It has been exactly one month since Priscilla and I began our relationship. One month since we pedalled out of Memphis with my friend Rod Wellington in the passenger seat. One month since that car hit us off the road. A lot happens in a month.
Following the crash the damage to Priscilla and my psyche meant a few days off the road in Vicksburg to regroup before the journey started once more in Crystal Springs and ever since then I’ve been plodding in a south easterly direction up and over the hills of Mississippi and Alabama then into a flatter, more topographically friendly Florida.
The early stages of this expedition presented me with the most physically difficult challenge I’ve ever encountered, but it is the mental battle and the necessity for focus that will forever define this journey for me. To survive the crash on Day One without anything more than a sore shoulder was beyond fortunate, but boy did that encounter clarify what it would take to complete this traverse of the South.
Having not pedalled anything for over a year was obviously not the ideal preparation but after five or six days I became conditioned to powering 400lbs-worth of Bikecar, gear and human. Meanwhile not two seconds passed without an eye on the wing mirror, assessing the ever-approaching danger of cars, motorcycles, log trucks and other vehicles. Priscilla’s width means I rarely fit entirely within a roadside shoulder and my life is dependent on an ability to get out of the way when another driver isn’t paying attention. Sadly, this is often.
The lack of respect for non-motorised vehicles in this country is astonishing but not surprising. After all, I’ve been travelling through country that is home to the fattest, most unfit people in the world. The idea of riding anything but an enormous truck around the corner to the fast food eatery is laughed out of town down here by 90% of the population, and of course the lack of sidewalks or cycle paths means society gently encourages folk to sit upon a motor for even the shortest of journeys, which of course develops a deflation of any understanding what those lithe, exercising people are doing down there on the road with their pedals. Because of this America has guzzled up three of my nine lives on this journey, and with that estimation I’m being generous.
Of over 200 motorcycles that have passed me in the last 810 miles only two riders have been wearing helmets. ‘We have a right not to,’ say the unprotected. At some point, the wind in the hair will cost some of them their functions, if not their lives. I have learned the bizarre failings in highway common sense by studying patterns on the road. I deplore what I have nicknamed ‘The Metallic Conga of Death,’ the impatient habit of cars speeding along on a long straight highway leaving no more than 10 metres between ones front bumper and the rear of the car in front. I’ll go for miles without seeing another car and then BANG, twenty careering trucks end-to-end will thrash by. It takes one of them to brake, adjust or defer from a consistent speed and there will be a multi-car pile-up, swerving cars bringing people in other lanes into danger. My God, it’s like everyone has a death wish.
But of course if people can’t understand the intricacies of their own mortality I shouldn’t expect them to care about mine, so I remain tied to a personal policy that I should act like I’m invisible, I mustn’t assume I’ve been seen by anyone and therefore if there’s the slightest chance that I could be struck I move off the road. It has been slow going but I’m still here, still breathing, still enjoying the challenge, still learning. My average day sees me moving for 7 hours and stopped for three and a half. That is how long I spend in intervals pulled over on the roadside grass, or dirt, or sand, waiting for gaps in traffic. But I’m patient, this is just part of the journey, part of travelling by Bikecar, part of the process.
I have 189.5 miles remaining to Miami, not that I’m counting. This expedition has been rich for me. New friends, hours of thinking-time, experiences I wouldn’t have ever dreamed of having had I opted for my original April and May plan - writing in a room in London. Despite the daily dangers I have grown, I have had fun. I have ridden past armadillos and eagles and snakes and alligators and wild hogs. I have woken to misty mornings and fought through the boiling midday sun. I have listened to people tell me I have a death-wish and replied that to the contrary I am living life with every drop of time I have. Sure, it can be dangerous out here but the decision not to finish my Bikecar career immediately after that accident a month ago was one of the best I ever made.
The joys of finding the peace and quiet of a bicycle path or a quiet state road or even a remote dirt track through the woods are now an integral part of my day. I will not stop living my life just in case something bad might happen; dreams are best when experienced awake, don’t lock them away until you sleep.
Thanks for reading…