After I broke my leg I told my Physical Therapist that my goal is to ride my bike across the country. He said… let’s just start with riding your bike a mile. This is the story of why I won’t settle for that (and why the cross country ride is still my goal!)
Saturday – March 12, 2022
I wrote this story up more for my children than anything else, but perhaps you will appreciate it too!
In 1987 I rode my bike across Europe. While that was “forever-and-a-day-ago”, my recollection is that we rode 2,400 miles across a 44 day-tour of Europe [it might have been 2,700 miles, but I can’t remember exactly… but it was definitely in that range — between 2,400 and 2,700!]. Most riding days were 100-mile days – which is not a hard thing to do if all you are doing is riding your bike. Our speeds probably ranged from 15 – 20 mph on most terrains (we were all athletic teenagers — and I used to race a bit in high school). At 15 MPH, 100 miles is accomplished in a mere 6.7 hours of riding — easy to do with the extended daylight hours in the summer. At 20 MPH, that’s just 5 hours of riding a day, which can easily be reached as an average with some good long downhill bursts.
There are so many cycling stories I could share, but I am just going to focus this piece today on my trip around Europe, as it is an example of what is possible (what I know I can do / have done) — and gives me a little hope for the future. [Separate stories include the fact that we moved from Marin to Portland in the summer of 2002 so that we could be 100% car-free (and be bike–centric as a family), and that I used to regularly ride my bike with three children in tow (one on an add-a-bike, and two in a Burley trailer!).]
My 1987 trip across Europe (Summer ’87)
The participants flew in from many different locations; the trip started in London and ended up in Amsterdam. I believe we started our journey in Mid-June (June 14th comes to mind – as the date I might have flown in), and wrapped up shortly after August 1st. The reason I remember August 1st as being near the end date is because when the group rode our bikes in to Amsterdam on July 30th, we learned that the person who coordinated the trip had neglected to remember there were 31 days in July — and we therefore had nowhere to stay booked for the night of July 31st… so a group of us slept at the Amsterdam airport [some slept in the terminals, and some slept in the bushes outside of the airport!].
Where we went
In the 44 days of the trip we probably did a total of 30 days of riding – with many days off in-between to explore each major city (London, Paris, Amsterdam, Salzburg, etc.). The countries visited were England, France, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, and The Netherlands (6 countries in total), and we only took a few (maybe three?) major train rides as connectors — most of the distance was covered by bike and again, most days were in the 80-100 mile range, with a few exceptions. I do recall specifically that the first leg of the trip was from London to Plymouth, England, which is where we caught the ferry to France — London to Plymouth is about 261 miles by bike (taking the scenic route, which we did):
Continue reading below the image.
The second leg of the trip was riding from Ile de Batz [I remember that there were so many bugs there, we joked that the name must translate as something like “beach covered in swarming bugs”!] to Paris — about 348 miles along the scenic route:
Continue reading below the image.
One noted exception to our 100-miles per day average was the day the picture above (at the top of the post) was taken. I believe that day was a “5-mile-day”… that was the day we rode up the Swiss Alps — from Grindelwald — and then eventually coasted down the other side of the mountain into Austria; that was (of course) the most difficult day of the trip. The photo above was taken near the summit…I believe this is the only photo I still have of this journey! [There are a few reasons for that — not the least of which being that all of my paper photos burned up in our devastating total-loss house-fire in 2002, when we first moved to Portland!
How much did this trip cost?
How did I earn the money?
I was 17 when I did this trip (17-1/2, to be precise — turning 18 the following November); I had just graduated high school, and used all of the money I had saved up from babysitting my way through high school [at $2.00 and $3.00 per hour! – more than 1,000 hours of work!] to pay for the cost of the trip, which I seem to recall was about $2,300.00.
In addition to the trip fee (which covered our tour guide from American Youth Hostels; as well as meals and lodging; and some small bits of spending money doled out periodically), I believe we also had to separately pay the cost of the flight there and back [and or course had to supply (bring or buy) all of our own gear for the trip — including a suitable bicycle, of course! — as well as money for any and all more expensive items that we might need or want to purchase.
I think my total savings from babysitting (across four years if high school) at that point was about $3,500, and that was my entire budget for the 44-day trip around Europe — including the trip fee; all my gear; flight; and spending money [including enough to deal with a huge crisis – like my bike getting crushed by a train in Germany… but that’s another whole chapter of this story!]
