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."
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