Best & Worst of… 500 Touring Days

BEST AND WORST OF MY 500+ TOURING DAYS
(COVERING 22,500+ MILES)

WORST SMELL – the putrefying badly decomposed buck on the side of the road
outside of Altoona, PA. Tied with that Worst Smell was the aroma coming from the cattle yards in Kansas. Both in ’80 on the cross country trip.

BEST SMELL – the smell of fresh laundry on the line as I pulled out of Shamokin, PA, also back in ’80. And the aroma of chocolate chip cookies baking – anywhere…

RIDE CLOSEST TO BEING ABORTED – one of the Appalachian Mountain rides where I had a spoke broken – and a hillbilly metal worker took the delicate workings of the 21-speed bike wheel and fashioned parts of a clothes hanger to attach the two halves of the broken spoke. (I rode with it that way for a number of years!)…. and on one of my west coast rides when my knee busted out and I could only pedal with one leg – try THAT sometime in the mountains! Well, an Indian bike store guy gave me a special potion to put on the knee. Finished up in style.

HARDEST DAY – no question about it – the 60 miles into Oakes, ND, in ’91 on the Winnipeg to Omaha ride. (Totally flat. NOTHING in between start and finish. Total blasting wind in my face the whole way.)

LONGEST DAY – 116 miles out of the Rockies into Soccoro, NM, in ’80.

FAVORITE PLACE BIKED – Oregon Coast in ’86.

LEAST FAVORITE PLACE (although pretty damn exciting!) – all the way through
New York City as part of the East Coast section in ’88.

MOST IMPRESSIVE PERSON MET – three-way tie: the 80-something fellow I met on the road, and hooked up with for part of my Seattle to Denver trip in ’87 (it was his third trip in the last 5 years or so!); the 70’s-something bike touring guy from France, Jacques Reynard, I met on one of my Appalachian rides; – and the water-planner in Texas who I met on my Philly to Dallas trip in ’82. The fellow claimed to know every word in the dictionary – and after ‘testing’ him, it appeared he did!

WORST EXPERIENCES WITH A CAR – an impatient driver honking at me on a little hill in Kansas in ’80, and a kid in the south tossing a cardboard glass of soda at me in ’82. Not bad for over 20,000 miles of riding, eh? (Compare that to the 1000’s of folks who have moved over a little for me, the 100’s who have waved and shouted encouragement or lifted thumbs up, and the scores of folks who tried to hand me money out their car window! Pretty astounding!)

BEST SUNSET – that has to be in 1997 at the Florida Keys!

MOST UNEXPECTED MEETING – I was the farthest I had been away from home at the time – somewhere around a lake in Oregon. I was looking at license plates hoping to see a PA plate. I saw one on a van that was parked near this lake. I pulled over to the cab window, the guy looks out, and says, “Hey, you’re Joel Perlish.” It was Glenn Danner who was a hall-mate of mine at Kutztown College!

STORIES I MOST ENJOY TELLING – (all from the cross country trip) – the drunk in the desert story, the mobile home in the desert yarn (with all the women and kids running around), and the time I got THIS CLOSE to taking a lap around the Indianapolis 500 track on my bike. (The track president would have allowed it, but the track manager said then, “any kook” would want to do it.)

CLOSEST BRUSH WITH JAIL – being stopped by the Mexican Border Patrol in ’80 and being told that I had to go through multiple searches and detained periods because as a bicyclist, I was “suspicious looking”. I could see 20 years in a Mexican prison staring me in the face.

WORST PLACE FOR A FLAT – smack in the middle of the the seven-mile bridge between Washington and Oregon on Trip 14 in 1995 A busy, truck traffic laden, two-lane bridge – in the middle of a galing rainstorm! (Hey, I had to fix it and get on my way.)

PLACE THAT EVOKED THE MOST AWE AND AMAZEMENT – the Escalante Range in Utah in ’93. (Riding across a narrow road, Grand Canyon-type views of house-sized boulders and rugged terrain out to the horizon everywhere in sight.

WORST ROAD
(not including under-construction ones) – the 15 miles or so into Tuscaloosa, Alabama in ’82 on the way to Dallas. Every ten feet there was a cinderblock-sized groove stretching all the way across the old road. It was given to me as a shortcut. It took a looooong time.

MOST EXCITING BRUSHES WITH POLICE

  1. Being yelled at by an officer after I (illegally) crossed the Burlington-Bristol Bridge in ’80 near the end of the ocean-to-ocean journey. Hey, I had crossed the country that far on my bike, I wasn’t about to put it in the trunk of a car then.
  2. Being pulled over on the Interstate into St. Louis. I knew I shouldn’t have been there, but it was a much flatter ride. The officer was writing up a hefty fine for me until I mentioned that I was writing a book about my experience, after which he just gave me a warning…
  3. On one of the Appalachian rides the campsite was too close to the Appalachian Trail, and a $55 fine ensued. I recall seeing the officers shoes at the tent door in the morning.

