Get To Know A Blogger: Cherri Hankins (Saddle Surfing On My Bianchi)

Everybody knows that cycling is for young men who weigh less than 150 pounds.  It is a super-tough activity that only the youngest and most physically fit (men) can succeed at.  Somebody forgot to explain all of this to Cherri, author of Saddle Surfing On My Bianchi.  Last year she went for a pedal that took her from her home in Central Virginia to Niagara Falls and over to North Dakota.  It was impressive stuff.  That would be more than enough for most people, but Cherri was just getting started.  Her travels took her down the Pacific Coast and onward to places like Texas, Tennessee, and Florida.  She has a fantastic attitude toward her touring, taking the good and the bad with equally good humor.  She is one of the most positive bloggers I have read and an inspiration for anyone who thinks cycling is too hard for them.  Nonsense!  Just ask Cherri.

Cherri with her Bianchi, named Cele

1.  What bikes do you own and which one is your favorite?

Currently, I have two Vision recumbents, a Surly Long Haul Trucker, a Bianchi Axis, and a Townie Electra (cruiser).

Cele, rigged for touring

The Surly LHT, named Itzhak

2.  You’ve done some amazing tours.  How and when did you become interested in touring?

I was touring before I knew there was a name for it.  In 1982, I jumped on my bike and headed west toward West Virginia via Rte 6.  On the first day, I got to Charlottesville.  It had rained on me all day long, and the second day started out similarly.  When I got to the top of Afton Mountain, a National Forest Ranger told me there was zero visibility on Skyline Drive, that there were mudslides and flash flooding…  to go home.  I called my friend, Kevin Custalow and he immediately started cycling west (toward me) as I dejectedly started cycling back to Richmond down  Rte 250.  We met about halfway and he cycled home with me.  What a friend, huh?  I had always ridden a lot, and while in college decided that I wanted to cycle from the East Coast to Alaska.  I haven’t done that yet.

3.  What advice to you have for someone thinking about going on a bicycle tour?

I think the best thing I can do for folks preparing to go on a tour is share some of my experiences and share the excitement.  Cyclo-tourism is different things to different people and advice of what worked for me won’t necessarily appeal to someone else.  I take it slow and talk to a lot of people, leaving a lot of unplanned days or hours so I can explore.  Some people really like having a “driven” attitude and powering across for the accomplishment.  There are probably as many ways of touring as there are people.  For me, it’s very freeing.

4.  What do you consider to be your greatest accomplishment on a bicycle?

I’m never out to accomplish anything on a bike, so I can’t answer that.  I just enjoy cycling.  In my touring, I try to be “open” to what each day holds…  different experiences and people.  It grows me as a person to have to push my limits sometimes to arrive at a safe place to stay or to step out on faith that God will provide me with what/who I need to make a journey work.  It has grown my marriage to have my husband as my “home team,” calling to find a place for me to stay because I’ve cycled 50 miles on a given day, fighting 25-30 mph winds only to discover that the state park I intended to stay at doesn’t allow camping and there isn’t another town for 15 more  miles, while having no phone service.

On April 8, 2011, I left my home and cycled from central Virginia to Niagara Falls, Ontario, CA.  I turned left and headed through Ontario to reenter the US at Marine City, Michigan.  I cycled south around Lake Michigan and up through Chicago, where I cycled the Lake Front Trail, met the father of La Rou Vert, Canada’s great cycling route, and then on to Racine Wisconsin.  In Racine, I picked up a bike trail that connected to that state’s Bike4Trails system.  On that system, you can nearly cycle the entire expanse of Wisconsin on bike trails.  I think I cycled 50 miles near Spirit Lake that wasn’t on trails.  I continued west, headed for Seattle.  Unfortunately, on May 29 or 30, I reached Minot, North Dakota, during a state of emergency due to the flooding of the Mouse River.  The city was evacuated and I flew home. 

After a few weeks of work, I picked up my tour where I had supposed to be for the next leg, which was the Pacific Coast.  I cycled the entire Pacific Coast with the exception of the southernmost 12 miles and a few miles of the Olympic Peninsula.  From San Diego, I flew my bike to Nashville, where I cycled the Natchez Trace and on down to the north shore of New Orleans.  I flew home to see my ailing father.  This one year-long tour was in his honor and in memory of my grandfathers. 

