Posted by: Mark | July 21, 2010

This Whole Bike Ride Thing

In just about a week, I will begin a pretty epic bike ride. In fact, when I tweet about it, I hashtag is #epicbikeride. I’ve had a few people refer to this as a “man trip,” and I guess that’s appropriate, but using my own parlance, I insist on calling it my Epic Bike Ride. (Sorry Kadie.) I’ve spoken about it with countless people, I’ve tweeted it, but I haven’t done a formal write-up, and I figure it’s about time I do so. As such, away we go:

The Plan
I will be biking from Crescent City, CA to San Francisco, CA. My wife is going to Italy for 10 days in early August and I’m not, and I wanted to do a big bike ride while she is gone. One of my former students is biking across country this summer to support a school in Sudan, which I think is totally bad-ass, and I wanted a piece of the action, so I decided to explore California by bike. I asked around, and was advised that due to seasonal winds out of the North West, it would suck miserably to bike north. So, I planned a one-way trip from the Oregon border down to San Francisco. My original expectation was to take Amtrak up to my far point, but my friend Thomas is a pilot, and he has offered to fly me to the northern-most airport in CA: Crescent City. (Side note: what a rad thing for a friend to do.) According to Mapquest, it’s 355.98 miles from Crescent City to San Francisco, but I plan on doing some riding off-the-beaten trail, so I’m anticipating around 450 miles, across a maximum of 10 days.

This means that I need to average 45 miles a day, which is very very doable. I’ve been doing a lot of training rides, complete with gear to weigh me down, and I have busted out 55-65 miles in about 5 hours, and so 10 days of 45 miles is totally doable. It’s nice that I don’t need to rush and can take my time, or I can push it if I want. I know this will be a physical challenge, but I don’t want to destroy myself.

A Few Additional Objectives

1) I will be biking from Crescent City to San Francisco, but I’m planning on doing more than that. First and foremost, the most unique objective is that I will be biking in silence. I will not speak for the duration of my bike ride. I will not listen to music. It will be a silent journey. I got this inspiration from a few places, namely from reading the book Planetwalker in which a guy walks the country in silence for 25 years, in the process getting a masters, PhD, and becoming a UN Goodwill ambassador, and also from reading writing from the Trappist monk Thomas Merton. Both of these guys are huge advocates of silence. I am a huge chatter bug, I constantly talk, write, tweet, basically I’m a loud-mouth, so this will be a substantial challenge for me. I actually anticipate the silence to be a bigger challenge than the physical task of the riding. I’ve toyed with a few ways to tweak this and make it manageable:

  • First off, I will email my wife and parents every day, quite simply, to let them know where I am and that I’m safe. Otherwise, it’s just not fair to them to keep them guessing. I will otherwise not be checking email, updating facebook or twitter, or writing. This may be as a big surprise, considering I made an entire webpage last summer dedicated to our cross country road trip, but I’m going for it anyway. This also means I won’t be taking pictures or video. I know that this is probably worth documenting, but some things are worth only being available in the landscape of your memory, and I think this is definitely one of them.
  • I will obviously come across people who will want to talk with me, like when I purchase food, check in to sleep, all that stuff. In order to deal with this, I am going to print and laminate an index card that has the simple message: “For personal and spiritual reasons, I am on a journey in total silence. I appreciate you respecting my choice and hope we can still communicate and get done what we need to get done. Thank You.” I imagine I’ll be showing this to people quite a bit, and hopefully it will be OK. It’s what Planetwalker did when he would roam the country in silence, and it turned out to work for him.
  • I will bring a small notepad and a pen with me for the times when I need to write communication. “I’d like to camp here tonight…is there space for me?” Stuff like that.
  • The no music/ipod thing is going to be tough, no question about that. This whole thing is going to be tough. I talk to myself all the time when I ride. When I complete a big climb, I like to compliment myself. I often times curse to myself as I’m about to begin a climb. I say “Hi” to other riders all the time. I don’t anticipate 100% success, but I will certainly go for it.

