Gary Pichon, at almost 70 years old, completed a bicycle ride across the country. This week he passes along his observations on the nation garnered from the sights and conversations with people along the route.
By Gary Pichon
Well I finally did the big ride, coast to coast on a bicycle just short of my 70th birthday. 3,000 miles is a distance you notice. I had a great time for 52 days. Got up, drank coffee, grabbed something to eat and then got on the bicycle and rode between 50 and 90 miles. Then drank a beer and ate supper. Back to bed, usually in a tent. And then got up and repeated. A very simple life.
This is not about riding but about what I learned about the country. We rode from San Diego along the southern border through California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida to St. Augustine. I have been that way in a car or RV before on major roads but never slow enough to absorb what you travel through on back roads. Bicycle speed is a slow speed even if you try and go fast.
The USA is really, really big. It is startlingly different in terrain and in the people. It is beautiful to the eye. The other good news is that almost all the people I met were nice. Really nice. I was passed by thousands of cars and trucks and out of all those only two came too close. A log truck driven by a jerk and an SUV driven by a lady who must have been late for her hair appointment. All the others were careful and considerate.
There were lots of homeless people around San Diego. It must be the nice weather.
San Diego, Yuma, Tucson, El Paso, and St Augustine and the larger towns we rode through were typically prosperous looking. Big box stores, nice houses, shopping, some factories and things like that said they are doing ok. Almost all the little towns we passed through are full of unoccupied buildings, factories long closed, abandoned homes and all the other signs that those places are now left behind. The people in them were grateful for those like me passing through who stopped and bought something even if it was just Gator ade. They liked to talk about their area and had time to do it.
Sometimes we stayed inside of school gyms, town buildings, and national guard armories. Many of the schools were shrinking in enrollment and one town was down to seven seniors. If political signs are any indication, we were in Trump country. If you talked to many of the people they seemed disgusted with the federal government in general.
Water supply in southwest was a constant theme. The small rivers out there are about used completely up. The once mighty Colorado river is now tiny. Most of the farm land is irrigated with electric pumps everywhere and it looks like it is at risk long term. Too many people for the supply.
The Mexican border leaks like a sieve with no screen in the bottom. I saw a zillion border patrol officers and we got a tour of one of their headquarters and talked to some of the foot patrol officers. They figure that they stop only about 30 percent of those coming across.
The drug trade is the root of violence. Deadly violence is the result of territory disputes and the people and the agents along the border are often caught up in it.
Most that come across are just looking for work in our cities but we don't know where or who they are. We need better border security. Some places that means a wall and in some place that means a fence, and in some places you don’t need anything because almost no one is stupid enough to try and get across such rough hard county.
According to the agents you can buy really good forgeries of any document you want.
The pine tree business in east Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida has a big supply. Lots of what was crop land in the southeast is pine forest now. We are not going to run out of trees any time soon.
We rode on Interstate highways, state, county and town roads. Most were in poor shape. The pavement was potholed, busted, tar snaked and rough. Bridges were old and weight limited. Most of our riding was on small county roads and some were not as good as a bad dirt road.
Florida had the very best roads by far. Arizona had the worst. Every county road had the new federally funded yellow reflectors scattered in the ditches as a monument to stupid federal bureaucrats.
Most of the people in our group of 24 riders were not from the rural sections of the county. They often commented on the low living standard that they saw. I was not surprised. I have seen the same pattern in my recent travels no matter what part of the country I am in. Rural America is generally hurting and the city and coastal people don’t even know about it.
I am glad I did this ride while I still can. I am hopeful about the county in general. The rural people are resilient and tough. They will make do.
If there is an next time for a bicycle tour like this I am going to use a mountain bike with wide smooth tires and good shocks on the front. The roads are probably going to get worse before they get better.