I ride a Schwinn Paramount Ti. I bought it in 1999. At the time we had never owned a new car and the Schwinn cost more than both the cars we then owned combined. In the 16 years I have owned the bike I have never thought of buying another one. I might have occassionally looked at other bikes, but only in passing and only to admire the workmanship and geometry. Never with the thought of actually riding it. OK, well once last winter up in Minneapolis I rode a fat tire bike. But only because it was snowing. That was the only time. I swear. Please don’t judge me.
I put between 5 and 8,000 miles a year on my Schwinn. At this point it has upward of 100,000 miles on it. I need it to carry me 3,000 more. My mechanic Drew has it set up so I can run the front and rear shifting off one side. Additionally, he now has both the front and rear brakes running off the right lever. We have a prosthetic maker and a group of engineering students from the University of Illinois trying to figure out how to keep my left hand from popping off the handlebars every time I hit a bump in the road while at the same time allowing me to move freely from aerobars to handlebars. They are also working on a device to hold my head up because my neck muscles are weakening. My head weighs 8 lb give or take, depending on what’s on my mind. No big deal while you are upright. But hunkered down in the aerobars for 7-8 hours it can become dead weight.
Have I mentioned that people are asking a lot of questions? Here’s one I don’t have an easy answer for: “So why are you doing this?”
“April 3rd, 1989 England’s Lake District. By the time I had reached the road leading up to the Hard Knot pass, I was already soaked through. As the road (if you could call it that) got increasingly steeper I began zig-zagging from side to side in order to keep moving. I felt that as long as I kept moving I would be okay. In the distance I could see the point where the rain turned to snow; the grassy slopes and jagged granite peeks seemed to turn white along an even line. The further I went, the stronger the wind became. Up ahead I saw someone walking hurriedly in my direction. He was attired from top to bottom in yellow rainproof gear and in every crease and fold of his clothing, not to mention his mustache, there was ice. He looked like an Arctic explorer. He said that he had been hiking the hills when the weather turned nasty and that the winds above the shelter of the valley were at gale force. He advised me to turn back then continued on his way down. I stomped my cold, wet feet to keep the circulation going, shook the rain off my poncho, looked up towards the snow and contemplated the effort it had taken to bike this far. I knew that I wasn’t going to turn back. The decision wasn’t mine to make. Something over which I had no control was already turning the pedals again. I passed a herd of sheep nonchalantly chewing grass, apparently oblivious to the howling winds. Maybe it was my imagination but even they seemed to be shaking their heads as I rode past.”
This was my first long distance bike ride. Common sense would seem to dictate that I would never want to do anything like it again. But for reasons I can’t pretend to understand this was just the beginning. I was 4 days into a bike ride up to Scotland. And not for the last time I was woefully unprepared for the conditions I had ridden into. The ride was a hastily conceived endeavor for me to see something of England before we returned to the States. Rae and I had been traveling for three years and would soon be returning to Urbana with our three month old daughter Lisa. I was unsure if we would return to England for any length of time and I didn’t want to be one of those London-centric people who grew up in England and had never been North of the Watford Gap (England’s equivalent of the Mason-Dixon Line). I was riding an ill-fitting, second or third hand, 10 speed Raleigh with shifters on the downtube that I had bought for commuting to work. For rides of 10 miles or so on city streets it was fine. For what I was doing now, though, not so much.
“Finally, the gradient began to even out and my goal was in sight. At the top of the pass was a stone marker indicating the boarder between Cumbria and Lancashire. Once at my destination, however, I was faced with the question that we all must face at one time or another after achieving a hard earned goal: “well shit, what now?” I couldn’t exactly enjoy the view because I could hardly see anything. Just off to the side of the road I saw a sheltered area behind a grassy bank that seemed relatively dry. I cleared away the sheep droppings for a place to sit and got out a bag of dried fruit and nuts from the pannier bags on my bike. While eating, I took my shoes off and wrung out my socks. I tried to remember how long it had been since I had felt my toes and wondered whether I should be concerned. I looked up at the jagged grey stone peaks on either side of me. I got my camera out to take some pictures; not because the scenery was particularly spectacular, but because I couldn’t actually believe I was there. This morning I had been in an old farmhouse, down by a serene lake, enjoying tea and toast in front of a warm log fire. Now I was up in the hills, in a virtual blizzard, surrounded by nothing but snow, rocks and sheep. But perhaps strangest of all, I didn’t want to leave. However, as I watched the snow blow horizontally past my cozy nook, I knew that I couldn’t stay here much longer. While I had been moving, I had kept warm but now the cold was starting to make itself felt. It was time to move on.”