I packed super-light for the trip
I left on this trip shortly after high school graduation. Since all of our family friends knew I would be taking the trip, all of my graduation presents were bike-trip-focused (items I needed for the trip). Our good family friend, Bill Giarrusso paid for a tune-up/total overhaul of my racing bike — a Raleigh Competition 12, hand-built in England [which I learned 20 years later, from my future husband — the career-professional bike-geek —was actually WAY-TOO-BIG for me, and the likely cause of my still-screwed-up left knee!]. Bill’s wife (Suzanne) got me some super-light (red) rear panniers for my bike and an ultralight rack to attach them to. I also got a very small handlebar bag (just big enough for my wallet, passport, and a couple of candy bars) and a new pair (the only pair I ever owned actually) of lavender colored cycling shoes. I had a tiny triangular under-seat bag too (with a little bicycle repair kit including extra tubes for my unusual racing tires) two water bottle cages and two (likely toxic!) plastic water bottles, as well as cycling gloves of course! I was SET for gear!
I’ve always been good at packing light (I started back country camping with my parents when I was just a toddler) so I only brought what I could fit in those two side panniers and little handlebar bag. I only brought one pair of shoes with me (the cycling shoes – boy did they reek at the end of the trip! I threw them out at the airport before the flight home!) and pretty much everything else I brought (clothing wise) was made of brightly colored lycra/spandex (like the floral print cycling pants in the picture on top of the Swiss Alps!) For the trip I kept the top of my back rack empty – with bungie cords – so I could strap things I needed for the day there (lunch? a baguette? Something I found or bought as a souvenir which I would then ship home?) It was an excellent (and super lightweight) setup if I do say so myself. I think my bike WITH all of my gear weighed less than 28 lbs! [Before adding the gear and upgrading some of the components to lighter options the 1985 Raleigh Competition 12 was spec’d at 22 lbs.]
Digging around on the internet a bit I was able to find a picture of the racing bike that I rode around Europe (not my exact bike, but the same bike in the same color from the same year!) Continue reading below the image.
“How is it you were physical able to ride your bike more than 2,000 miles at just 17 years old?”
Starting from 6th grade – age 10/11 (possibly earlier) I rode my bike literally all.the.time. I almost never walked anywhere. I would ride my bike daily (sometimes many times a day!) from my home down to the “Fruit Center” in Hingham (or the beach nearby). I would also ride to visit my friend Paula who lived near Foster School (I lived up at Hingham Center) or down to World’s End to meet up with friends. I think I was easily riding 10 miles a day when I was little (usually with a small radio duct-taped to my handle bars, blasting out pre-recorded tapes of Dr. Demento shows or Casey Kasem’s America’s Top 40.) Here are a few maps I just pulled up showing my regular rides (just for fun!)
To the beach…
Normally 3.2 miles Round Trip
To the school (Paula’s House, Kathy’s House or Katie’s House)…
at least 4 miles round trip
To World’s End…
(4.4 miles round trip)
After my pre-teen years I started ramping up my cycling activity
In the early summer when I was 15 years old I attended Skidmore College (in Saratoga Springs) for a summer semester (I took classes in Shakespearean performance / mask work and creative writing.) That summer for the 4th of July I decided I wanted to go for a bike ride to see some good fireworks (and get away from the school for a day.) They didn’t have protocols in place or official rules for the kids at summer that year (1985) so there were no specific rules forbidding us from leaving campus and I didn’t think to ask permission!
On my own I rode my bike from Saratoga Springs to Albany to watch the fireworks (map below). There was a small section of road where I could not figure out where to ride (this was long before the era of cell phones and personalized navigation systems) so I decided to take my chances and ride on the freeway (just for an exit or two – until I could find the road on my map again). Just about that time a State Trooper happened by (lucky me!) and told me it was illegal to ride on the freeway! He put my bike in his trunk and took me to the next exit and told me where to go from there! [That could have gone very differently and I know I was so lucky!] Note: this was the first, but not the last time that an officer of the law removed me (& my bike) from a freeway of sorts… the second time was on the Autobahn in Germany in the summer of 1987!
When I got back to Skidmore College (I think it was probably around 1:00 in the morning), the dorm supervisors were talking to police to see if they should start a search for me (oops!) Stricter rules about students leaving campus were implemented after that (lol!)
This was my first big ride on my own…. at least 71 miles round trip (in one day!), with the second leg of the trip happening AFTER DARK (after the fireworks were over!) Continue reading below the map!
The next summer (1986) I went on a bike tour with “Uncle Larry”
My ramped up participation in cycling was also inspired by what I did during the following summer (the summer of my 16th year on the planet) – my visit to spend a couple of weeks with my Uncle Larry. With all of my babysitting experience, Larry invited me to come along on a cycling tour of the West Coast with my Aunt Rosie and my new baby cousin Hayley. It was a bit of a trade, I was there to help with baby Hayley (who was not yet one year old) and – in exchange – I got to go on this bike trip from Incline Village to Crater Lake in Oregon. 37 years later I still have the scars, but scars at that age (from riding down Mount Rose at top speed and having no idea what I was doing and putting on my brakes and flipping over the handle bars) were really a badge of honor (an indoctrination into the world of mountain biking as it were.) One of the highlights of that trip was riding our bikes down the mountain from Crater Lake. This was actually a bit terrifying as we were going so fast that we were passing most of the cars on the road too!
