May – August, 1982
Start: May 15, 1982 London, England
Finish: August 15, 1982, London, England
Distance: 4500 miles
This was my very first bike trip and it changed my life. I remember exactly how I got the idea to take a bike tour. My cousin Mike Kilpela and his father Jim took a cross-country trip Bikecentennial in 1976. But riding with a group for some reason didn’t hold much appeal for me. I think I suspected even then that with a group the trip became more complicated. You couldn’t just go off somewhere if you decided to change your mind. Plus, it was expensive.
It was Christmas 1981. I had moved to Texas six months earlier to attend the University of Texas in Austin, studying mechanical engineering. In order to make some money and get some experience I applied for and got a co-op job at Union Carbide in Texas City, a foul, smelly industrial town whose main employers were a chemical plant, a refinery, and the wastewater treatment plant. You can imagine the smell.
Anyway, before the job started I went home to Michigan to visit the folks for the holidays. While there I was browsing in a book store and happened into the sports section. I saw a book, “Adventure Cycling in Europe” by John Rakowski. It showed a lone, elderly man standing next to an impossibly-loaded touring bike:
Intrigued, I picked up the book and flipped through it. He described a several month tour of most of Europe, alone. It was fascinating. I remember being struck by a bolt of lightening: THIS is was I wanted to do! I bought the book and returning to Texas, began planning. Now, the purpose of a co-op job is to earn money for school, but I figured by summer, after working four months, I could have at least $3000 socked away. I was going to Europe.
I originally planned to see England, France and Germany, but I loved the UK so much I decided to stay. Plus, I met a girl cyclist and she wanted to go to Ireland, so that’s where I went too.
This is my very first night camping on my very first bike trip. Trying to save money, I bought a cheap tent for $26, a decision I regretted for the next three months. It was cramped, leaked water, and fell apart. Besides, I was sick as a dog that day. Here I am contemplating if I really did the right thing by embarking on this adventure. All I could think was: Good God, I have three months to go.
One of my first stops was Stonehenge, where I saw this group of school kids on a field trip. The uniforms struck me, as they still do today. How differently, I wonder, would we treat each other, or behave, if we had to all wear exactly the same clothing? Or went naked? Would it equalize us in some way?
I loved Wales. It was crisscrossed with tiny farm roads which were deserted except for the occasional sheep. But the old farmers didn’t give a hoot about the hills. If the road went up, it went up. I never encountered steeper hills than in Wales. Some gradients were as steep as 30%. It was incredible. Here’s a typical road. The hedges acted as fences to keep the livestock in place. But when a car came by it was a bit tricky.
Continuing north, I crossed into Scotland. I had luck with the weather. It was sunny and 80 deg. for about two straight weeks. Scotland was fun then. But when the rain came it took on a very nasty character. I took the train out.
Northern Scotland is very rugged. deep lochs and jutting hills. Even the ubiquitous sheep are scarce. The lochs have an incredible deep blue color.