When I was riding cross-country in 2009, we were in Arizona, and I came up with the idea of riding a penny farthing across the country. It seemed like a great idea. As soon as I got home from that trip, I started looking. It took a while to find my first. I drove 50 miles to pick it up from the train station, and could hardly contain myself, much like a child on Christmas morning. The box was ripped apart right at the station; my excuse was to make sure it wasn’t damaged in any way during shipping, but the truth was, I was just excited! As soon as I got home, the car was parked, and I started assembling it. At this point I hadn’t read much about them – I had no idea how it went together (half the pieces in the box didn’t seem necessary to ride it [that was the brake]), no clue how to mount and definitely no Earthly idea how to dismount. I took it outside, and figured it couldn’t be that hard – I mounted first try. It was exhilarating. I rode it 22 miles without getting off it…I still didn’t know how to dismount.
The smiles, waves and giggles got me hooked; it didn’t take much. The sheer positive energy it gave off was enough to hook someone, but riding five feet off the ground, the height of semi-truck and bus drivers, the feeling of learning how to ride a bike for the very first time, and everything else included was inebriating. Sailing above the asphalt sea, above all worries in the world. I rolled into the family car-shop, and slowed. Cell phone, “I need help…getting down.”, Dad rushes out, and helps me down the first time. At this point, it was over. I knew there was no going back. I wanted to ride it long distances and energize people, just as riding it fulfilled me – I knew I had to figure out mounting and dismounting in a more graceful fashion. I contemplated. It couldn’t be that hard. I got on, and kind of jumped off. Little did I know, they call that an emergency dismount. It seemed so simple. A couple rides later, I learned I could reach back and dismount just same I mounted (via the peg in the back). Grace came in short time, and the high never gave up. I started plotting. I was clueless to this world that occurred 130 years ago, but I knew I wanted to be part of it. Knowledge comes with experience, and it found its way duly.
April. 2010. “I need a place to stay. I’ll be in SF for the start of my next cycle-tour. Can I stay with you? Great. I’ll see you the second week.” Pack the bike. Pack the bags. Haul to Maricopa, Amtrak. Midnight: off to LA. Union Station chairs are uncomfortable. Sleep the little you can, the trip begins soon. I hope the bike makes it. Did I insure it? Shit. I didn’t. Oakland, via the coast, alone, but beaming. Bus to The City. Assemble bike, and ride to bar. “THAT’S the thing you’re touring on? Holy shit!”. “Yea. Crazy, isn’t it? It’s a hoot”. 22nd, in memory of Stevens [Thomas - the first to cross the country on a bike (a high wheel)], I embark north, planning for Alaska. Rain. Hills. More rain. Even more hills. Trees. Sand. Ocean. Bears.
By Eugene, I was still feeling the journey, but was half uncertain. Another week til Seattle, but AK was distant. Can I make it? Well, I could walk if I had to. A friend, and fellow cross-country rider, in Eugene put me up for a few weeks while I was there. At the time, he worked for the UO Outdoor Department. We ended up rebuilding the big wheel on my then-current bike. We changed how it was built, and it helped, but didn’t solve the issue completely. I happened to be in Eug. during the Bicycle Music Festival, which was quite a blast (and a penny farthing was an extra bonus for those in attendance). Eug., then I was upward again. Corvallis. Portland. Castle Rock. Centralia. Tacoma. Auburn. Seattle. Home.
At this point, I had decided my equipment problems had to be solved before tackling Canada, and its vast wilderness. I trained home. “RAGBRAI 2010 starts in Sioux City this year! You have to come back!”. Sioux City is where the family is from. I wasn’t certain to do it, but ended up doing it. That was the final journey for Ms. Penelope. She found a new home in Reno, and the search continued. My two current bikes came within the next year, and here we are now. The current rider, being “reverse” of the typical ordinary, was quite a learning experience in its own. The many, many miles I put on the last one, some would think I’d have mastered these machines. We drove to Albuquerque to get the Eagle. 45 minutes later, I finally got on the first time – it was a *completely* different bike. Everything I’d learned about high wheels was to be unlearned, which took unlearning normal cycling techniques. Not only was the mounting very much more difficult, the steering and riding was like taming a wild Moroccan tiger. The best analogy this year, was comparing riding one to pushing a cinder block with one’s nose; it’s not far off, I’m here to tell you.
It’s still a joy to ride them, and it hardly gets old (doing anything gets old – you have to accept that in stride). After 7 days, 500 miles and 20,300 feet of climb on direct driven, 120 year old technology, I was tired. A day’s rest, and I felt the best I’ve felt in years, maybe ever. I worked as hard, or harder, in those 7 days than I had in 58 days across the country (roughly 5,000 miles). I felt it more, but after the rest, felt even more energized – I wanted, no, needed to continue. My next journey is possibly months out, but it’s on the horizon, and I live each day to see the next trip through. It’s literally the fuel. Perhaps a tandem high wheel would be fun to ride.
My originally planned x-country trip was Phoenix to Maine, by way of the Great Lakes. The idea was to find myself. I turned down a pretty large promotion at Dell, to be able to ride across The States. Some might find that foolish, and I still wonder myself. I certainly wasn’t able to answer any of those decisions when I got home – nothing could compare to what I’d just done. Two years later (and counting), I still have no destined plan. I’ve not had a full time (or even part time – just freelancing) job since Dell, and while I’d love to have the money it may provide, I feel I’m a much happier person where I’m at right now.
“For God’s sake give me the young man who has brains enough to make a fool of himself!”
- Robert Louis Stevenson
“Most people would rather be certain they’re miserable than risk being happy.”
- Robert Anthony
I can safely say, at this point, I’ve had the brains to make a fool of myself, and risked plenty to be happy. The true question for my future lies in the ability to continue doing so.