of my travel on that very windy day:
“At first light, a while before the sun actually saturates the landscape with direct energy, I awaken. This is generally the case when I’m out in the wilds camping. Usually a solo traveler over the years, there is nothing to keep me up much past sundown each day, so I am in the sack early by conventional standards. I don’t need a lantern. I often take a late evening walk in the waning light, sometimes hiking to the top of a nearby hill to observe the vistas of a beautiful day coming to a close. It’s a great way to wrap up another wilderness experience.
“It’s easy to awaken prior to sunrise when one goes to bed so early. And on wilderness time, a generous ten hours of sleep are effortlessly attainable without the stress of wondering when an alarm clock will chime. Thus, one of the most magnificent times of day is mine to behold each crack of dawn. I love mornings in the backcountry. It’s quiet, except for the mysterious sounds of nature, and the increasing light slowly brings forth new perspective that was not available last night. How can one not have optimistic thoughts as the dawn slowly spreads its magic?
“I don’t feel at all rushed this Monday. Sure, I have 53 miles separating me from my next camp, but they are all downhill, over two-thousand vertical feet down! My mind tells me that it should be a leisurely ride. In a national park, you cannot just camp where it suits your fancy. They have very strict rules about where tents can be pitched. This is no big deal in a car or truck, as the enormous distances of Death Valley National Park are shortened by high speed petroleum-based travel. But on a tricycle, the world is different.
“Legally, my next camping option is relatively far away via trike. Between here and there, trees are nonexistent, and shade is a scant luxury. The land is wide, open, and essentially flat much of the way. After leaving Mesquite Springs, bathrooms are a thing of the past until I reach the junction of Scotty’s Castle road and the Beatty, Nevada road. A block outhouse exists for motorists. It provides a parking area, eating tables, and a little shade behind the toilet structure. Obviously, I’ll need to offload prior to that. Good thing a car comes only once in a rare while this far out.
“Right away the riding is a snap today. I’m going downhill from the get go! Can’t argue with that. At this rate, these fifty miles will be achieved by lunchtime. If that happens, it will be the first day on this trip, and will set a personal record for me. We’ll see what develops.
“A very slight south wind keeps me cool. My cotton long sleeve shirt is just right for temperature control. For those not familiar with wind terminology, a south wind comes from the south, not blowing towards the south. This means that I am pedaling against the wind, but at the low current speed, it has no discernible affect on my forward motion. The great thing about a trike, well, one of many great things, is its extremely aerodynamic shape. I am nearly on the ground, and present little mass for the wind to affect, like a regular bicyclist does. My two flagpoles, one on the trike and one on the trailer, cause a slight drag due to the surface area of the flag material, but other than that, I slice through wind pretty darn well. If I removed the flagging, maybe I could pick up a mile per hour, but it’s not worth losing my visibility over such a trivial difference.
“I have been making good time so far, yet as the clock ticks and the day heats up, the wind increases its push against me. My polycarbonate sunglasses, perfect for preventing rocks thrown up by automobile tires from damaging my eyes, provide a waterless vision experience even with the growing wind. There is no doubt about it though, as the miles roll by, the air stream is becoming a force with which I must reckon.
“Wind strength increases with speed of my trike. The faster I go, the higher the perceived wind that strikes me, even on a calm day. Add to that the ever increasing south wind here on Scotty’s road, and you can bet I don’t have to worry about getting hot or sweating today, regardless of the outside temperature, which could top 100 degrees Fahrenheit by the time I reach tonight’s camp.
“I still have over seven liters of water onboard, out of my original load of nearly nine. Riding downhill, this heavy water supply does not slow me down. If anything, it might speed me up. From time to time, I pull over onto the shoulder or turnout for a stretch of the legs and a few morsels of Clif Bar.
“Up ahead, there is a road repaving operation. It is short, and today there appears no one working here yet. But since there are crewmen who labor out here in this remote landscape, there is also an outhouse from Joe’s Sanitation. Hey, I take every opportunity I can get in the wilds. Yet, somehow, a malodorous plastic container isn’t quite as nice as the natural outdoors. It’s convenient, I have to pee, so my visit inside is very quick. The great thing about Death Valley outhouses is that the ultra low humidity rapidly dries everything out, so smell doesn’t hang around long.
“Past Titus Canyon, I am really beginning to notice the wind. My progress has definitely slowed, even though I am still going down. On stretches of road that I would be expecting to coast, I am instead still driving power to the cranks. It’s now early afternoon and my water intake is becoming more constant than ever so far on this journey. The arid wind dries my throat, thereby increasing my perception that I want water. I am not sweating, but I am sure drinking.
