The Roberts

July 26, 2017

I don’t come across too many touring cyclists doing significantly long trips, maybe once every couple of weeks. And the times that I stop and chat with them are maybe 1 in 2 because of the circumstances (e.g. they’re going the opposite direction and are across a busy highway). But every time that I have gotten the chance to talk another touring cyclist has been really nice. And on 2 occasions, I ended up joining up with a rider for several days.

Robert (from Germany)

When I was still riding with Clara in Ontario, Canada, we began to split up during the day and meet up at rendez-vous points. On one of those days, I started my morning off slow and relaxed. I chased a dead-end trail that took me to a lake where I sat and reveled in the natural beauty.

Lake in Ontario, CA

After filling my spirit with good vibes, I backtracked a mile on the trail and hit the road again. I was warmed up at this point and was cruising up and down hills. In the distance I saw another cyclist in front of me. He was towing a yellow trailer with a yellow flag sticking out of it. I, naturally, assumed he was a delivery boy (honestly, that idea somehow made sense to me at the time). I must admit that something that may have contributed to this assumption was that from behind he looked brown (skin tone), and well you know..

I took several pictures of delivery boy Robert’s wagon without his knowledge. His set up brought me many giggles throughout the day.

So I caught up to him on a climb and to my surprise he was a white dude and probably not a delivery boy. I nodded to him and kept riding. As I continued on, it began to sink in that maybe he was also on a crazy bicycle journey and not on a delivery run. I slowed down and waited for him to catch up: “Hey! Where you comin’ from?” He was coming from Halifax, Nova Scotia–the eastern coast of Canada–but he originally flew out from Germany a month prior. He was also headed out to the west coast! We chatted and rode together as we did. Next thing I knew, we had ridden together the entire day. He admitted to me that when I had run into him in the morning, he really wasn’t feeling like being on a bike (a feeling I can totally relate to at least once a day) and was feeling pretty miserable climbing up hills with headwinds. But once we had joined forces, the day just flew by and the physical challenges were overshadowed by good company. We had a great rhythm together and made quite the power team; when I would slow down he would keep me motivated to keep his pace and vice versa. At the end of the day, Clara, delivery boy Robert, and I wound down together and started up again the next day. We became a team and rode three days into Toronto together, where we parted ways.

Left to right: Robert’s bike, Robert, me, Clara

Meeting and traveling with Robert was a real turning-point in my journey. Robert had one day set out from Germany with the intention of traveling Australia for 4 months. When I met him, he was on year three of his travels and had lived throughout Australia, Asia, and now Canada. He hitch hiked throughout the first two continents and then decided he wanted to do something more challenging in Canada. Whenever Robert was low on money, he’d settle down for a bit and get a job, save up some money, and hit the road again. He had worked jobs in recreational outdoor sports, skii resorts, construction, and warehouse packaging, amongst others. He was a true nomad and had the purest travel spirit and ideology I had ever been lucky enough to partake in.

As I sat down with Robert and Clara for dinner our first night as a team, Clara vocalized the realization I was having. Clara said out loud, “I think Erick has just realized that this is his life. Meeting you has made him realize that, Robert.” She was totally on point. Robert’s attitude towards life and towards this bike trip put things into perspective for me: it’s not about going from Boston to L.A.; the bike is just a form of transportation but my life is wherever I happen to be. Many cyclists doing this sort of coast to coast trip are very focused on the riding aspect of it and covering distance and getting to the next place. And that’s totally fine–especially if you have a time limit. However, Robert’s carpe diem philosophy changed something in me and inspired me to fully embrace the nomadic lifestyle. Since then, I’ve started staying in places longer and am not hung up on getting back on my bike. I’ve met great people in Port Stanley, Chicago, Milwaukee, Madison, Minneapolis and have decided to slow down and stick around longer to really immerse myself in the serendipitous experiences that come about from spending time in a place.

Robert and I continue to keep in touch and think we might meet up somewhere on the west coast (he’s decided he’s riding all the way to Argentina since he has “[his] whole life to work”). Thank you for the inspiration, brother. Looking forward to a reunion and exchanging all our crazy stories, and maybe even crashing a wedding together.

