Saturday, August 29, 2009

Sunshine superman

It seems as if it's been raining for about two weeks straight. Don't know what that means for next month. Probably nothing. It does seem as if it's going to be cooler than normal, which is fine.

I've picked the date for the beginning of the walk--September 8, the day after Labor Day. I'm going to do 10 miles a day for the first few days, and see how that feels. The first week will be four days, Tuesday through Friday, if it doesn't rain too much. Saturday the 12th is the Michigan-Notre Dame game in Ann Arbor, for which my friend Art is flying out from Connecticut. The next week will probably be four days, as well. After that I hope to be walking five or six days a week, and steadily working up to 20 miles a day. That's the only way this thing is going to be accomplished before the weather gets really hot down in the desert southwest.

The weather is the main reason I've decided to leave here in the fall and head almost straight south. I've looked up the average daytime temperatures in the cities where I'm headed during the months I anticipate being in them. The idea is to do most of the walking in temperatures between 50 and 80 degrees.

One of the seasonal things to contend with is the diminishing amount of daylight as fall wears on. Although the fluctuations in the time between sunrise and sunset aren't as great as you go south, by November and December I'll be down to about 10 hours of light per day. This is going to create a bit of a time crunch if I'm going to finish walking by sunset (which seems like a good idea). What I've found over the years is that I can walk comfortably at a pretty predictable average of three miles per hour. I'm 5'7", and that's just a function of the length of my legs. Assuming I'll stop to eat and to dawdle here and there, and maybe visit sites along the way, I'll have to give myself 8 hours a day for walking. Then there's the bicycle trip at the beginning of the day, which will take as much as two hours. That pretty much uses up the 10 hours of daylight.

Winter's approach will also mean I'll have to get up and get started early. I've checked sunrise and sunset times in places like Memphis, Jackson, and New Orleans during November and December, and I'll basically have from 7:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. central time within which to operate. This is going to be a major imposition on my circadian rhythm, since I don't like to get up early (by early I mean before noon). But, sacrifices have to be made. Those of you who are normally up and jogging before sunrise and then watching those disgustingly cheery morning TV shows are no doubt having difficulty understanding what the big deal is. Well, just so you know, I have as much trouble understanding you as you do me. Unless you're an insomniac (which I am not) you probably don't stay up until 2 or 3 a.m. like I do. Wimps.

Something I'm trying to do on the blog is to have a map each day with a highlighted line showing the progress of the journey. I'm still trying to figure that out. I tried importing a Mapquest map with a highlighted line on it, but what I got on the blog was words, and the instruction to click to open it up. What I'd like to have is the graphic of the map right in with each day's words. Since I'm not too adept at this electronic stuff, if anyone out there in the blogosphere has any ideas, I'd welcome them.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The moped diaries, part 2

Last fall, when I began to seriously formulate the plan for the walk, gasoline prices were in the midst of a precipitous drop, bottoming out at below $1.50 a gallon, so I wasn't thinking too much about saving money on fuel. But as the time got shorter I started to think in terms of how much the whole trip was going to cost, and just about then the price of gas started to go up again. I've never been much of an optimist, so I figured maybe it would be up around $3.50 or $4.00 a gallon by the time the walk started. With that in mind, I started doing some rough calculations, and was kind of shocked when I realized how much gas the motor home would suck down.

In the idea's infancy, the trip was going to involve a small van-sized motor home, just big enough to stretch out in, along with the fuel-sipping moped. Then my wife and I bought the 29-foot job we have now, mostly because the price was right. I'm glad my original vision didn't pan out, because the motor home I have now is great--all the comforts of home, including a queen-sized bed, kitchen, bathroom, shower, eating area, and tons of storage space. (Sounds like I'm trying to sell the thing, doesn't it? Well, make me an offer. When this is over I'll probably never want to see it again.) Living in it after a long day of walking won't seem too much like roughing it, especially with the TV, computer, and sound system. But it is a gas hog.

