Update. Editor’s note: Forrest’s adventure story, bicycle touring from Maine to West Virginia, is one of our first real-time adventures. Well, as real-time as it could get in the year 2000. Forrest sent us regular updates from the road and we would relay his message to the world. It was the advent of social media. And, it is one of my all-time favorite, guest adventures. For your convenience, we’ve taken all the updates and put them into this one story. Enjoy!
Why do I bike tour? And a few tips on creating your own adventure.
Location: Arlington, Virginia
Hello, my name is Forrest MacCormack. I’m 31 years old, live in Arlington, Virginia and work as a freelance photographer. Over the next two weeks, I’ll be on an adventure that will take me from West Virginia to Penobscot, Maine as I help a good friend move. After which, I will set out from Penobscot on a bicycle trip back home to Arlington. I’m not sure right now what my exact route or plans will be because of a few possibilities in my life that could change things. However, I believe as long as I am flexible and open to possibilities I can keep my dreams alive. I’m excited and look forward to sharing with all of you how my adventure unfolds.
At eleven years old, I would hop on my bike on any given day after school and take off in any suitable direction I could imagine. In late March, as the weather got nice, I often sat in school impatiently waiting for class to end so I could get out on my bike. Going miles away from where my mother would even dream I would go from home alone. Often I would wind up across town to explore an area I had seen from a car or school bus. Railroad tracks were a favorite. I’d make my way out of the subdivision I lived in and would often cross major roadways to get to my destination, guided only by my sense of direction. If I got lost I’d just backtrack. It was all about exploration, having a sense of freedom, rebellion, and simple curiosity about visiting a certain place on my own terms.
Once I reached the railroad tracks I’d often place pebbles, coins, and anything else that was small on the tracks and wait for a train to come by. I often thought that the train conductor would report me to someone who would later come down the tracks and swoop me up, and get me in big trouble. The trains never even slowed down once they came to my pebbles and coins. The massive steel wheels running them over crushing them to powder and warping the coins into an even flatter state. I’d spend the five minutes after the train had gone by searching the rocks for all the coins I’d placed on the track, then take the warped coins home, pick out an interesting distortion of Abraham Lincoln, drill a hole in the center and wear it on a necklace. It served as a memento of my accomplishment and self-determination.
Often people have the dream of doing something, but get bogged down in the “realities” of the “I can’t do it because….” These self-limiting thoughts and perceptions can often steal all the initial enthusiasm of that desire and dream. Forrest MacCormack
Bike touring today still holds much of that same fascination for me that making trips to the railroad tracks had for me twenty years ago. Biking has always been a powerful means of exploration for me, a means to test my self-discipline, and a way of creating accomplishment. Five years after my railroad excursions, I dreamed that one day I would pedal a bicycle across the USA. I would go on a real” bike adventures, far beyond the distance of the railroad tracks.
I came close to that dream in 1997 when I took my first major bike tour to Colorado. Not having enough time to take the required two months off to bike across the US, I decided to remain flexible and do what I could. So I pedaled to a friend’s house in Colorado. It took me 33 days and I traveled more than 2,000 miles. It was an incredible experience.
Often people have the dream of doing something, but get bogged down in the “realities” of the “I can’t do it because….” Be it hiking for a weekend at a nearby National Park, canoeing down a river, or perhaps even going to another country just to visit. These self-limiting thoughts and perceptions can often steal all the initial enthusiasm of that desire and dream.
I believe in dreams. I also believe dreams can change. It is possible to maintain our initial dreams as long as one is flexible and open to possibilities.
I recently talked with a friend of mine, Chuck Tharp, of Chapel Hill, NC, who manages to accomplish at least one two-week bike tour a year. Chuck has a job as a computer programmer with a major international company, a family, mortgage, and all the host of responsibilities and commitments that come with them.
I asked him what helped him to accomplish his dream of taking a bike trip every year. With work, he has engendered a supportive and communicative environment that allows him to discuss his needs with his supervisors. He remains flexible in taking time off. He once delayed a bike trip by one month in order to get a work project finished. In doing so, he let his company know that he cared about his work, and still was able to make his trip that year. He told me that it was a bit unfortunate because he was going through the state of Wyoming and had to put up with much cooler weather than he would have if he’d left a month earlier. Yet, Chuck still enjoyed his trip greatly. I believe part of a good life is appreciating the give and takes.