Back to other objectives

2) I plan on tackling as much of Dostoevksy’s The Brothers Karamazov as I can on this ride. I’m not insisting that I finish it, but I’d like to read a big chunk of it. I have failed in reading this book twice, because I wasn’t focused enough to do it on either time. (It is the second book that I have repeatedly failed to finish, Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow is the other, which I have failed three times. I’ve gotten more than halfway and lost it.) I figure that this is the perfect chance to delve into a theologically dense monster of a novel. I will be biking probably between 5-7 hours a day, at most, and will otherwise be mostly isolated in silence. Perfect time to read. I’ll have little else to do. Too tired to hike around the state parks where I’ll be camping, etc etc. It’s Reading Time.

3) I’ve sort of implied this, but I will be camping every night. I’m bringing a tent and sleeping bag with me. I was thinking of getting a bivouac sack for my sleeping bag, but the tent will actually be a nice luxury that I’d like to enjoy, despite the added weight that I’ll have to carry.

4) You could probably anticipate that I will not be prioritizing showering on my bike ride. I don’t really prioritize showering in my regular life, let alone a spiritual bike ride down the coast of California.

5) I do plan on maximizing the use of the ocean and rivers that I will encounter. I’d like to fully immerse in water each day. That will likely be the Pacific more frequently than anything else, and I’ve been swimming at Ocean Beach without a wetsuit to prepare myself for the cold.

6) I plan on doing a minimum of 200 push-ups every day while I’m at my campsite.

I don’t otherwise have any major, unique objectives about this ride, other than to complete it, and to do so safely. As my friend Simon put it, I’ll probably think about everything once, and then again twice, then a third time, and then the fourth time I’ll end up with an entirely new perspective. I think I’m looking forward to that.

I should add that the awesome folks at Camelbak are generously providing me with a back pack with their patented water supplying technology so that I can stay hydrated on the road. They like my idea of a silent, spiritual journey and wanted to make sure I stayed healthy along the way. Awesome guys.

I will try to not end up looking like this guy.



  1. Super excited to hear how this goes. Between pushups, The Brothers Karamazov and daily dips in the ocean, make sure you jot down a few notes. It’d be a great way to capture the experience since you’re not taking pictures/video.

    One of my bucket list items is taking a vow of silence for 10 days. I also like to chat! Very interested in your experiences, thanks for sharing!


  2. Mark — this sounds like a wonderful journey to embark on! Best of luck on the road.

    I have two thoughts:

    1) you say you are taking a small notebook and pen in case you need to communicate with someone. But what if you have ideas that you want to write down? Or thoughts about your journey while you are on it? Would having access to a journal interrupt the silence? I’m curious about that.

    2) in another post you mention water and keeping a water bottle filled. I want to recommend that you swing by Whole Foods or Rainbow Grocery before you leave town and pick up a large bottle of “Concentrace” trace mineral drops. The tap water and bottled water we drink are low in trace minerals — in the case of tap, they are stripped out when the water is cleaned at the treatment plant. Adding these minerals to your water will allow you to “absorb” the water better, it will balance the ph, and it will have more of a hydrating effect on your body.

    Just two things that crossed my mind. May you have a fantastic and enlightening excursion! Love to Guilia.

  3. Your year of unemployment is turning out to be a lot of work!! Seriously, though, this sounds incredible, especially the silence part. Also, I’ve been doing an internship in Sausalito, right by the Marin Headlands – every time I see a biker with gear, I almost swerve into them trying to see if it’s you. If you’re ever biking at Fort Baker on a Monday or Wednesday, come say hello!

  4. You are a stud. This is a great idea and I wish you all the best. I can’t wait to see who you are when it is done. I have nothing but the utmost respect for what you are doing- The biking, the silence…all of it. Epic is right.

  5. Sounds awesome Mark! Agree, think the silence part would be toughest for me as well. And I’m an introvert at the core. 🙂 Hope you’ll be writing about the experience after? Good luck!

  6. Awesome! I’ve been following your posts on Twitter and am stoked to finally hear the details. The gentleman that you mentioned ended his silence after an environmental disaster, right? Can’t remember what it was. Rock on, bro.

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