So I started thinking about taking my car along, to cut down on the miles I otherwise would have to put on the motor home. (As I mentioned, under my master plan, for every mile I walked, other vehicles would have to traverse the same distance four times, so 100 miles of walking would require 400 miles of driving/mopedding/biking.) I then decided to obtain a towing dolly, figuring that I'd save enough in gas during the course of the trip to pay for the dolly several times. But to make the car work as a substitute for the motor home, I would also need to use the moped or something like it.

Well, the moped is history. But I still have my trusty bicycle, a venerable but sturdy and lightweight Panasonic 10-speed, which my son-in-law Mario bought for five bucks at a garage sale. (Who even knew Panasonic made bicycles?) At first I didn't really want to pedal from the motor home to the beginning of my walks, because that would be the first thing I did in the morning, and I'd get to the beginning of the walk already having taken a fairly long bike ride. But now that there's no moped, I'm starting to warm to the idea, and have started taking 20 mile rides, to get used to doing that distance in an hour and a half to two hours without being exhausted. (I don't walk fast, and I don't bike fast.)

Here's how the cost savings of using the bike in conjunction with the car and the motor home would work. Right now at the gas station down the street from me the price is $2.51 a gallon. But as I said, I'm not an optimist. So let's suppose the price this fall averages $2.75.

If I use only the car and the motor home, for every 20 miles I walk, I will have to drive the car 20 miles (taking me back every day from the motor home, at the end point of the walk, to the beginning point of the walk). In addition, I'll have to drive the motor home 60 miles (20 miles back at the end of the walk to get the car, 20 miles forward to the end point of the walk, and 20 miles beyond that to the end point of the next walk). So if I walk 100 miles in a week, I'll drive the car 100 miles (at 30-35 mpg) and use 3 gallons of gas, and drive the motor home 300 miles (at 7.5 mpg) and use 40 gallons. That's a total of 43 gallons of gas for every 100 miles walked, which will cost about $118.

On the other hand, if I use the bicycle, the car, and the motor home, for every 20 miles I walk, I will have to ride the bike 20 miles (taking me back every day from the motor home to the beginning point of the walk), the car 40 miles (20 miles back at the end of the walk to get the bike, and 20 miles forward to the end point of the walk), and the motor home 20 miles to the end point of the next walk. For every 100 miles of walking, I'll drive the car 200 miles and use 6 gallons of gas, and drive the motor home 100 miles and use about 13 gallons, for a total of 19 gallons, which will cost about $52.

Using the bike, then, would save $66 for every 100 miles walked. Projected over the entire walk, that's a savings of probably $2000, and even more if the price of gas spikes again. Not an inconsiderable sum, especially in light of all the other anticipated costs. Such as what, you ask? Well, there's food, laundry, and gas to run the motor home's generator while I'm parked (a few hours each night, at one-half to one gallon per hour), and propane for the motor home's furnace, refrigerator, and hot water heater, and the cost of the occasional stay in a campground to fill up on water and dump the tanks, and other things I haven't thought of yet. Not to mention irregular costs like repairs to all this mobile infrastructure.

Okay, your eyes are glazed over from all those numbers. I know mine are. And you're thinking, "If you really want to save money and gas, why don't you just stay home?" Good point. And it might well be that the first (or second or third) time I find myself riding my bicycle 20 miles uphill into a headwind, with my prostate begging for mercy, just so I can get to the place where I will begin a long day's walk, I'll start thinking that $66 a week is a small price to pay for a little extra speed and comfort.

But for now, I'm looking forward to using the bicycle.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The moped diaries, part 1

The moped is out.

I've been working up to it for some time, but today I made the decision not to use it. Some of you who read the last entry probably were wondering, "What does he need the moped for, anyway? He's got a motor home and a car. He can just drive the car back to the starting point, walk to the motor home and go back and pick up the car." Well, you're absolutely right about that, but let me back up and tell you how the idea started.