Watch this month to see how the “give and take” of Forrest’s adventure unfolds.
Location: Camden Hills
Today was my first official day of biking. I left my friend Walter standing in front of his new vacation house on the coast of Maine. He waved as I pedaled out on my 1,000-mile trek back home to Arlington, VA. (Which is just outside Washington, DC) I’ve spent the previous five days helping pack and move my friend to his new vacation house. We drove the largest Ryder truck one can rent from DC to Maine this past week. My bike and camping gear were packed on the truck… now I’m biking home and really enjoying the Maine air.
I took it pretty easy today.. going around 50 miles. I left from Penobscot, ME which is a small crossroads about halfway up the state on the coast. The largest business in Penobscot is the nursing home. The town also has a beautiful 19th-century church, town hall building, new post office, small store/gas station, and several hundred year-round residents.
When I arrived in Maine this week, I was reminded that I was travelling to a far more northern clime than I’m familiar with. I first started to notice the quality of light as I neared the Maine border coming up in the truck. The light strikes the earth in Maine at a much lower angle than at the equator. Sunlight has a beautiful quality late in the day… reminiscent of fall or winter light that I’ve grown up seeing in the southern US. Another thing I’ve noticed is that the sun rises quite early this time of year in Maine. The sun is high in the sky by 5:00 am… twilight starting at around 4:15 AM. The last bit of light is gone by 9:00 PM. It is wonderful to be outdoors with the abundance of light and magical qualities of its low angle. A photographer’s dream come true.
So I write this at 10:30 PM by flashlight on a picnic table in Camden Hills, Maine. My sleeping bag beckons me. Good night.
Greetings from the West Kennebunk, Maine Creamery and Coffee shop!
Location: West Kennebunk, Maine
Here I sit at a window seat sipping coffee and munching on a bagel. Today is the first real warm day since starting the trip. I finally get to take my shirt off.
Met lots of interesting folks in the last few days. I stopped at a coin-operated self-service water station. One goes inside the road-side house pops in a quarter into a slot and a gallon of filtered spring water is dispensed from the spout. I was very intrigued by the whole thing. About 1/4 mile further down the road, I stopped again at an “antique shop” of sorts that advertised the purchasing of old photographs, along with gold, silver, jewelry, watches, and other valuables. The mention of old photographs really got me excited since I collect old negatives.
I pulled over and met the owner outside. He pulled up on his four-wheel Honda ATV, equipped with cell phone and CB radio. He looked to be in his 70s and wore a day-glow orange hunting hat with four stars across the brim. He also flew an American flag off the back of his ATV. I asked him if he was a general. He replied, “I’m a four-star general around these parts.” I had to laugh, but I admired him for it.
After inquiring about old photographs and negative and finding out that he had none we talked a while. He told me he had built the self-service water station down the road decades ago. “It was the first one in the country”. “A while back people weren’t that concerned about their drinking water, but today, now that is a different story. I’ve seen the water business pick up quite a bit in the past few years”.
We chatted a while more and I made some photos of the “general” on his ATV. While doing so, he made the bold statement that he wasn’t lonely. “I don’t have time to be lonely, I’ve got lots to do around here”. Somehow I doubted that was true. “We all get lonely from time to time”, I said. I was just going on a hunch, but sometimes people say things that are the complete opposite of how things actually are, they are in denial. I would have bet money the old guy got lonely.. real lonely. Especially in the cold Maine winter when he couldn’t get out and about. I left him with my address, hoping someday he would write or call me if he ever decided he was indeed lonely. Perhaps he will, perhaps he won’t.
All for now.. off to meet more people. More later when I’m down the road in New Hampshire.
