ST. FRANCISVILLE, La. I only now realize how few expectations I had when I began my two-month bicycle trip across the United States.
I knew I would be part of a group of women whose average age would be 60, that we would average 60 miles a day, and that I would spend a lot of time in Texas (20 nights, as it turned out). I thought I would make new friends and see the country from a new perspective, both of which I have.
I did not expect to lose complete track of time, but thats exactly what has happened. We have guides who tell us when to wake up, where to ride, where to find good coffee and when to eat. I assume every rest day is a Sunday.
Then, when we ride on weekends, I cannot imagine why school playgrounds are silent. I did not realize I would consider a 50-mile ride a recovery day, that Texas has a desert, or that when we crossed the Mississippi, it would look exactly like Mark Twain described it.
Perhaps more importantly, I did not expect so much kindness from the strangers my peers and I have encountered. After the owner of a hotel told me he emigrated from India, I asked him if he was a vegetarian (which I am), and if so, would he recommend any of the restaurants in the area. He shook his head and told me that he could not, but he would have his wife cook me dinner if I liked. When I declined his offer because I didnt want to impose, he then offered to drive me 30 miles to his favorite restaurant in the nearest city.
One day, a group of four women from the tour were riding the final stretch on a congested highway. Construction had narrowed the road so that there was no shoulder. They were stopped at a red light when a driver came up behind them and offered to put on his blinkers and escort them through safely. On a different occasion, a couple stopped by as we were waiting for our parking-lot dinner to begin, and asked whether anyone was riding for a charity. When they learned one woman was cycling for multiple sclerosis, they immediately donated $100.
More recently, the support driver parked near a convenience store and, after asking permission to be there, set up her rest stop. When the stores owner came by, he was so enthused by our adventure that he wanted to give us something anything to help us on our way. They settled on five gallons of water, which in almost 90-degree heat and high humidity was a blessing.
Other unexpected aspects have included the fact that folks grow cotton in New Mexico and pecans in Texas. I have learned to love pebble-sized chip-sealed roads compared to the boulder-sized chip-seal that slows bicycles down so much it feels like riding on Velcro.
I also have come to realize that each state in which we have ridden truly does have a distinct feel, one that usually matches its stereotype. For instance, we now are in Louisiana, and, indeed, it does have gigantic oak trees dripping with Spanish moss, obvious Southern charm and humidity so thick it might as well be a sweat lodge.
So there you have it. The few expectations I had have come true, but so has the serendipitous unfolding of the unexpected, which makes each day feel like Christmas. I never know what gifts may be revealed.