Arts and Entertainment

A frugal cyclist’s guide to the Universe

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by Willie Weir
Special to the Sequim Gazette

(Editor’s note: This excerpt, “Lift Off,” comes from the book “Travels with Willie: Adventure Cyclist.”)

I vividly remember watching the launch of the Space Shuttle Discovery. The camera zoomed in as the rockets ignited. The billowing fireballs, its sheer power and energy, were awesome. But the shuttle just sat there. Was something wrong? Then there was movement, almost undetectable movement, as the shuttle struggled. It was hard to believe that this lumbering, struggling vehicle would soon be up in space and free from the force of the earth’s gravity.


I love travel ­— the open road, the undiscovered nooks and crannies off of the tourist track. There are moments on a bicycle journey when I believe I’ve discovered true bliss. Yet, in order for me to take that bike trip, I first must break free from the gravitational pull of home.


Actually, Kat and I both struggle with it.


The list of things to do before we go has increased with time — getting a housesitter (and one who likes cats), finishing up work projects, getting rid of enough stuff that the housesitter has enough room to live in our house, finishing house projects so a housesitter would actually like to live in our house, paying bills, paying other bills in advance, finding people willing to fill in with several nonprofit projects we work on, shoveling a layer of compost on the garden, filing for an extension for our taxes, going to the dentist.

It wasn’t always this complicated, was it?


Twenty years ago, I lived in a dumpy basement apartment. My bedroom had no windows. My roommates and I couldn’t afford to turn on the heat, so you could see your breath inside the apartment from November through February. I had no furniture to speak of, unless you count a cardboard apple box used as a bedside table.


I didn’t have a cat, but my roommate did. The cat had fleas. The fleas liked me a lot.


When I embarked on a bicycle journey, instead of pulling free of gravity like Discovery, leaving was more akin to being a hummingbird sitting on a branch and then instantly and effortlessly zooming into the sky.

I didn’t leave — I escaped.


Over 90 percent of the weight of the Space Shuttle at liftoff is fuel that will be burned in the first eight-and-a-half minutes of flight. Almost all of its resources are used solely to break free from the pull of the earth’s gravity. Leaving the earth is hard — outer space is a breeze by comparison.


It is the same for many a journey; leaving home is the hard part.


I’ve known people who have been planning trips for years (decades even) and still haven’t made the move.


They keep asking the same questions and search for the perfect bike. They go on countless training rides and take a language course. They buy maps and tour guides but never take the trip. For some the emotional pull of home is too great. Traveling means leaving friends, family and pets. And for most of us, there truly is “no place like home.”


When I speak at high schools and universities, I want to shake the students and say: “Travel now. Get on your dumpy, used bike and go somewhere, anywhere. Those people who tell you that it doesn’t get easier? They’re right.”


“Go before you have debts and mortgages and kids and a career. Go. The gravitational pull of home will never be lighter.”


Do I long to return to the days of basement apartment living with no heat? Not a chance. I love my city, my neighborhood, my garden and my cat. But I also love to get on my bicycle and go. I can’t change gravity. The physical, financial and emotional pull of home is there and I am a fool to try and ignore it. It’s better to acknowledge it, celebrate it.


I consider myself fortunate to love home as much as the open road. It takes a lot more time and energy than it did twenty years ago, but the ride is still worth it.


I don’t escape anymore. I lift off.

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