The learning curve on the damn bike was never ending. Whenever I thought I had it right, someone would come along with a better idea. Back I would go to my very primitive shop to try to duplicate it with my insufficient tools. Some of the time I succeeded most of the time I didn't.
After a winter of tinkering I thought I had the bike ready to go. When I say bike, I mean Bike. I didn't own a motorcycle, sure I had as a kid but not at the time of the Great Adventure. At that time I owned a regular bike. One bought from Craig's list. Twenty-five bucks for a light weight Schwinn girls bike. Okay when a guy like me rides it, we tend to call it a step through frame. Whatever you call it, the bike was worn out when I got it but I didn't care. I liked the size and look of it.
Living alone in a big old house gave me the time and room to work on the bike. I hadn't ridden a bicycle in 40+ years on the day I bought it. I didn't even know if I could. I was determined to relearn the long lost skill. By the way, regardless of what they say, you do forget how to ride a bike. You are a little braver maybe, when you relearn, but that's about all. Okay it does come easier than the first time, but at least I didn't just jump on and ride away.
A month after buying it I felt better about myself and had even lost a few pounds. The bike trails were an interesting ride, but way too challenging for an old man. Still it was a fun adventure riding through the parks and down the winding creeks. The flats and downhill runs were a blast the climbs were a challenge. Sometimes I won but mostly they won.
In desperation I began to look for help with hill climbing. I almost went to a geared bike, but I didn't think that with my old brain I could pick up gear changing at least not 21 times. I experimented with electric bikes then ended up with a gasoline engine on the Sissy Schwinn as I had begun to call it.
I bought the engine because it was a do it yourself project and cheap. I quickly found myself in over my head. Yes I could bolt it up but the directions for assembly of the smaller parts were just awful. In the end I screwed it up. I had to beg a small engine mechanic to teach me how to undo the damage I had done. The help was worth twice the price of the engine, because I learned how to fix it the next time. If he had charged me, I would have paid it gladly but he didn't. He took pity on me since I am old and retired.
"Hell Mike, all I did was tell you what to do, you did the work."
"Yeah but till you told me I had no idea what to do. I would never have gotten it going otherwise."
"Well hell us old farts have to stick together. Besides like I said, "Weren't no skin off my nose. Now hand me that torque wrench over there."
I handed over the wrench willingly. I would be his tool boy for a week if that was the charge but it wasn't of course. I left the dirty, smelly shop after a few more minutes of 'thank you' time. I drove the car home for one of the last times that morning. It wouldn't be much longer until the insurance ran out and the tags came due. I had sworn that I would not renew either. It was going to be bike or starve for me.
Why not, I could pay all my bills either online or through the mail. Everything I needed was within five miles of my house. If I went ten miles in any direction I was out of town, so why not cut out the expense of the car. If I needed something I couldn't carry on the bike, what were kids for. Well in my case one step kid and her husband would have to do.
I did make one concession to the fragility of the bike, I rebuilt an electric version with two 250 watt motors. The range was small but in a push I could get to the donut shop. That bike was slower, had less range, but really was more dependable. As long as the batteries were charged it would go. There were no electronics to screw up just a simple on off switch.
I was practicing my future life without an autombile that afternoon. I was at the lake with a couple of antigue cameras making pictures of the fishermen who lined the banks. They chose the banks at the marina not because the fishing was better but because one could drive up to the spot. Nature within reach of a modern bathroom seemed to be the way to go.
It was sometime that afternoon while looking at the world upside down on a bit of ground glass that it came to me. If you want to see life one last time, you have to slow down and get out of the metal box. Yeah I know, I had already made the bike decission or I never would have thought that way. I chose the bike for other reasons but I was beginning to see other posibilities.
The thought of seeing the world at a slower speed kept running around in my mind. I finished shooting the film in the holders, then carefully packed the camera away. The hard leather case went into the metal basket which was tied to the homemade pvc bike trailer. The trailer had been made for my ebike's batteries. It was easy to convert with nothing more than a metal basket attached with a bungee cord.
During the four mile drive home, I started the math. If I could average 15 miles per hour, I could do about 100 miles in a day. "Hold on," I said to myself. "You are going about this all wrong. Forget how far you can go in a day and thing where you can go next in a day. If it's ten miles or a hundred, go place to place not just run till you are out of daylight. It was another 'oh yeah' moment.
When I arrived home I spent the evening with my attention split between developing film and thinking about the roadtrip. It's how I had come to see the fantasy and that's all I expected it to be. I had no idea that I could ever pull it off.
With the film hanging to dry, it was time to think about dinner. There was plenty of cans on the porch and plenty of things in the freezer but I chose to go out to dinner. I might as well test the limits of the bike, I thought. I gave some thought to the drive through at one of the burger in a bag places, but decided to test the limits with a little smaller first step.
The bike started after a few pedals in my driveway. I lived almost downtown so traffic on the road by my house was an issue. I liked to know the bike was running before I pulled out. I always waited until there were no cars in sight in either direction but still one never knew.
I angled the bike to what amounted to a left turn but was more oblique than a turn. The five or six block ride to the restaurant was anticlimactic. I had to make sure I could make safe lane changes since I was traveling slower than the other traffic but it wasn't a real issue. I just had to take my time and roll with the punches.
When I pulled up near the door to park, I removed a rather large chain from the small leather box on the front of my bike. I ran it through the front wheel and then through the frame. The chain and lock weren't much of a deterrent for a man with a pickup truck, but they would probably work for a kid walking by. Parking it in as busy a spot as possible, I hoped would make a thief thing twice. He sure as hell wasn't going to roll it away.
Inside the restaurant I was able to sit at the front window. I could keep an eye on the bike while I ate my meat loaf special. I pointed the bike out to the waitress. I know it was silly but I was always proud of my bikes. Even though they were all bruised and rusty.
After dinner I just reversed everything and found myself home again. I pushed, pulled, and lifted the bike into my storage room. It would rest there through the night. I stopped in the kitchen just long enough to make a glass of diet coke before climbing the stairs to my den. On my way to the upstairs den, I walked right by the TV. Since it wasn't time for the evening news, the TV was of no use to me.
I checked my email, then started my research. The idea of the bike trip had been nagging at my brain. I had some distant memory of having read a story but I could for the life of me find it. Even the internet with all its vast amounts of useless information couldn't help me pull it up.
There were lots of monumental decisions to make even more minor ones. If I could swing the great American road trip, and that was a huge if, what would I do about my everyday life. What would I carry, what would I leave behind, what the hell would I do for money.
"One problem at a time first take a small trip," I told myself. "Do it for one week. then you will have a better idea of what you need to have with you on the road."
So I dropped the grand plan for a while and went with the one week plan. I figured the first thing I would need for the trip was money and the access to more. I did not particularly want to carry cash. The little bike would attract attention I knew, but it didn't scream money like a new Harley would. People would most likely think I was an old drunk. That was especially true with the way I dressed. My step daughter called it modern derelict style. she swore that I could pass as a homeless man any day.
Still I didn't want to carry a lot of cash on me. ATMs for cash and one credit card for everything else was the answer. I had already solved one problem since I had an atm card and it was also a credit card. But where to carry it. If some young thug with a knife said give me your wallet, I didn't want to think about it and get killed for the delay. I had for years carried twenty bucks in my wallet, and the rest of my money in a piece of antique leather in my pocket. It was held together with a bit of bike inner tube. I didn't see any reason it wouldn't work for a credit card as well.
.... There is more of this story ...