I’m not always one for making a big deal about anniversaries. Half the time I even forget about them. But with summer now in effect, it made me realize that my big Cross-Continent Tour was three years ago. How time flies. Some days it feels like I just got off that tour, on others it feels like a lifetime ago.
Three years is enough time to finally process the experience of the tour, enough perspective and distance. And overall, it was a great experience. Compare this to October 2011, when April and I returned home to an uncertain future, tired after four-plus months on the road, and a feeling like I somehow failed with the tour. The failure feeling was mostly because we didn’t get as far as we wanted, ending in Chicago rather than somewhere on the East Coast. In reality, my planned route was a lot more ambitious than we could do in even five months, and that’s a long time. Now I can look back and realize that.
There were a lot of highlights of the tour. North Cascades Highway through Washington, the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes in the Idaho Panhandle. Wallace, Idaho. Missoula. Glacier National Park (and Waterton, too.) The Canadian Rockies and Icefields Parkway.
But over time, what seems to grow stronger is the more subtle parts of the journey, namely the Canadian Prairies. When I’ve talked to April, she mentions how strong they loom in her memory of the trip, as we spent quite a long time there. Though not as long as it felt: we left Jasper, the end of the Rockies, around July 26, and we got to the US border in Minnesota on August 29, 2011, so just a hair over a month, about 1/4 of the trip overall. Maybe it’s because the Prairies were more “monolithic”, with subtle features that didn’t change much over the course of that month. It was lots of wheat fields, canola fields, small towns with an occasional big city, and pretty damn flat overall. To many, this is boring. And I do admit getting a little bored towards the end, really looking forward to Minnesota because it would have more varied scenery.* But that big lazy landscape has grown on me over the past three years and I often think about that rolling landscape of farms and aspens.
And now, three years into “back in Portland”, I’m getting anxious and antsy. I’m missing the thrill of being on the open road, the pure adventure of cyclotouring. And while I did numerous tours before and after, the Cross-Continent Tour was the longest, so it usually comes back into my mind when I think of touring.
Would I do this tour again? Probably not. I would love to do parts of it, like the whole Rocky Mountains part. And I wouldn’t mind getting back to some of the cities of the prairies to visit people. But I feel for now, two months is about as long as I want to do at a time. In fact, the two month mark on the big tour, when we got into Edmonton at the end of July, was probably “enough” and the forward momentum slowed after this point. (If we had a shorter routing and a more certain end-point, I don’t think this would be the case, but we had a nebulous, uncertain end to that tour.) Of course, now time is at a premium and I can’t get more than a week or so to tour. I’ve managed to do some decent one week tours in the past three years. But I know that I want something more, and I want it soon.
Do I want to finish this tour? Yeah, at some point. The “not ending where I wanted to” part really stuck in my craw for a long time. I think I’m finally over that, and can enjoy what it was. But I would still like to do the east half at some point, whether it be a couple months from around Minneapolis to the East Coat, or maybe doing a section in the Midwest and then stuff in New England, Quebec, and Atlantic Canada. The urgency to “finish” fades with each passing year, though, especially since I wouldn’t be completing it with April.** And the urge to do riding in places like the Rockies grows. But I know I do want to go out there. It’s just a matter of finding the time. Even if I did get a couple months off a year to pull off big tours, it’s going to take time to do all the tours I want to.
As for now, I can look back wistfully on the Cross-Continent Tour and finally look at it with fondness, albeit a bittersweet fondness.
Oh yeah, the photo above is from the end of the tour, when we were in Chicago around October 1st. It’s our reflection from the Cloud Gate (aka “The Bean”) sculpture in Millenium Park. I just unearthed this photo from the archives. For some reason I never uploaded it before.
*And I was tiring of the crappy roads in Manitoba. If it were now, I would have opted for a more adventurous routing using the many gravel roads in that province vs the paved but shoulderless main highways. But April hates gravel, then and now.
**Even if we were still together, it would be hard with her job.
Wow, three years ago already since we met on that dark, late night?
I hear you about not enough time to get out exploring. To complete all the bike tours and paddling trips I’d like to do, I’d have to retire now. 😦 Right now paddling trips are taking priority, but I hope to get to overnight bicycle tours someday.
Funny you mention how the prairies loom in your mind. I grew up on the prairies and have a similar sense, though its hard to explain. Almost a kind of haunting memory.
I’m looking forward to Bill’s thoughts about touring the prairies: