With their backs against curve-shaped seats, legs outstretched, feet forward pushing the pedals, Mike Raynolds and Jill Schroder climbed the long, steep highway toward Summit, completing another leg of their 1,000-mile bicycle trip from Canada to North Carolina.
Averaging about 40 miles a day, the couple figured they’d arrive at their destination in Asheville, N.C., around mid-October, which they did. They left Montreal on Sept. 3.
It’s not their first long-distance journey on their 24-speed recumbent bikes, also known as “bents.” Their longest trip so far was from their home in Vancouver, British Columbia, to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, also about 1,000 miles.
Their Asheville trip was Schroder’s present from her husband. She turned 70 in May and wanted the trip for her birthday. They planned to visit Raynolds’ son Nicholas, an artist, and his family before flying back home to Vancouver in late October.
Raynolds, 72, said he has had several careers, including school teacher, public accountant, counselor and mediator. Schroder has been a systems analyst, statistician with several national and international private and governmental organizations, mediator and conflict resolution trainer and writer. Cycling is one of their favorite pastimes.
Their trip began with a flight from Vancouver to Montreal, their disassembled bikes boxed and on board. They stayed in a hotel when they arrived. After assembling the bikes the next day, they headed south through the province of Quebec, following scenic secondary routes and crossing the border into New York and down through the Adirondack Mountains, traveling Route 10 through Schoharie County with plans to continue on through Delaware County, heading toward Pennsylvania.
“We camped once in the Adirondacks, and usually we camp half the time and the other half stay in cheap motels, but we decided looking at the map ahead that we just weren’t going to have the opportunity to camp on the way to Asheville since campgrounds would be closed for the season, so we mailed all our camping gear back home from the Richmondville post office,” said Raynolds, stopping for an interview and snack break on their hill climb toward Summit in Schoharie County.
“With the many hills ahead, though the Catskill Mountains and Appalachian Mountains down to Asheville, we decided we better lighten our load to do those hills,” he said.
Only their clothes, rain gear and food filled the bags mounted on their bikes. Schroder had an iPhone, and they used maps to follow their planned-out route.
“We eat well — healthy snacks, fresh fruits and vegetables and cheese — and willingly carry the weight to have healthy foods,” said Schroder.
Recumbent bikes are a “great way to go touring,” she said. “Comfort is the main feature. After a full day of riding, you’re only pleasantly tired, not thrashed and sore. They also carry a load way better than upright bikes, which is another plus for distance riders.”
Raynolds has a rear-view mirror attached to his helmet to spot approaching vehicles; Schroder’s mirror is mounted on her handlebars. They also have flashers on their bikes. Raynolds’ bike has an attached orange flag. They wear bright jackets.
“We try to be as visible as possible and cycle defensively,” said Schroder. “I also stick my hand out to wave as cars go by and hope that helps them see me.”
She said they took a cycling course: “The instructor said that the space that you leave between the outside of the road and where you are riding is the space cars tend to leave between you and them. And I take that to heart.”
They don’t cycle in the dark, and they stop when they’ve “reached a place to stay and have done enough for the day, usually between 4:30 and 7 p.m.”
Despite some “glitches along the way” — a flat tire, a broken chain, a severe rainstorm in the Adirondacks — their trip was filled with scenic landscapes, stops at museums, such as the Adirondack Museum in Blue Mountain Lake and the Arkell Museum in Canajoharie, and the joy of seeing new places and meeting interesting people.
“One of the wonderful things is the people we meet,” said Schroder. “We’ve had a lot of bike glitches, yet we’ve had wonderful help at bike shops and people stopping and asking if we need some help. We get friendly honks and thumbs up. Happily, we both kept our spirits up and carried on.”
In a recent email, sent during their overnight stay in a motel in Mount Pocono, Pa., Schroder said there are many similarities between their bike trip and their journey through life.
“When things are tough [a big hill, no place to stay, bike trouble, you’re really tired], the difficulty looms so large and takes over our consciousness and seems like it’s the total reality and will last forever. But in fact it doesn’t. You do reach the top [or turn around and go another way], you meet some nice person who offers help and you get some rest.”
In one of the essays in her book, “Becoming: Journeying Toward Authenticity,” Schroder expressed similar thoughts about the relationship between a bike journey and obstacles people encounter in life and how they deal with them.
She wrote: “On a bike or road trip, for example, there are flat tires, poor signage, lousy shoulders, or pot-holed roads in jagged disrepair … during such moments, the hard times take over; they inundate our minds and hearts and become all we are capable of experiencing or remembering. Enduring and surviving such times have led me to muse on the similarities between such a journey and life itself.”