Hello Everyone From Dunkin’ Donuts
Location: Oxford, Massachusetts
Sitting here in a Dunkin’ Donuts in Oxford, Mass. waiting for the ominously gray skies to dump rain. When riding I use the “one drop rule”.. which is if I feel one drop of rain I head for cover. I’ve covered about 30 miles today and initially predicted this morning that today might be a stellar mileage day. The sky was crystal clear last night and this morning, then thunderclouds started forming around noon.
I was called over to the other side of the road today by a man on a racing bicycle who had a flat front tire. He had no pump or inner tube. He also didn’t have much experience changing bicycle tires. So for about thirty minutes, we sat on the side of the road as I changed his tire and showed him how to fix a flat. He told me he was retired from his own insurance-selling business. He sold it a few years back to a couple of men who recently earned millions for the company. He didn’t seem too happy for them. “I thought they were my friends, but I never see the guys”, he said. “I once had a big house, but we sold it and now live in a condo. We are trying to keep life simple”, he said. “Yeah, that is cool, I imagine the property taxes are a lot cheaper now”, I said. “Doesn’t Massachusetts have some pretty high taxes?” I asked. I knew what was coming when he then said. “Yeah, they call the state “Taxachusetts”. “Yep, heard that one before”.
I tried getting the patch to stick on the very narrow racing inner tube of his bike but the glue wouldn’t stick. I gave up and pulled out some black electrical tape I found on the side of the road in New Hampshire. I wrapped the tape around the tube a few times and thought I had patched the hole. I remounted the tube and tire and pumped up the tire with my bike pump. It held air for about five minutes and went flat again. I offered to try again but the man just thanked me and said he would call his mother who lived in the town we were in. “You need to get going”, he said. The man said he lived about seven miles away and that he would get home somehow. I left disappointed that I didn’t fix the flat. But felt a bit satisfied that I showed him how to change a flat if needed to again. I told him “Just do a better job of wrapping the tube with tape”.
Later in the day…
I’m now in the great state of Connecticut. I’ve stopped at a campground where I was greeted by a gaunt man with a wild look in his eyes while setting up my tent. He walked over and introduced himself, “Hello, I’m George, good to meet ya”.
“I’m Forrest, you live here?”
“No I just camp here, been out on the lake all day fishing, been coming here for twelve years”, he said. “Got me a little trailer set up over there. I’m just curious.. how far you biking?” he asked. I said I started in Maine about a week ago and that I was headed home to Washington, DC. “Wow man! And you are camping out every night?”
“Yep,” He offered me a frozen Slurpee stick. I gladly accepted. I could smell alcohol on him as he handed me the treat.
He told me he wished he could do a bike trip like I was doing. I told him he could… just take it easy and you can do it, it really isn’t all that hard. “Ahh, maybe one day man I’ll do something like that, maybe on a motorcycle.” “You just go from town to town and camp wherever you find a place?” he asked. I told him I tried to camp at campgrounds but occasionally I had to “guerilla camp” which means just heading off into the woods making sure no one saw me. “I camped a lot back in Vietnam just like that.. but that was thirty years ago.” That statement explained a lot to me about the guy. He really was interested in what I was doing, I’d do a chore, go to the bathroom, he would disappear and then come right back to talk again. I thought he was a bit psychotic.. if not just a bit drunk. I’ve met lots of Vietnam vets and most of them have led very productive happy lives, in fact, you would never guess they were veterans unless they told you so. But this guy seemed like damaged goods. I wanted to talk more with him but he said he was off to go back home. “Hey man, have a great trip, I just wanted to share that little bit of info with you”, he said. I said thanks and wondered exactly what info he was leaving me with. I rested in my tent guessing that he wanted to share that he was in Vietnam, perhaps something I was doing reminded him of that experience he had thirty years ago.
Off to New York State.
New Jersey — One Big Off-Ramp or More?
Location: Delaware Water Gap, PA
Hello everyone from Delaware Water Gap, PA
Finally, it is hot! I’m in heaven… sort of. I’m not really a person who cares too much for cold weather. Once it gets much below 68 degrees, it is too cold for me. I crave warm weather. I know that sounds strange to most folks but I get along fine with hot weather.
