Postcard from 1980: Hal’s Cross-Country Ride

As we were preparing to launch our touring program, we got a note from a longtime customer about an old BH newsletter she found in her files. (Back in the ’80s we used to print our newsletters on actual newsprint.) The lede for November of 1980?

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If you weren’t in NYC for the midtown bike ban, you can read a little bit about it from Charles Komanoff here.

The front page article? Hal’s reflections on his cross-country tour. Thanks, Maggie Clarke for the mail!

How does one write a short article about an endeavor that took 35 days to complete? Oh well, here goes! Remember everything is better or worse than what you read here!

Marilyn and I set off with one idea — to make it from New York to San Diego. We had a vague idea of a route and an even vaguer idea of each other’s riding styles. But on the positive side, our machines were well tuned, we were in good shape, and we had determination. I found these three attributes to be the foundation of our very successful trip.

halcbgbBasically, we winged it through Pennsylvania looking for east-west roads that weren’t heavily travelled and we hoped for good pavement and gradual grades. We got neither, so gritting our teeth and standing on the pedals we climbed through the hills. In Pennsylvania you only need two gears — high and low. Pennsylvania is a test, if you make it through, the rest of the trip is easy. In addition to those hills, we encountered a day when it rained three inches. Im’ a terrible swimmer — we only made 80 miles that day.

Ohio, Indiana and Illinois all look the same. Small farms, a lot of corn, friendly people, and flat roads are the principle staples. Indiana has unfriendly mosquitoes, though, and I spend one day alternating pedaling with scratching mosquito bites. The weather through these states was sunny and hot, very refreshing after freezing and swimming through Pennsylvania.

As we crossed the Mississippi into Missouri, I felt my first great sense of accomplishment. Missouri is marked in my mind by pretty scenery, rolling hills, and inferior drivers. The respect we received previously was replaced by loud honking horns and close calls. The driver of one tractor trailer ran me off the road and onto a grassy shoulder. Ignoring the drivers, we enjoyed the splendid scenery of the Ozarks.

Somewhere Missouri subtly became Kansas. The terrain got flatter and cattle pastures replaced wheat fields. Kansas is windy and BORING — give me the Pepsi Marathon any day. With headwinds of 25 miles per hour. With headwinds of 25 miles per hour it took 13 hours to go 87 miles. Yes Virginia, it is easier to leave California than to go there.

Passing oil refineries mixed with beef cattle ranches, we made the transition to the Oklahoma and Texas panhandles. If you are ever in the vicinity of Tyrone, Oklahoma at 6:30am, check out the big oil refinery. It looks like an old Hollywood representation of a village on Mars. Texans were the most amazed by our trip. Typical comments included: “I cain’t ride from New York to Texas by car, how can you do it by bicycle?” and “C’mon, where’s the motor?”

Very suddenly, the plains of Texas ended and the mountains of New Mexico began. Ah! New Mexico, land of enchantment, Rocky Mountain high, thin air 7,000 feet above sea level, breathtaking scenery and snakes. I could have spent 35 days riding through this Garden of Eden. Every day was equally astonishing. One nasty Saturday an antelope challenged me to a race. It took off like a bat out of hell. I gave chase with my eighty-pound bike to catch the fleet-footed, eight hundred pound animal. Suddenly, it stopped faster than my cantilever brakes could and started to charge Marilyn. How do you deal with a sore loser antelope? Well, Marilyn showed her good sense and got out of the way. End of adventure.

New Mexico and Arizona are distinctly different. In Arizona the vegetation changes and the mountains are rounder. One day we climbed from 3100 feet to 4600 feet within 5 miles then dropped through a tunnel to 2800 feet over the next 5 miles. (I’m sure I broke the speed limit.) The mountains gave way to desert and the city of Phoenix. Believe me, better the desert than Phoenix. It is the ugliest city on earth. It is one big sprawl with no architecture and zillions of foul smelling automobiles. In the desert we rode from 6am to noon and camped wherever we were. People offered us cool water and cold Coors beers.

Soon we were in California and Death Valley. HOT but I loved it. We paid a short visit to the Republic of Mexico city of Mexicali. It looked a little too much like 14th Street, so we left. The desert valley came to an abrupt end. In 12 miles, we climbed from 45 feet below sea level to 4100 feet above. After the Sierras, I feel I can conquer anything. We drank mountain water and an elderly couple gave us food all day. The next day we saw and felt the Pacific.

Oh well! Now I’m back at the Habitat fixing other people’s flat tires. I know I’ll make the trip again someday and I hope you dream about cycling across the country, too. It is easier than you think and an experience you won’t forget. Nor will you really be able to tell anyone what it was all about.

— Hal Ruzal, from the November 1980 issue of Bicycle Habitat’s print newsletter

Photo caption reads: The day before Hal left on his cross-country tour he took on CBGB’s with his group, Terminal Illness. CBGB’s won.

 

 

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