A week after we graduated from Thomas More High School in Milwaukee, my friends Mike Maierle, Mark Muldoon and I boarded an Amtrak train from Milwaukee to La Crosse. When the train arrived at the Mississippi River that hot summer afternoon, we unboxed the bicycles we had loaded upon departure, reassembled them, and started peddling for home.
The next five days were an adventure I'll never forget. In 1977, nobody wore lycra or a helmet. We wore cut off jeans and maybe a baseball cap now and then. Sunscreen had not been invented. We didn't have panniers. Instead, we rolled our clothes up in our sleeping bags and lashed them to our rear luggage carriers with bungee chords. We referred to ourselves as the "Grapes of Wrath Tour."
It was hot. It rained. There were thunderstorms. We got chilled in the long, dark tunnels of the Elroy-Sparta trail. We climbed monstrous hills and flew down the other side way too fast. We ate bologna sandwiches. We got lost. A lot.
Sometime on the first day I broke a spoke in my rear wheel and rode the rest of the way across the state with a wheel that was out of true. The thought of searching out a bike shop to get it fixed never occurred to us. We were eighteen years old.
I took other "bike hikes" as we called them, sometimes with Mike and Mark and sometimes alone, but increasingly over the years I became less of a bike adventurer and more of a bike commuter. There were years in my twenties when I didn't own a car and my bike was my primary means of transportation. By then I did have a set of panniers, but their primary purpose was to carry groceries.
So last week when I was offered the job to run the Wisconsin Bike Federation, the largest state bicycling organization in the nation, I leaped at the chance. It means I'll have to scale back the consulting, teaching and writing that I enjoy so much, but I still may be able to do some of that. I start the job on Monday, October 7.
What's exciting about the Wisconsin Bike Fed is its place in improving conditions for cycling and its unrelentingly positive approach. Biking is pure joy, pure freedom. It's not about being against anything. It's about giving people the freedom of transportation, a choice that comes with safe conditions.
In a world that has become so contentious and uncompromising, our approach will be to accentuate the positive and to find a way to make progress regardless of the obstacles. It will be like finding our way across the state with primitive gear and imperfect maps, but confident that we'll be alright and we'll get there when we do, intent on enjoying the pure bliss of the trip. Who could ask for a better job than that?
Have a good weekend.