I woke one night in Maine and had frost all over my tent and bike. I had a hard time sleeping because I wasn’t warm enough. Despite the fact that I was wearing two jackets, gloves, long johns, two pair of socks, had a shirt wrapped around my head for warmth and was inside a sleeping bag. I was cold.
Later in the day. I’m pedaling on one of the hottest days of the year. Well, I said I like hot weather but this is brutal. 94 degrees and my head feels like it is in an oven. I’ve staved off heat exhaustion by going real slow and drinking lots of water. LOTS of water. I bought myself a gallon jug of water and put that on the back of the bike. I have plenty of water. I still like the heat better than cold… even though I’m a bit uncomfortable.
I’ve bicycled through some of the most beautiful countryside in America in the past few days. New Jersey! The region around the Delaware River in Northwest NJ is amazingly pristine and beautiful. Just today I’ve seen several wild turkeys along the road, seen numerous woodchucks, deer by the dozens, and have listened to the amazing song of cardinals and orioles resonate in the trees of the forests as I rode my bike past. The clarity of the birds’ singing was not diluted by urban noise. Yes… IN NEW JERSEY!
Experiencing New Jersey from interstate I-95 and a trip or two into Newark in the past, limited my perception of the state to those thin slices of a mostly urban setting. I can’t say I was ever intrigued with New Jersey in the past. I perceived the state as one big off-ramp connected to a freeway. Not my idea of pristine or pretty. But after biking down a large portion of the Delaware River, I’m now intrigued. It definitely is a diverse state.
Only Wimps Check into Motels
Location: Lancaster, PA
Here I sit in a hotel room in Pennsylvania Dutch country, not far from Lancaster, PA. It rained pretty heavily this afternoon and I decided to “wimp out” and get a cheap motel room. My friend Rich Suleski whom I met three years ago nearly to the day while I was biking to Colorado recently joked that “only wimps check into hotels/motels”. Rich was on a 10,000-mile cycling adventure that put his wheels in every state of the continental U.S. when I met him. [Editor’s note: Watch for Rich Suleski’s canoe trip down the Mississippi next month.] He taught me a thing or two about guerilla camping the day I met him. (Guerilla camping is camping for free, usually on private property) Rich also was on a year-long tour with a more limited daily budget, so he was very creative at getting the most for his buck. Staying in a $50/night hotel was worth five days of food to Rich at one point in his adventure.
My 1000-mile bike trip is nearing the finish. I’ll pull up to my apartment on my bike in a few days, dig my keys from one of my panniers, open the door to my apartment and the trip will be over. I’m looking forward to that moment and I’m also not. I’m sure I’ll miss the constant meeting of new people. The joy of collapsing asleep at night in a tent in the woods after biking 80 miles that day. Hearing deer snort and blow at your tent in the night, the hoot of an owl just after dusk.
I wasn’t sure when I started this trip nearly three weeks ago if I’d even finish it. I had numerous freelance job opportunities and pressures back at home that pulled at me to NOT take a vacation, to not do an adventure. One of them being the idea that cycling is getting to be more and more dangerous activity on the roadways.
Face it, placing yourself on a highway as a slow-moving object with trucks and automobiles whizzing past at 65 miles per hour isn’t the safest thing one could do. Especially as patience is less and less of a virtue among motorists. The possibility of getting hit by a motorist often visited my mind before and during this trip. To help, I take numerous safety precautions. I don’t ride at night or in the rain. I always wear a helmet. My bike is covered front back and sideways with reflectors and reflective tape. I usually wear bright yellow shirts and have blaze orange panniers. I have a reasonably loud bell on my bike to alert pedestrians and the occasional motorist with their window down and radio off that might venture into my path. I carry a cell phone and a road rash medical emergency kit. Safety is important.
Life is full of choices, I chose to take on the challenge of doing this 1000-mile trip. I gave up a few weeks of work back home to experience a unique and wonderful trip of meeting new people and sharing possibilities with them. I’ve relied on myself in a different sense than I usually do in regular life.