“At one point, the road increases in its angle of decline, so I quickly upshift onto the largest chainring. I must have been a little too aggressive in my delight to maintain higher speeds, as the chain doesn’t stop once it engages the metal ring, but just keeps right on going, over the top and off the outside, into an area between the large chainring and the right crank pedal. At first, I don’t realize this, as I do not see it happen. I have upshifted thousands of times on this trip, so I pay little attention to it now. What gets my attention is that I immediately have no tension in my pedals anymore. A quick glance reveals my woes.
“So, I coast off to the wide shoulder to get things back on track. I don’t want to use my bare hands to return the chain to its rightful place, as I have no way to wash them, or get chain lube and grime out from under my fingernails. Nor do I wish to keep my leather riding gloves on when I do it, but those are my only two options right now. With gloves on, I go ahead and replace the chain on the ring, and then it dawns on my dehydrated brain that I can easily clean the gloves with something that is everywhere as far as the eye can see … dirt! Sure enough, after rubbing them in the dirt, all the lube is gone, and they are dry. Then, just dusting them off makes them as good as before.
“A stiff wind is now my reality, and being a former windsurfer for many years, I estimate that it is averaging about 30 miles per hour at the present. Having my rest, food, and rehydration, I’m back on the road south. At the junction of Highway 190, I pull up to the stop sign and actually have to wait for traffic before turning left towards Furnace Creek. As luck would have it, there is also a car behind me. All day I am nearly alone out on the road (a great feeling for a cyclist, by the way), but now I have cars again. This highway is the major thoroughfare that most motorists use when crossing or visiting Death Valley. Traffic is not heavy by city definition, but at least it’s now back on my radar screen.
“Soon, I must pull over and take a photograph. It is the one photo that every visitor wants when they see it. The place is so popular that a small sign says to please park off the pavement, because the National Park Service knows tourists often park in precarious places. I pull off the pavement with plenty of room to spare, and I am the only one here right now. With my next pedal strokes, I will be triking down deeper than the level of the Earth’s ocean. This is the point of sea level, marked clearly by a large sign.
“The wind has further increased now. I am closing in on Cow Creek, which is just north of Furnace Creek about three miles. I want to stop and visit with David Blacker, the Executive Director of the Death Valley Natural History Association (DVNHA), yet I am getting tired fighting this powerful headwind, and finding a campsite would sure be nice. It is probably blowing about 40 miles per hour at this point, still out of the south. David’s office is uphill to the east, and off the main road about a half mile. I don’t feel like riding up that hill, but since it’s at right angles to the wind, I decide to pedal on up to his office.
“I park on the sloping dirt hill in front of the DVNHA offices and warehouse. The wind is howling, the weather is hot, and it feels good to walk inside to calm and cooled air. David and I have met before, and he welcomes my tired and sorry body into his office. I look a frightful mess, having pedaled 50 miles to get here today in the ever accelerating wind. I might even smell bad too, but to me, I just smell like an arid desert, which is acceptable.
“Dave knows I’ll be in the area for a while until my talk, so we part company after about 20 minutes. He comes out to see just how I got here from Oregon, and is quite curious about this weird thing called a tricycle. The driveway down to the highway is all fast coasting, and at Highway 190 once again, I turn south for the final three miles into Furnace Creek for this night’s camp.
“There is a large and steep downhill near the old site of the Harmony Borax Works, a hill that I would normally reach a speed of about 30 miles per hour on just by coasting. Today is very much different however. The wind is sufficiently intense that coasting is not even possible! In fact, I must pedal for all I’m worth just to get down the steep hill. This is a new one on me. I cannot even believe it even though I am personally experiencing it. Yes, I am definitely ready for some rest and relaxation now!
“As if cued by Murphy’s Law, the wind actually starts to die out once I am in the campground. The trike gods must all be laughing! After 53 miles of riding into an increasingly powerful head wind, I’m too tired to think about it, and just am happy for the calm. I meet Sharon, the campground host, and find a site in the shade of a large mesquite tree. It has a picnic table and a fire pit. I won’t be doing a fire, but it will be nice to sit for dinner tonight.”
Well, that wind did die out completely for a bit that evening, but then, as I was setting up my tent for the night, the invisible marauder returned with a overwhelming vengeance. Luckily, it was in gusts, as it took both arms and legs to hold the tent footprint down while clumsily attempting to position the tent atop it. Only when the wind briefly subsided each time did I have the ability to insert poles, or place gear inside for ballast. I was already dead tired, and the normal five minutes it takes to pitch the tent turned into fifteen. I felt defeated at 200 feet below sea level. The wind died again after the tent was up, long enough for me to eat a quick dinner, but then once it got dark, a steady 70 miles per hour slammed my camp until around midnight!
What a day … and a night.
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