Talk to Strangers

There are no strangers here; Only friends you haven’t yet met.
– William Butler Yeats

Jim Reeves is friend in Abilene who is a cycling guy.  I first met him in the driveway of my house as he was riding his recumbent bicycle around our shared neighborhood.  I had just pulled up to my house and was unloading the car on the mid-point stop of our BRAT2 ride from Brownsville to Liberal.  He saw the bike rack and the “Bike Ride Across Texas” window sign on the back of my Honda Pilot and needed to stop to learn of the details.  The curiosity was too much for him to simply pass by.

I learned that Jim, a retired physics teacher at a local high school, was a long-distance cyclist.  He had ridden his recumbent from Abilene to Canada a couple of years earlier and had gone cross-country from the Pacific Ocean in California to Tuscaloosa, Alabama before excessive traffic and narrow shoulders forced him to stop for safety reasons.  He has also completed a number of other long-distance rides across sections of the country.  He rides solo and unsupported and trains ferociously for his long-distance adventures.

Jim gave me a copy of his book–“Laid Back on the Chisholm Trail: Texas to Canada on My Recumbent Bicycle”–and I sat down and read it straight through in one sitting.  I really enjoyed reading of his adventures and the stories of how he completed the ride to Canada.  It was probably his book that planted seeds in my mind for our future rides–BRATS4 and BRATS5.

Link to Jim’s book on Amazon.com

In his book, Jim describes stopping in small towns on his route to Canada and talking with locals that he met along the way.  He would ask them about themselves and what they do and hoped to do.  He would ask about the things that local people do for fun, what their towns are known for, and local lore.  As he steadily advanced through his ride, he accumulated an impressive collection of stories from the people and places he visited on his adventure.  He finished the ride having learned a great deal about the places and people that he encountered over the journey.  That is a wonderful thing to do–and something that I try to remember on our BRAT rides.

My bet is that many of the people that we encounter in convenience stores, fast-food restaurants, and at our rest stops along our routes do not regularly see people coming into their stores wearing cycling gear.  In fact, at one convenience store in East Texas on BRAT1, I felt terribly uncomfortable and out of place running in to use the restroom at a convenience store while wearing my cycling shorts–I got some strange looks from the locals.

On all of our BRAT rides, I have discovered that our land is full of friendly and welcoming people.  There are people who are curious about us and ask about our destination and where we had come from.  Many times, they would see the window signs on our vehicles ask for details of our ride.

pilot brat4Honda Pilot prepped and ready for BRATS4.

 

IMG_2719.JPG
HSU Suburban and BRAT trailer.

More commonly, however, conversation with others started with us.  We could simply mention that we’d been riding, that we’d been on bikes for a certain number of days, or inquire about road conditions ahead of us on the route to get a conversation started.  Once started, conversations were often fun, lively, and very friendly.  A change in the demeanor and body language of people we talked with changed almost immediately when they learned what we were doing–and that we were are interested in learning about their towns and those who live there.  Asking for recommendations for good places to eat, things to do and see, and for help navigating roads also usually brought about helpful and friendly responses from others.

It has also been a pleasure to spend time visiting with our hosts and the families that help feed and support us each day on our rides.  Sitting down to talk with families who invite us into their homes to eat, take showers, and sleep in their spare bedrooms and on the floors and couches in their houses have been some of the most memorable and meaningful parts of our trips.  The extreme hospitality and graciousness of the people that we’ve met along our rides is almost overwhelming–and helps push us to be better people to those around us.

There are so many benefits received from completing our long-distance rides.  One of the greatest is meeting and getting to know strangers along our routes and making them our friends.  Our lives and the memories of our rides are richer because of the people that we meet and talk with on our journeys.  I also hope they know that if they ever pass through this part of the world and need a place to clean up, eat, and rest, that they are welcome to reach out to us for help–as friends.

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