I’ve endured cold and hot evenings when it was difficult to sleep, numerous tick bites, poison ivy rash, countless mosquito bites, a bee sting, relentless hills, 95-degree heat, muscle pain and cramps, sunburn where I missed with sunscreen, bugs flying in my eyes and mouth while biking, and a brief moment of fear and anger when a motorist in New Hampshire tried to cut me off the road. Despite all of this it has been an excellent adventure so far. All of these things are part of the adventure and challenge.
Until next time…
Mr. Tough Guy,
P.S. The bugs sometimes taste sort of good.
A Successful Journey
Location: Arlington, VA
I made it home! I pedaled 1055 miles from Penobscot, Maine to home in Arlington, Virginia. I wanted to make it home last night but nightfall and a foggy rain caught up with me. After going 70 miles, with 40 left, I decided the better part of valor was to look for a suitable place to camp. In haste, I found a stretch of woods on the outskirts of Washington, DC and pitched my tent for the night without bothering to eat dinner. Thirty minutes after zipping up inside the tent a nearby deer snorted at my presence. It didn’t take it long to discover I was camping in its quarters. It probably had never seen a tent in its life. I figured it would be a while before I would hear the sound of snorting deer again.
Moisture collected on the leaves of the massive poplar and oak trees above me. Bits of mist coalesced into drops were shook from branches by wind and beat down on my tent all night long. Later in the evening, a thunderstorm rolled through. I was safe and dry inside the tent, but I wanted to be home. I couldn’t sleep. I tossed and turned on my inflated mattress. As 2 AM rolled past I tried listening to the radio. I could only pull in AM on my Walkman and listened to a news station from New York City. I wondered what bills came in the mail while I was away, what condition my apartment was in. Had it caught fire and not a soul bothered to notify me? Was my aquarium of fish doing okay? Silly irrational thoughts pranced through my head and made it difficult to sleep. I was especially close to home but wound up spending one last night on the damp floor of a “rain forest”.
I grew tired of the news on the radio and decided I could rest easier on a full stomach. I ate a whole can of Fruit Cocktail. Not satisfied — I ate a can of tuna. Doing so didn’t curb my hunger but made falling asleep easier.
I bought the best tent I could afford a few years back and it had withstood many a rainstorm before. Not a drop of rain got on me. I was a bit warm and felt the mugginess of the thunderstorm and fog.
I woke up at 7:30 in the morning quickly packed camp and slithered out of the woods onto the roadway. Not a soul noticed. I had once again effectively guerilla camped. I was forty miles from my apartment. It was drizzling and a light fog had settled in. I started to make my way into the gauntlet of Washington, DC. At one point I became outraged at the directions given on the Adventure Cycling route map. I was directed to ride on an extremely busy thoroughfare for several miles. The route seemed a bit uncharacteristic of the directions I was accustomed to on the trip, which for the most part had been extremely good and accurate. The maps kept me off the busiest roads and provided me a sense of security. I no longer felt that security, I was competing with loud dump trucks, 18-wheelers, and city buses for space on the roadway. There was no shoulder to move over onto nor was there a sidewalk. I was determined to get home so I clamped down and rode my bike with the heavy traffic into the city. I was relieved greatly to turn off that crazy road.
Later I made my way into the town of Bethesda, MD and was in very familiar territory. I found the Crescent bike trail, sighed relief that I no longer had to deal with automobiles on the trip. I could ride the rest of the way home completely on bike paths. An hour later I pulled up to the door of my building, fished out my keys from my panniers, opened my door and ended my 1000-mile adventure.
Reflecting on this trip I certainly feel like it was a tad bit more difficult than my previous trip to Colorado. The East Coast has more traffic and more towns to deal with. The East Coast almost always had humidity and I had to deal with more rain than when travelling in the Midwest.
I’d say it definitely was worth the experience. A vacation should let a person reflect and enjoy the experience. I did just that. When pedaling sometimes 80 miles per day, one has lots of time to think. Thoughts and conversations in your mind can get worked up and worked out, especially when pushing yourself up a mountain. To me, bike touring can be therapy for the soul and body. I’d do this trip again.
Visit Forrest online
Forrest Stuart MacCormack Photographer. Update: Forrest now uses Instagram.