September 29, 2012
There are exactly 61 hills between the small towns of Wolf Point, Montana, and Circle, Montana, and they lie in a road so straight that it seems like it was laid out with a ruler. Which it probably was.
It took me 6 hours to ride my bike over those 61 hills earlier this past summer. That's an average speed of roughly 10 miles an hour, faster, really if you subtract my lunch break and several rest stops.
That rate of 10 miles an hour is reflective of my average speed across the entire North American Continent. Not fast to a racer, but for a 62-year old guy hauling way too much stuff on a vintage bicycle, it ain't bad.
By the time I reached Boston 71 days after leaving Wenatchee, Washington, I was easily riding 70 or 80 miles a day. My longest day was 96 miles in the flat lands of Michigan. It had been a weird experience. Unable to find a place to camp, I'd pushed it to my physical and mental limits, finally collapsing in a woods next to a busy highway.
But the next day I got up and turned in a respectable 60 mile day. That's bicycle touring in America.
Then, I got to Europe.
My plane set down at Heathrow at 10:00 AM and it took me an hour to reassemble my bike, load it up, and get on the road to my Warm Showers host's home a scant 15 miles away.
Piece of cake, I thought. An hour and a half, two at the most, and I'll be there.
Five hours later I was still wandering around the streets of London, more exhausted and frustrated than I'd been on that 96 mile day in Michigan. I had a map and a compass, and I stopped and asked directions more in those 5 hours than I had in the whole 10 weeks of riding in America. Still, I was lost. There were roads leading off in more directions than I knew existed on the face of the compass. If Sally's son hadn't spotted me and chased me down in his car, I'm sure I'd have never found the place.
My average speed that day might have been somewhere in the neighborhood of a slow shuffle. Someone in a walker would have been traveling faster.
In the USA, I started out in May and didn't make my first turn until sometime in June. In Europe, in countries such as France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, The Czech Republic, Austria and Italy, I was taking a new road every few feet it seemed, and as often as not it would be the wrong one.
That's the difference between bicycle touring in America and in Europe.