When I first began to conceive this plan to walk, I was thinking in terms of just a motor home and a moped. With just a motor home, I definitely would need some way to get back to the point where I would start walking each day. I thought of a moped because the idea of a motorized bike stuck in my mind. Something basically like a bicycle, but with some power for getting up hills and to save energy (mine, that is). I was thinking of a classic moped, like they used to have. Today, it turns out, the term "moped" applies to all kinds of what we used to call motor scooters--little Vespa-type deals that don't have pedals at all. That kind of vehicle didn't appeal to me much, and after some research I found out that the different states I would be travelling through had a variety of laws about small scooters. Depending on the size of the engine, in some places you needed insurance, and in some you didn't; in some places you needed to have them registered and plated, and in some you didn't; and in most places you needed a motorcycle endorsement on your license if the scooter was above 50 cc. It seemed like too much to worry about, and besides, I didn't want to spend the money, buy a helmet, and also figure out where I was going to keep the thing, or how to attach it to the motor home.

Then while searching on line I came across a place in Connecticut that sold kits with 2 cycle motors for mounting on bicycles, to convert them into mopeds, and they were only a couple hundred dollars. (I had already explored the electric bike conversion options, and they had two drawbacks, similar to the drawbacks of the all-electric cars: too expensive, and not enough range between charges. One really nice one out of Wisconsin was an electric motorized front wheel that could easily attach to almost any bike, powered by four power-tool type batteries. But it cost about $1000 and could only go about 20 miles at a little over 20 mph before the batteries needed to be recharged. Didn't seem practical, under the circumstances.) Anyway, I ordered the gas motor conversion kit, which promised around 125 mpg.

When it arrived, I quickly saw that I would need some help, since I am not much of a mechanic. So I enlisted my son Bill's assistance, and we managed, after some trial and error, to get it to fit on an old 27-inch 12-speed bike of his. Bill got everything hooked up the right way, and I made some modifications to the engine mounts to make them sturdier and replaced the curved racing handlebars with a set of straight handle bars, so I could reach the throttle and clutch more easily, and not have to reach way down like Lance Armstrong climbing the Alps whenever I wanted to give it some gas. Well, the moped worked, pretty much as it was supposed to. But inherent in the little putt-putt one-cylinder motor was a hell of a lot of vibration. It was like riding a giant weed wacker. There was so much vibration, in fact, that when I got off the thing after a couple of miles my hands were numb and I felt quite a bit like you feel when you get off a roller coaster ride. And the vibration has a tendency to loosen every nut and bolt on the bike, so they have to be checked and tightened frequently. Then there was the vibration from the seat, about which I won't say any more than that it wasn't as enjoyable as you might imagine such a thing to be. I just couldn't deal with the idea of 20 miles a day on that thing. Also, I burned my leg getting off one time, which I suppose is a risk you incur with any kind of motorbike. Last but not least was the fact that stopping it was a bit tricky. Since the left hand is busy with the clutch, which must be engaged to stop the engine from driving the chain, that leaves only one hand free to apply the regular bicycle brakes. I had the choice of which wheel to hook the right brake lever up to, and I chose the front, because of its much better stopping power. However, as all bike riders know, braking hard with just the front brake can be a bit risky. So, if you're careening along at a pretty good speed with this vibrating monster and all of a sudden you have to stop, you have to grab the clutch with your left hand, squeeze the brake with your right hand (but not too fast), and for good measure hit the kill switch button on the throttle with your right thumb to stop the motor. All at once. Somehow it just seemed like an accident waiting to happen.

I realized that I had continued to hold on to the idea of the moped even after I made the decision to tow my car along behind the motor home. But like a lot of things in life, the idea of the moped lingered long after its necessity had disappeared. It was a little like the story of the man who goes into a diner down south. He asks the waitress for ham and eggs. She says they're out of ham and eggs. He says, "But there's somebody next to me eating a ham sandwich, and somebody over there having egg salad. So how can you be out?" The waitress replies, "Oh, we got ham, and we got eggs, but we ain't got no grits!" The moped had become the grits.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Key to the highway

It's the middle of August and things are starting to take shape. I have a 1991, 29-foot motor home, a car, a towing dolly, a moped, and a bicycle. And shoes.

