Thursday, January 11, 2007

Final thoughts…

Well, the adventure of the trip is over and I'm back to my normal daily routine. Lots of folks have asked me if I'd do it again. My answer has been yes, but differently. I sort of rushed across the country, trying to get the trip finished in as little time as possible and in so doing, somewhat compromised the objective. Raising awareness of something as rare as Friedreich's Ataxia requires time; time to make appointments with reporters and photographers who are all busy folks, time to stop and explain things, time to reach a wide enough audience to make a difference. I missed several such opportunities because by the time folks called me or could make time to see me, I was already 100 miles down the road or in another state. As far as being a personal challenge, the trip was very rewarding and its successful completion very gratifying, but that's just an ego thing and mine is already quite well-inflated. I just wish I'd taken a little more time to stop and spread the word about Ataxia, which was my primary reason for going in the first place. On the positive side, I did see a lot of this wonderful country that I hadn't seen before, found several places I'd like to return to and visit in a more leisurely fashion and made a lot of new friends and acquaintances. Relationships and experiences being the true riches of life, I definitely feel enriched and deeply appreciative of all the support and help I received from family, friends and strangers alike along the way.

I enjoy solo adventure and have hiked, skied, canoed and over-flown remote places alone many times. With the possible exception of solo instrument night flight, this trip was probably one of the riskiest things I've ever done. Safety lies in managing risk, but on a bike in traffic most of the risk factors are other drivers and they're beyond your control. Even after a few thousand miles, it's still unnerving to have 40-ton semi's or big ranch pickups towing wide trailers roaring past you with only a couple of feet or less to spare. Although the vast majority of drivers I encountered were courteous and gave me as wide a berth as possible, it only takes one to ruin your day. That said, I would still highly recommend bicycle travel as a fantastic way to see the country in much more detail than can be experienced from behind the wheel of a car. Just be aware of the dangers of sharing the road with much larger, faster vehicles and do everything you can to enhance your safety. Use the most lightly-traveled roads you can. These will be hillier, so use a true touring bike with a low granny gear for hill-climbing. Rural pavements are widely variable in smoothness and quality, so spend extra money for puncture-resistant tires and bullet-proof wheels with Phil Wood sealed-bearing hubs and at least 36 spokes, preferably 40. Have them hand-built and meticulously trued and tensioned by a touring expert like Dave Tullier in Baton Rouge or a shop that specializes in touring bikes. Go for maximum visibility in clothing, reflectors, flag whips, etc. If you choose to travel alone, which does give you maximum flexibility, carry whatever you need to sustain yourself in the worst conditions and circumstances you're likely to encounter. Yes, there are angels everywhere who will help people in trouble, but don't count on them. Always be mentally prepared for self-rescue in adverse circumstances. Have a plan B and duplicates of critical equipment. Schedule conservatively and allow time to stop and smell the roses, meet people, sample the local cuisine, take lots of pictures, rest and enjoy the beautiful places you'll find. It really is a great way to see the country.

I would encourage those of you who have enjoyed my blog to check out Kyle Bryant's (http://rideataxia.blogspot.com). Kyle actually suffers from Friedreich's Ataxia and is riding a recumbent trike from San Diego to the national Ataxia convention in Memphis starting January 28th to raise funds for Ataxia research. He's doing it right, with a more conservative riding schedule, advance publicity, giving folks the opportunity to ride along on segments and maximizing the awareness-raising aspect of his effort. My helmet's off to Kyle and his courageous endeavor. I wish him luck and success.

Downhills and tailwinds, everyone; it's been a blast!

Frank

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