Do Ya Get Lonely?
As I pedaled my way from Oregon to Florida in the fall of 2011, I was asked this question almost daily. My answer depended on how I was feeling that day. "Yes, I spend a lot of time talking to myself" I admitted to more than a few strangers. But when I was feeling sassy I liked to reply, "You're only as lonely as you want to be."
In preparation for this trip, I ferociously read (okay, skimmed) several books about bicycle touring written by veterans of the road. One of them was called "Hurt City", which was an autobiography of Bob Voiland's bike touring experiences. The book spanned 30 years of his biking career, chronicling the achievement of his goal: biking from his house in Colorado to each of the 48 continental states. Some days, his mileage exceeded 115 miles in distances. Yeah, I'll repeat it: The guy biked over 115 miles in a friggin' day.
But he didn't exactly have a good time. I remember he wrote that if you want to be social and make lots of friends, you should get into a different sport. He said something along the lines of, "People aren't just lined up along the side of the road, ready to talk to you and shake your hand".
Well... maybe strangers don't make it THAT easy, but I've had experiences where people were so excited about what I was doing, they not only wanted to shake my hand but also make me homemade lasagna, drive a support vehicle, escort me to the next town on their own bicycles, give me cash, host me in their home, stay with their relatives in Arkansas, etc. The generosity of human beings is stunning, when you give them a chance.
Biking can be social: it's as social as you make it. Sometimes I felt like chatting with new people, and sometimes I just wanted to sit on a picnic bench and have a good think, all to myself. It was always my decision whether to seek friends or solitude. There were evenings in my tent that I felt downright depressed, and I'd have to remind myself not to blame the state I was in, or the people. Chances were, if I wasn't making friends, it was my own fault.
There are good people everywhere. Remember that. And they're just thrilled to meet new folks from out of town. While they're not "lined up on the side of the road", they're just down the street or in the next aisle of the grocery store, or working retail at the gas station.
Bob Voiland's lack of social interaction was probably due to his crazy-high mileage. When you spend every hour of the day pedaling, and then crash in an exhausted heap in the evening, there's not much time left for chit-chatting. At least, that's what I told myself to feel better about my own daily cycling average: 55 miles. :)