I have met many other bike tourers on this trip, from the first timers, to a few seasoned veterans, such as the guy I met on day 3 who had been touring for 2 years and was on his way to Alaska. And the guy I met outside of Montreal who had been touring on and off for years, and had just started a trip across the continent to Banff, Glacier, Yellowstone, and Yosemite… In the winter.
But most of the epic tourers I’ve come across have been through stories I’ve heard, rather than directly meeting them. For example, the first three Warm Showers I stayed at up the Pacific Coast all told tales of the same German couple who were biking from Alaska to Patagonia… With their 6 month old daughter… Well, she was 6 months old when they started. But they had coincidentally stayed at the same three Warm Showers spots that I had. Another example – when I stayed with a Warm Showers host in Wisconsin, most of our conversation revolved around a South African man who had stayed with the host a few weeks or a month before I had. He had been touring nonstop for over 7 years, covering over 100,000 km. We spent most of our time together browsing his blog, http://ernestonbike.blogspot.com/ . I may have told some of you about him.
Anyway, one of the coolest parts of this trip has been being a part of this community of bike tourers. Along the Pacific Coast, we were always camping together at biker campsites. The four I biked with across North Dakota may have, no exaggeration, saved my trip. I’ve loved meeting friends of friends along the Northeast who have also done cross country bike trips.
Sadly though, until a few days ago, I had not seen another active tourer since Vermont, and had not seen another tourer who was more than a few hours removed from flying into the airport since parting ways with Casey and Zandi in Minnesota. This is partially because summer, the most popular touring season, is over. It’s also because I have parted ways with the most heavily bike-trafficked Adventure Cycling Association cross country routes.
But, on the road from Charleston to Savannah, I ran into a grandfather who was almost done with his San Diego to Myrtle Beach adventure. He was also shaming me by crushing 100 mile days since crossing the Mississippi, he claimed. He wanted to take a picture with his grandchildren in his arms on the beach at the finish to remind them that “No matter how old you are, you can always complete something epic.”
And then, a few hours later, sitting outside McDonalds, who pulls up on his beat up old Saartje than none other but Ernest!!!! From Ernest on bike fame, who I had heard legend of in Wisconsin! Meeting him was kind of like how a vertically challenged teenager who loved playing basketball would feel if he suddenly ran into Lebron James on the playground concrete basketball court in the middle of nowhere, South Carolina. If basketball were an obscure sport that few people played, I guess…
Anyway, we ended up stealth camping together under an old abandoned gas station off the highway, spinning tales late into the night over our meager pasta meals.
Our humble shelter for the night:
The spinning of tales continued into the next day at Waffle House. As you can imagine, after 7 years, this man had incredible stories. One for everything. And he was incredibly forthcoming and open to answering any and every question I had.
I just passed 6,000 miles. He has biked over 70,000 miles!
I’ve biked through 2 countries. He has biked through nearly 50
I thought biking on these shoulderless roads was scary. He had biked through the megacities of India, where right of way road laws are unheard of
I have had close calls with trucks. He has been knocked over by cars and trucks many times
I pitied myself for the “suffering” I endured in the sand dunes near the Virginia, North Carolina border, struggling for a few miles. He had dragged his bike across 50 km worth of sand dunes in the African desert. Kenya maybe? It took him two full days
Here I am, thinking I should be a little on guard in the backwoods of the Carolinas. He had been hacked at and attacked by men with machetes in an alleyway in Mozambique
My parents worry about my safety biking in North America. He had been held at gunpoint on an empty open road in Iran, in an area known for kidnapping tourists for ransom. He narrowly escaped
I thought it was chilly biking through the frost-laden countryside of Maryland. He had biked through snow and freezing rain, crossing the Andes near 14,000 feet, being followed by stray dogs for 25 miles
I was frustrated biking into strong headwinds. He has been in winds so fierce that he had no choice but to wait it out on the side of the road in Chile. He couldn’t go anywhere
I have been hit by strong storms on this trip. He has survived huge hail thunderstorms and massive sandstorms in Africa that left him picking sand out his hair for days, even though he was in his tent
I imagined myself as strong for crossing the Rockies and Appalachians. He had crossed the Karakoram Range and criss-crossed the Andes multiple times, regularly going past altitudes of 14,000 feet, twice as high as my highest pass of the trip. And as high as my barely-completed struggle of a hike up Mt. Whitney in California last year
I fretted over my gear starting to fall apart. Ernest has gone through over 50 tires (not flat tubes, tires), and many wheels, spokes, chains, gearsets, ball bearings, etc etc etc.
I liked to think of myself as a badass for consistently stealth camping in the deep woods. Stealth camping is all he does, including under bridges, behind shopping centers on loading docks, on the mall in Washington D.C., on Lemon Hill in Philadelphia in the middle of a rainstorm overlooking boathouse row and the art museum. We think he was there the day before my 4 buds and I rolled into Philadelphia
I’ve been nervous about large animals smelling my food at night. He woke up one morning near Banff, in Canada, to find a massive grizzle near paw print right next to his tent
I have biked through some unique environments. He has struggled down the main “road” in Columbia, where the real mode of transportation is down the major river. He almost lost his bike when he tried riding through a swamp following a “shortcut.” A cowboy offered to have his horse drag him through it
I’ve run across interesting cultures, such as the Mennonites on horse and buggy in Ontario. He biked past bare-chested natives trotting along the side of the only road that went through a hundred mile wide reservation in the Amazon in Brazil
I’ve experienced incredible human warmness and generosity on my trip. He also has, being consistently invited in for dinner by poor Latin American farmers, brought in for tea everywhere around Turkey, given a new helmet and small laptop in Seattle, and on and on
I’ve been trying to get by on a minimal budget. About $20 per day for grocery food (I eat a lot), but that’s about it. He has been living on a tiny income, and is often without funds at all. He demonstrates how there is a very fine line sometimes between bike tourer and homeless vagabond
I survived some allergies. He contracted dengue fever in India or Malaysia
I’ve suffered some bumps, scratches, and bruises over the months. He has had some brutal falls over the years. His partner, who sometimes joins him to bike with him for long stretches, has fallen and broken her collarbone and her leg on separate occasions (if I remember correctly)
Ernest has criss-crossed Africa, the Middle East, Asia, Australia, some of Europe I believe, and now South and North America. See his blog for more and to see his worldwide route in more detail! And see his blog if you want to read about REAL adventure.
If you hadn’t guessed already, I have abandoned my plans to return to San Francisco and will bike with him indefinitely as his apprentice of sorts through Cuba and East Africa and beyond.
(Just kidding mom and dad and Lauren about the continuing on with him. I’m stopping in Florida!) But regardless, it was a special treat to meet and share the evening and morning with Ernest. And it’s awesome to be a part of this tiny (but growing) community of long distance bike travelers.