Uncle Larry was “Famous”
For some context you need to understand that my Uncle Larry (who was already a crusty old curmudgeon who at that point – again, 37 years ago – was not used to spending any time with children) is a bit of a cult figure in the cycling world. He is THE “Pig Pen” (no NOT the Grateful Dead Pig Pen, the other Pig Pen! The Cycling Pig Pen!) He started a cycling magazine (one of the first?) in the 1960s when he was a student at the University of California, Berkeley. All of the “Who’s Who” in the cycling world (over a certain age) knew (or knew of) my Uncle Larry and consider him a legend.
In fact when I went to a party for Peter Rich (Velosport, Berkeley) c. summer 2001 with my husband (Leonard Rubin – who is also a bit of a cult figure in the cycling world – but specifically the folding bike world) I chatted with several people (and introduced myself as Larry’s niece) and came to realiz that all of the bike legends who were also there at the party (Gary Fisher, Joe Breeze, Tom Ritchey, Charlie Kelly, Charlie Cunningham, Peter Rich and others) were CERTAIN that my Uncle was dead. [He wasn’t dead, he had just dropped out of the California cycling scene and moved to the middle of nowhere in Washington State to raise a family!] I used the opportunity to call him up on my cell phone and then for the next hour or so my phone was passed from person to person at the party, each one more shocked than the next that Larry “Pig Pen” Glickfeld was actually alive (and everyone was also super excited to talk to him!)
So my “Uncle Larry” is another one of the reasons I started riding a lot (I idolized him when I was a teenager) and later started racing… (something I was never very good at but something I did a really good job of sucking at! It turned out that I was a better endurance rider given my body shape/type than I ever was a speed rider.)
My first racing style bike / touring bike from when I was 12 years old. Photo dug up from a random listing on the internet but my bike looked just like this one! Continue reading below the image.
Since I was about 10 or 12 my life always had two areas of focus: Cycling (racing, touring, and generally just using a bike for transportation instead of a car) and Performance (costume design, experimental theater/ clown work, etc!)
I threw myself into the cycling world pretty hardcore from the time I was about 15 years old (really much earlier than that too as you can see from the stories above).
- When I was about 12 years old (summer 1982) my dad bought me a golden Huffy Aerowind with turned down (racing style) handle bars – which I hated! [Exactly like the bike pictured above!] I had begged him for something with straight handles (like mountain bikes have today) and he got me this instead. Plus this weighed a ton!
- After that (for about a year, when I was 14/15) I was riding a P.O.S. 10-speed black Peugeot touring bike that must have weighed 30 pounds! [The Peugeot was the bike I rode in most of my early races and was a hand-me-down gift from a friend of my mother’s once I outgrew my Huffy.]
- The big turning point was when my mom brought the racing bike (the hand built 1985 English Raleigh) home with her from one of her trips to England (as a very special – and very expensive for our family at the time – gift for me.)
OMGOSH- I just found the ad for my huffy on YouTube! You can watch it here!
More than just racing…
With the experience of my summer adventures of 1985 and 1986 under my belt (which included proving myself on some pretty long endurance rides) I also started participating (more and more) in local races and also in long (25 to 35+ mile) “fun rides” and fundraising rides (like the Boston Grape Nuts Ride and other local corporate-sponsored charity rides.) That’s when I first met Greg LeMond too – I rode up to the front of the pack in one of those rides so I was riding along side Greg and I said “Hi! Do you know Pig Pen? Larry Glickfeld?” and he said “Yes!” and I said “He’s my uncle!” and we had a little chat about Larry while we were riding! [So.Much.Fun!]
And then there was the summer of 1987!
So by the time I was 17-1/2 the trip around Europe was a doable thing that I was really excited about and also proud of myself for having earned all of the money to pay for it on my own. I LOVED the riding and the travel – but I did not get along with most of the other kids on the trip. They were mostly older than me (18 or 19 years old) and for almost all of them, their parents had paid for their participation in the trip – so we had very different backgrounds and life experiences even at such a young age. I subsequently lost touch with them all (and cannot even remember any of their last names but here’s what I do remember):
- The twins in the picture above are from Canada. I think one of them was named Karl. They had dual citizenship at the beginning of the trip. They were 18 years old (I think they may have turned 18 on the trip actually!) They got really drunk at Mont-Saint-Michel and lost their backpacks that night. As a result of losing their I.D.s they unexpectedly needed to get new passports during the trip (which – again, if I remember correctly) was a catastrophe for them because it meant they needed to declare their citizenships as adults (and lose their dual citizenship) something I don’t think they were planning on doing at that time (as it impacted their college situation.) These boys brought a BOOM BOX (a giant 1987 boom box) with them on the trip and strapped it to the back rack of their bikes during the trip BLASTING Beastie Boys music (specifically Licensed to Ill) throughout the European countryside (what fun!)