When we parted I told Robert about how funny his set up looked and so I asked for his permission to take a picture of it (Location: park in Toronto)

Robert (from Milwaukee)

On my way from Madison, WI to St. Paul, MN, I stopped to use the restroom on a trail. While stopped, I struck up a conversation with a dude also on a bike with a pannier loaded on it. It turned out he was headed the same direction I was but was doing a shorter day than I; he was shooting for about 55 miles and I was shooting for about 120. We hopped back on the trail together and chatted while riding. He was a 30-year old social worker and father from Wisconsin who loved riding his bike. He was out for a weekend ride and his situation was the following: He had driven his car out from Milwaukee to the start of the trail we were on (about a 2-hour drive). His plan was to bike 55 miles that first day and grab a hotel in town for the night, then head out another 35 miles to LaCrosse, WI the following day and get a hotel there. His third day, he was going to chill out in LaCrosse and his girlfriend, who would be driving back from a conference in Minneapolis, would swing by for him in the afternoon and take him back to his car.

Here’s what ended up happening: That first day, Robert #2 and I ended up riding together all the way to LaCrosse, WI–about 90 miles. We had a great day of adventure and got in around 6 pm. There was still plenty of daylight left so I wanted to cover more distance but I got a flat getting into LaCrosse. My tire had a piece of glass stuck in it. I fixed it up with the good ol’ dollar bill trick (look it up, good to know) and was up and running again. However, this was only a very temporary fix and I didn’t want to put more miles on it than I had to. Robert offered me to crash with him at the hotel since he was getting a room anyway. All the bike shops in town were closed now and it didn’t make sense to get back on a gravel trail again with a bad tire so I took him up on his offer and bought him dinner and drinks. The next morning, I went to Smith’s bike shop down the street to see if I could get the tire patched. They didn’t do tire patching but the store owner, Erik, gave me a free tire!

Robert and I set out again. He had made it to his destination a day early so he didn’t really know where he was shooting for next. We decided to just stick together and see where we got. That day, we biked up the Mississippi River and got caught in the worst rainstorm I have ever been in. It poured with fury and winds that threatened to knock me off my bike. Not to mention, we were in the middle of climbing some big bluffs when the skies dumped on us. The shoulders were not fully useable since they became streams, little rivers. However, it had been a hot day and at this point I had gotten so used to the rain, so my reaction to the torrential rains? I started cracking up and screaming “WOOOOO!!!” at the top of my lungs. Yeah I’ve definitely reached a certain level of madness–I don’t know how I’ll go back to functioning in normal society. Robert probably thought I was insane but he was also really happy to have some water cool us down so we happily trekked on (or at least I was happy and having the time of my life!) After about an hour of climbing these bluffs in God’s fury piss, we reached the top of the bluffs and rain stopped. As the winds changed to tailwinds and the climbing became a beautiful downhill, we overlooked the Mississippi with a pink-orange backdrop. It was almost comical. It was as if we had just been crapped on and then got this as a reward for putting up with it. These are the moments I live for.

Drenched, we walked into a restaurant pub in the ghost town of Wabasha, MN. We were quite the sight. My plan this night was to get picked up by my cousin from Wabasha and driven to St. Paul. This would save me a day’s ride and I’d get to spend more time with my family in Minnesota. I plugged my phone in at the restaurant to check in with my cousin and let her know where I was only to find out that there were some car complications and the ride wasn’t happening. It was already pretty late at this point and there were going to be storms all night, so I split a room with Robert again at the AmericInn–the only night so far that I’ve payed for a place to stay. It was really nice having a warm bed to sleep in.

The next day Robert decided he was going to stop in Red Wing, MN and get picked up from a brewery there. He had originally intended to do 90 miles in two days and ended up joining me for 200+ miles over the course of those days. I was happy to have gotten to travel with him and he was glad he got to experience a snippet of the crazy long-distance touring life. I told him about Robert #1 because I found it (and still find it) fricken hilarious! I mean what are the odds? I’ve joined up with two cyclists on the road and they were both named Robert and shared similar life philosophies. They both agree that the other Robert sounds pretty cool. Robert #2 is also convinced that there will be a third.

– E