Tuesday, September 9, 2008

On Roughing it...

I've been interested in "rough riding" or "rough stuff riding" (and the role of serendipity in touring/life) since a fateful ride during the Great Western Bike Rally, when a small band of us led by friend and touring guru, Chris Q, took us off the beaten path.

We were cycling along the recommended route when Chris pointed off to a small road that veered from the main path and meandered through a valley. "I've always wondered where that little road went," was all he said and that turned a planned and measured ride into a bit of an adventure.

The "little road" petered out and ended unceremoniously at a railroad. After some discussion between us and a random bystander (who was dumbfounded by the site of a group of cyclists contemplating whether they should or shouldn't ride along side some railroad tracks), we decided to go for it. Chris suggested we ride on the railroad ballast, reasoning that "there has to be a small service road somewhere."

So onward we went. Riding on the crushed rocks, sometimes moving forward but mostly slipping sideways. Amazingly, Chris and Michael who were on a tandem floated over the rocks (they had obviously done this before). But for myself, my girlfriend and friend Colin this was new territory! Who knew you could ride on railroad ballast? Who knew you could ride away from the prescribed path without the world imploding for that matter?

There was a service road after all.

It led to a no trespassing/ state property sign which we opted to reinterpret. Which then led to us riding behind a maximum security prison, which we rode quickly by. At that point it started to rain lightly and everything was magic.

We made it back to the prescribed route unscathed but from that ride on, everything had changed. Somehow a veil had been lifted on how I saw touring. There were ROUTES, officially sanctioned bike touring roads and there were also routes, the ones you discovered along the way that were unsigned and sometimes unpaved that turns a rote trip into something more.

When I got home I was energized and bought a Delorme and got my hands on every manner of maps looking for the hollow double lines, or alternating black and white lines which signified an "unimproved road" which really translated into small, trafficless roads to adventure.

A whole new world of bike riding had been opened to me by the simple act of wondering out load, "I wonder where that little road goes."


Joel said...

Fantastic post. I can think of a number of small (although not to the extent you mention) side roads that I've seen on group rides when I was still in CA. Now that I have a bike that can take them (LHT with trail-seviceable tires) I'll have to try wandering.

(Also - nice pics of the stile, haven't seen one for a while)

Lyle Jantzi III said...

I find your take on biking in unknown areas interesting. I grew up in middle-of-nowhere NY where abandoned train tracks were a dime a dozen and exploring dirt roads was the only way to spend a Saturday afternoon. It's what first got me into biking.

RussRoca said...

lyle...i've lived in Los Angeles most of my life....there is no undiscovered country here in the city...everything is paved and gridded and growing up i was regulated to riding around the same block over and over again.

so in a way, i'm discovering a part of my youth i missed out on , i suppose. at any rate, it's fun and i appreciate it more and look forward to finding more dirt roads to ride and explore.

2whls3spds said...

I do strange things like that all the time. Discovered an abandoned railway one time that no longer shows on the topo maps. Turns out it fed a now defunct power station for a small town. Here is a Group that knows how to do it right! If I ever make back to England I hope to be able to join them.


Apertome said...

I've been doing a lot of backroads exploring around here lately. Lots of fun, and we have tons of uncharted territory here in southern Indiana.

Chris Q said...

I enjoyed seeing the 'road less traveled' from your point of view. Thanks for sharing it with me. We must take a trip somewhere soon and discover more roads going somewhere unknown and sup great dinners under the stars.