The plan is to start walking after Labor Day, heading south from my home in west Michigan, down into Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, all the way through Mississippi, and arrive in New Orleans by some time in December. This will require working up to at least 100 miles of walking per week. At New Orleans I'll strike west, across Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California, to Los Angeles and the Pacific Ocean, where I will dip my big toe in the water. If all goes well, that will be in April. Total distance, over 3000 miles.

Everyone I've talked to about this naturally wonders about the logistics. Then when I begin to explain, their eyes glaze over and I invariably have to repeat myself, wishing I had a blackboard or some sort of three-dimensional visual aids to use. So let me start with the big picture, as they say.

Since I'm doing this solo, I will not have someone to drop me off and be waiting at the other end when I finish walking for the day. (Who the hell would that be, anyway? My wife has a life of her own, not to mention a job. If I could afford it, I suppose I could hire a servant, but I doubt if we would enjoy one another's company that much in such close quarters.)

On the other hand, I can't afford to stay in a motel every night, and I have no desire to carry a backpack and stop and sleep under the stars. Nor would I be interested in staying in peoples' houses--depending on the kindess of strangers, like Blanche Dubois. That prospect is more creepy than sleeping in a ditch covered with a tarp, fighting off raccoons and mosquitos. I think of all the jokes I've ever heard about people who stop at farms and ask to sleep in the barn. Then I invariably think of the scene early in the movie Slingblade where Billy Bob Thornton as the just-released Carl Childers is spending the night at the home of the hospital superintendent before he goes back to his hometown. They're all in the living room after supper--mom, dad, the kids--with old Carl, the freed murderer, nobody making eye contact or saying a word, nervously twiddling their thumbs and wondering how the hell they ever agreed to such a thing. Naw, I'm just too misanthropic to try to make nice with folks every night in exchange for a bunk and a meal. Maybe in another life. Besides, I'm not doing this for a cause, or for a disease, or to prove that triple amputees are people too, or any of that. (And no, I'm not a triple amputee.)

So how the hell will he do it, you're wondering? I will tell you. NOW PAY ATTENTION, damn it. I want to walk from point A to point B. Let's say the distance is 20 miles. I drive the motor home, with the car in tow, to the aforementioned point B. Then I ride the moped (or maybe the bicycle if I'm feeling particularly energetic) back to point A . I secure the moped (or bike) somewhere, and then I WALK the WALK, to point B, where the motor home and the car await. Then I drive the car (because it gets 32-36 mpg rather the 7-8 mpg the motor home gets) back to pick up the moped, and return to the motor home, where I spend the night comfortably, by myself. Next day I do it again from there to point C.

Some of the more swift of you may have noticed my method requires that, in order to walk the distance from point A to point B, I must cover that distance no fewer than five times--once by motor home, once on foot, once by moped or bike, and twice by car. So no, I'm not doing this to save the planet or reduce my carbon footprint or any of that. Not that I'm against any of that stuff. Just tell me where to send my check and I'm on it.

Back to the walk, the most swift among you will have deduced that I could reduce the number of times I cover the same distance from five to three, and eliminate the need for the moped or the bike, if I chose to walk the walk in reverse. Not literally backwards, but from point B back to point A, instead of the other way around. I could leave the car at point A, drive the motor home to point B, walk back to point A, and drive the car back up to the motor home. Simple. Compelling. The only problem is that I would be walking to California by walking each day away from California. And that's not what I set out to do. So, at the cost of more preparation, more physical exertion, and more time, I will walk in the direction I am heading.

Who knew such a simple idea could get so complicated?

Peter Teeuwissen