BEST PICNIC AND NAPPING PLACE – High up a huge culvert somewhere outside of Gaviota, California. I was up with the clouds, my bike far below. It was a desolate area – and the air was grand, the sky sunny, the view majestic.

WORST ENCOUNTER WITH BUGS – A cabin in Zion Park in ’93 – they were infested into the wood and then thickly blanketed the inside of the place just at bedtime making it uninhabitable. Ended up sleeping in the tent outside, far away. The owner wouldn’t give me my money back saying in effect, ‘You’re a camper, you have to put up with these things.’ On top of that, he wanted to charge me for the camp site, too!!!
Also, the mosquitoes in Minnesota in ’85 and in Alaska in 2000. Also, the billows of gnats that Bob Edwards and I rode through on our late night ride into Clarkesville in ’81.

CLOSEST TO NOT HAVING A PLACE TO STAY – I was riding out of Yuma in ’80, late at night, refusing to stay in a motel, when a kid who had seen me earlier that day 75 miles or so away, came by in his pickup truck, and said I could stay in his garage.

HOTTEST DAYS ON THE BIKE – summer of ’01 through the northeast. On some of the mountainous parts, I couldn’t get more than five minutes without stopping and mopping. On the ’81 trip to Georgia, the tire treads in the asphalt showed tracks.

COLDEST TIMES ON A TOUR – in the Rockies in ’80. Some folks I was camping next to had frost on their sleeping bag.

WORST CROSS WIND – riding for a number of miles at a 45-degree angle with sharp ravines on my right side coming out of Soccoro, New Mexico in ’80 on what I believe was Route 66.

WORST ADVICE – given by a multitude of people, “It’s all down hill to Soccoro!” It wasn’t all down hill and nobody mentioned the wind. Hard pedaling down the hill. And I had been counting on a downhill that day, the longest of my biking career in a single day.

MOST PATHETIC ANIMAL SIGHT – a big deer with a leg mired in the mud, grunting to get out but stuck beyond help. Near Perry, FL on the Gulf Coast tour in 1998.

WORST FOG – on one of the Appalachian Mountain rides. The clouds were crashing into the mountain. As I stood before one giant cloud, the immensity of it was awing and it slowly, slowly moved toward the mountain peak i was on. It was so well fully formed that I could reach out and touch it. Touching a cloud: what an experience!! But then the bulk of it collided with the steep terrain, and made a wall of fog. I spent another day at my campsite catching up on postcards.

SLOWEST MOVING OBJECT SEEN ON A TOUR – In ’85 from a campsite right on the banks of the Mississippi I had a wondrous view of the river – and the barges moved so slowly and smoothly. They were like hour hands… they hardly seemed to move at all, and then you noticed, after looking away, and then glancing back, how time tricked you, and movement was there after all. But like southern drawls, and the ways of many southern folks, the barges were purposeful & intent. And they were like time itself, forever moving forward.

MOST TOUCHING DOG STORY – As I was coming out of Dodge City in ’80, a whole PACK of dogs were loping after me. I was worried a little, but they stayed a good distance. One by one they got tired and left the pack. Until there was just one dog left, and he followed me for miles and miles and many more miles. I would stop and turn, and say, ‘Shoo’… But he would just look at me from a little distance, wag his tail, and sit there. I grew attached to the cute little thing, and had thoughts that he would follow me the whole way home. But finally, he trailed off, and disappeared. I missed him.

MOST MEMORABLE BRIDGE CROSSINGS – he Golden State Bridge at dusk in ’95, the Louisiana Bridge over the Mississippi in ’85 when the police ESCORTED me across, and that crossing of that 7-mile Astoria bridge in ’85 with the flat in the middle of it during the storm.

ONLY ILLNESS ON A BIKE TRIP – A one day fever on the Across Wisconsin and Michigan trip in ’92. Spent it holed up in a motel. Better the next day.

MOST IMPORTANT ITEM TO HAVE ON A BICYCLE TOUR – beyond a doubt the most important item to have is toilet paper.

TIME MOST FELT TRANSPORTED BACK TO PREHISTORIC TIMES – that run near the campsite on the other side of Salt River Canyon. The trees were ancient, the birds and bird sounds like pterodactyls winging over forest primeval.

BIGGEST UNEXPECTED LAUGH WHILE ON A BIKE – just coming out of that Salt River Canyon in ’80, after a torturously long climb (people were cheering and trying to hand me money even!), I had just made it to a level area, and I looked up at one of the very few cars there that went by and there from out of the back window, three teenagers were mooning me.

THINGS LIKED LEAST ABOUT TOURING – not being able to recycle in a lot of places. Even in some of the most majestic places, where they should be conscious of such things, they have no one forward-thinking enough to start a recycling program.

MOST EMBARRASSING SLIDE SHOW PRESENTATION – A new year’s eve presentation where only one person showed up – my dad. True, it was snowing, and not many were expected anyway because of the holiday…..

THE BEST BIKE TRIP – Any trip that is the NEXT one.

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