Back in 2012, Daegan and I rode almost 900 miles together on a bicycle from Toronto to Ottawa, Montreal, and all the way down to NYC to promote kindness. There is nothing like being on the road for almost a month – out in the world for 6-10 hours/day – in addition to getting pretty fit, you also have an opportunity to meet lots of interesting people and learn a lot.
One of the most important lessons of the trip came about 2/3 of the way through the trip. We’d already crossed the border, ridden the length of Vermont and Massachusetts. Though the day started out cool enough, by the time we hit the Connecticut border, it was getting pretty hot.
Still, we were in really good spirits. We were cruising down a dedicated trail with no cars, just a few bikes and runners here and there. Those not wearing headphones would turn their heads back as we approached, clearly surprised at the loud James Brown music issuing from my phone.
Eventually, though, the time came for us to take a break from riding south and turn west toward the Hudson River – the river we’d eventually follow to New York City. In between us and the river was a ridge of the Appalachian mountains. And unfortunately for us, there was really only one way to cross them. US Route 202. This road was a four lane, divided highway with a 55 mph (90 km/hr) speed limit. Because it was so wide and east/west oriented, it also meant we had nothing but direct sun beating down on us. It was now about 90F / 32C so we really felt it.
It was busy but at first there was a nice wide breakdown lane as wide as one of the traveling lanes. This made for good cycling. The noise from the traffic was annoying and of course the heat was brutal. Every once in a while a big truck would pass and we’d be hit with a dusty blast of hot air in its wake. It wasn’t fun, but it was bearable.
But then the hills came. And let me remind you as we enter this portion of the story that we had a 40 lb tandem bike, four panniers with about 60 lbs of gear, about 350 lbs of body weight between us – roughly 450 lbs to move over the mountains. On the plus side we had four legs to pedal with. I had expected Vermont to have the worst hills of the trip, but the route we had inadvertently chosen was fairly mild. This route was not so merciful. It was steep. We were working hard and sweating like crazy. Every once in a while I’d look down toward my bike computer on my handlebars and a pool of sweat would be released from under my helmet and cascade down my face, pick up some sunscreen and road grime along the way and go straight in my eyes making them sting like crazy.
After a few miles, as if that wasn’t enough, we had a new challenge. Our lovely “bike lane” was going away. On the hardest parts of the climbs, where we’d be going at a slow walking pace, the breakdown lane would disappear and be replaced by a “slow truck lane”. There was no more “side of the road” to ride on. We were dumped in to the thick of 55 mph traffic while we were lucky to go 5 mph. The hills would go on for 15-20 minutes each, then there would be a short downhill and more uphill.
I was getting hot, hungry, grumpy and very much done with the ride. We’d already gone 40 miles that day and had about 10 left to go. Why did they have to be this hard? But we persisted, listening to the sound of cars slowing down, downshifting and then angrily accelerating around us. Over and over this went for about 20 minutes. And then a new sound was added to the mix.
Now I’d had it. I was really trying my best and just trying to get safely to our hotel. We were having a father-son ride to promote kindness, for crying out loud. Who are these jerks to be so put out by our presence here?
But they kept it up and even slowed down, just so they could honk at us more. Now normally I’m really non-confrontational but this was the final straw. Who would slow down to treat us so horribly?
As they pulled up next to us, I completely lost my cool. I started shouting at them that we had just as much right to the road as they do and then degenerated into profanity and gestures – in multiple languages. The driver of that car would have no question how wrong they were and how upset I was. But I was justified. I had just as much right to the road as that jerk did. Probably more! What was their carbon footprint? Were they driving somewhere for a cause? I don’t think so.
They sped up and moved on. A few minutes later we crested the hill and I noticed that Daegan was laughing really hard. Now I was mad at him. This was serious business. Cyclists are mistreated all the time and he should know that there is a point past which we can be pushed. Did he think it was funny that we were treated so poorly and that I was so upset?
I grumpily shouted back at him. “WHAT?!?!?”
Daegan, through barely controlled laughter, said “Dad, that was the best! It was a mom and dad and two kids in a minivan. They were waving and smiling and cheering us on. It was amazing!!!”
I was mortified. I was so sure of myself and what was happening that I had no question in my mind about what was happening – and I had been so wrong about it thanks to my state of mind and a few prejudices about how drivers behave. I think back on it often – sometimes when I am upset and other times when I’m worried about how I think someone is reacting to me. I remember that everything I see is being filtered and could be completely wrong. It’s made me pause a few times and saved me from rashly responding to people so all told it was a great experience. But for several days afterward I was mortified and Daegan enjoyed making me cringe by saying “Remember what happened in Connecticut?”
A few days later, on our last day of the ride we were about 2 hours ride outside of New York City when we heard a HUGE diesel truck behind us and then just like last time the honking started – over and over. This time I held my tongue and waited to see what happened. The truck slowly passed us and then pulled over about 100 feet ahead. As we passed we heard a whoop from the driver’s side window. There was Paul, our previous night’s couchsurfing host. “You’re almost there, guys!!! WHOOOOOO!” We smiled, waved, and moved on.
Thanks to Anchal over at Shades of Life for reminding me of this experience with the entry Have Faith in Yourself.