Thursday, December 1, 2016

Touring in the South: It's something, alright.

In early October, I wrapped up a few weeks of touring in the South.  If you've read this blog from the start, you know that the tour ultimately ended at the Red Carpet Inn of Culpeper, VA, which Google Maps says is 245 bicycle miles (three riding days) away from my home in Philadelphia.   You also already know that I started the ride in Jackson, MS, home of the Mississippi State Capitol Building (the #3 tourist attraction).  What you may not have known was that the tour actually started in late July from my back porch.  The tour was supposed to be two 1,300 miles tours (Philly > Jackson > Philly) with a month off between each leg.  It did not turn out quite as I'd hoped, but then not everything can be sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows.

You're probably asking why anyone would plan a summertime bicycle tour through the South.  Two reasons:

  • I had important business to attend to in Jackson, MS in mid-August.
  • I can be a not-smart person sometimes.
The important business wasn't exactly business, but it was important.  A friend of a friend, who is now a standard issue friend, needed someone reliable to drive his truck and trailer from Jackson out to Burning Man.  As he worked at the airport out there (NV88), I'd have to pick him up in Reno a week before the event actually started, and if I wanted, I could work at the airport too.  It sounded like fun, so I said yes.  Then I thought, "You know what would make this more fun?  Riding my bike to Mississippi!  In the summer!"  That should explain the second bullet point.

When the opportunity arose to go on a bicycle tour, I didn't think twice.  There are few places better to be than on the road, and I hadn't been on a tour since an 800 mile Chugiak to Fairbanks loop in 2014.  That was feeling like a lifetime ago, so I was itching to get riding.  On top of that, I'd spent very little time in the South, other than in Columbia, SC, and this would give me an opportunity to see how another portion of the country operates.  Had I thought twice, I may have considered why I had never before been interested in visiting the South.  I also may have considered why my summer time tours have never ventured a latitude below Maryland.

As I told people about my summer plans, other people did that second thought thinking for me.  Luckily I was already committed to my plan, so there would be no turning back.  Those other people asked me if I knew how hot it was in the South in the summer, to which I responded by assuring them that I did, or I at least had some theories about it.  I also reminded them that having ridden through the Nevada desert in the middle of the summer, I was pretty sure I could tackle anything thrown my way, thank you very much.  A few people also told me that riding in the South may not be the best idea for a citified yankee boy like myself.  I wasn't sure if they were right or wrong about that.  Part of me wanted to hope that the average Northerner's stereotypical notions of Southerners were incorrect, and that I'd be accepted with open arms.  And another part of me remembered that it was earlier this year that there was an uproar about removing Confederate/Dixie/Stars N' Bars Flags from government buildings.  You know, the flag Northerners associate with the Civil War, hate, and racism?  Not that I expecting to be on the receiving end of race-based hate rhetoric or activity (as a white guy), but I was ever so slightly concerned about having to interact with the type of people that would be willing to defend that flag.  I didn't know any people like that personally, so they were mostly caricatures in my mind.

Anyway, I took all of their worries and recommendations into consideration and then decided  to do the ride as I'd originally planned.  Of all the people I spoke with, not one had ever taken a bicycle tour in the South, so for all of their worries and my lack there of, I figured I needed to try it for myself so that if anyone in the future ever asked my opinion on riding a bicycle in the summer in the South I could give a firm, educated response based on experience, not theory.  That said, I learned a whole lot this past summer, and I'll share that whole lot with you so you don't have to learn it yourself.  I'm going to break all of those lessons (good and bad) into different posts, but as far as summary level lessons go, the main thing I learned was that one should never ride a bicycle in the South in the summer.  I suffered to free you from a similar fate!

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