- I think the guy in the first row (top, in the red jacket) was named Dan. I’m not 100% sure. He was the nicest guy of the guys (he never even made a pass at me, when all of the other guys were sexually inappropriate in one way or another!)
- Claire was the American Youth Hostel trip leader. I think she was 24 years old at the time. [She may or may not have been the one responsible for forgetting that July had 31 days!)
- The guy with the headband and glasses down in front was maybe named Ian? Although I am not sure. What I remember most about him was that when he rode down the Swiss Alps into Austria that day he was trying to be super macho and didn’t stop AT ALL to cool his wheels (we were going so fast down the mountain we had to periodically stop and cool our wheels with water squirted from our water bottles.) As a result of his barreling down the mountain (to stay at top speed) he hit a rock (about halfway down the mountain?) and his bike went up in the air and his rim (on his front wheel) literally “taco’d” (it folded in half like a taco and may have even flown off of the bike) and then he slammed back down with no wheel between his spokes. Ouch! He had to “walk” the rest of the way!
- The guy with the jean jacket (in the front, kneeling down) may have been named Jordan (?). He was super creepy and inappropriate with me (if he did today what he did to me back then, he would have been kicked off the trip immediately.) I refused to have sex with him / pushed back against his very aggressive advances – which was very early on in the trip (in London). As a result he was an asshole to me for the rest of the trip and did his best to turn the other guys against me. My main memory of him was that we all went to Westminster Abbey for a tour and while we were in the church he came up behind me and pressed his big hard xxxx against me – uninvited! (Gross! In a CHURCH no less!)
- There was another girl (not pictured) named Nicole. She brought a plug-in hair dryer with her on the trip (To her credit however, she ditched this pretty early on though – wanting to lighten her bike!)
- There was another boy (not pictured) named Tim. I think Tim had family in Belgium and joined us a bit later than everyone else – coming straight from Belgium.
As a result of what was really a clash of personalities from signing up to do a bike tour with a bunch of strangers (who all seemed to come from wealthy families), I spent most of the trip riding on my own (and meeting people who were not part of the trip! … this included meeting a Malaysian prince who later proposed to me!) I have so many stories I could share (I will eventually share) from that adventure! I actually do have my journal from that time (it was not fully destroyed by our house fire in 2002, but is moldy, singed and the ink ran quite a bit). I think I am going to take some time to try to go through it and transfer some of those journal entries to this website (just for fun, for my kids more than anything).
And this is why my goal of “riding cross country” is not just a pipe dream!
So fast forward to today and I have started sharing pictures of myself on Instagram each time I go on a bike ride. After I broke my leg (January 2021) I was told I may never walk again. In my first day of physical therapy with Scott (my amazing PT), he asked me what my goal was and I said (without hesitation) that my goal is to ride my bike across the United States (this has been one of my life goals since I came home from this trip across Europe in August of 1987). Scott (and my husband who was there with me at PT) chuckled a bit when I said I wanted to ride my bike cross country (at that point I was still in a wheel chair and had not yet taken my first step) and suggested I ratchet down my expectations a bit… “Let’s start with riding one mile, okay?” – and I reluctantly said “o.k.”
My original dream was actually to ride cross country with all of my children and I was just waiting for all of the kids to be old enough to handle it. Had I not broken my leg, I might have even undertaken this adventure last summer (2021) but it was not to be. My final surgery to repair my leg was on August 6, 2021 and it took me months to recover from that as well (with my surgical scar not fully healing until December 2021) – so this summer is also off the table – as I am still learning to walk and getting slowly back up to speed with riding.
Even though I am now 52 years old, the idea that a broken leg could keep me from this dream really pissed me off. So – in the spirit of public accountability (as a tool to help me reach my dreams) I have decided to post publicly each time I ride, with the distance of the ride so that I can demonstrate and track my progress. Yesterday I rode about 1.5 miles (scroll down for yesterday’s picture.) Today (Saturday) my goal is to ride 4+ miles. This is something I am doing while I am also learning to walk again. This is part of my physical therapy (and part of my spiritual therapy to fully recover from this accident.)
When I am finally at a point where I can ride 100 miles (+?) in a day (maybe a couple of days in a row?) Then I will be ready to plan that cross country trip! It will be the #LeadSafeMama Cross-Country-Bike-Tour! [Maybe summer 2023? Who knows!] I’d love to visit you all along the way, so stay tuned! I will definitely announce the trip and write about it when it is happening.
Yesterday: March 11, 2022 – Friday (1.5 miles!):