When I returned to complete my tour, I cycled from Austin, TX, to Jacksonville, FL.  During that time, my father died and the tour became a memorial.  I didn’t come home to see him in the hospital.  He was living vicariously through my tour and as it was in his honor and he was the kind of person who believes in finishing what ya start, I finished the tour.  He and I had said our good-byes and agreed that this was how it would be.  I have no regrets with regard to that decision.  He was proud of me.  Despite the fact that I have two very successful, professional brothers, my Dad used to tell people that I was his “successful” child.  I took risks, I live life to it’s fullest, I’m truly happy.  What a gift from some I love.  :)

5.  What is the least-advised (i.e.; crazy) thing you ever did on a bicycle?

I’m not a real dare-devil, so I don’t do a lot of dangerous things… cycling the Pacific Coast on roads that have had one lane crumble away, while RVs are passing me on the same road was pretty scary.  Waking up in a warm cottage at Devil’s Lake, Minnesota, only to find that a tornado struck where I had planned on staying that night was scary.  Cycling through rushing flood waters in Mississippi was probably very dangerous.

6.  Cycling is sometimes viewed as a male-dominated activity.  Do you agree and if you do, what do you think would encourage more women to cycle?

There are many more men cycling the rides that I’ve been on.  It’s definitely a female-friendly sport, though.  Maybe if you flattened out the landscape a little, more women would engage; maybe inventing the perfect saddle; maybe making roads more friendly so they can take the kids without worrying so much about motorists.  I don’t know, because I’m one of the women who isn’t held back from it by my gender.

7. What do you enjoy most about cycling in central Virginia?

Virginia is so beautiful that we could ride here and probably never need a different scenery.  The scenery is varied, as are the seasons.  There are beautiful, pastoral byways, great urban cycling, many organized and challenging rides, great bike clubs.  But it’s definitely the beautiful rural scenery for me.

8.  If you could do only one more ride for the rest of your life, what would that ride be and why?

There are several touring cyclists out there who are on a ride that they won’t return from.  They got on their bike, touring, and just intend to cycle all over the world, living as nomads from now on.  If I thought I only had one more ride to go and my husband would go with me, that might be my choice.  BUT, more realistically, I still want to cycle to Alaska from the East Coast and I really want to bike tour Vietnam.

Special Feature!  Back by popular demand (as measured by a couple positive comments), I have given Cherri the extremely rare opportunity to ask me any cycling-related question she chooses.  Here’s her question:

I read your blog, so a lot of things I might ask you have already answered, but I see you doing more and more distance cycling and I wonder if you and Diesel are going to head out to do some “bike camping?”  That’s what I called it before I realized there was an actual term for bike touring.

I suspect not.  Diesel is quite fond of her own bed and has lost the desire to sleep on the ground, which we would occasionally do in the ’90s.  There is a remote possibility (roughly equal to winning the lottery) I could induce her to ride to a hotel.  I think we’ll be doing well in 2013 if we build on her personal best distance of 34 miles and stick to fun day rides like Bike DC.  If things go well, I may convince her to take on a metric century at Cap2Cap.  It’s a flat course and there is beer at the end.  That will go a long way toward convincing her to give it a shot.

A Worldwide Cycling Snapshot

Note: This photo was not submitted by a reader

On this weekend, December 3rd and 4th, the Earth hurled through space at a speed estimated at over 400,000 mph while rotating on its axis at a speed of 1,042 mph (again estimated).  On Earth’s surface, approximately 6.978 billion people went about their daily business.

Some of them were riding bicycles.

This is their story.

Some people rode alone.  In France, Gerry enjoyed a solo pedal on his Bianchi out of the Gordon Gorge, which is situated on the north side of a little mountain range behind Nîmes, near his home.  The grade was “only” 5-6%, which is precisely how someone who regularly climbs Mount Ventoux and has logged 10,000 kms this year would describe it.  Since the RVs have departed with the summer weather, the road is reportedly quite enjoyable.  It takes a certain kind of person to scale hills on roads like this and describe it as enjoyable, and Gerry is that kind of guy.

Others rode in groups, like Brian and Team MK, who held their weekly club ride near Milton Keynes, about 50 miles Northwest of London.  You can see many of the club riders wearing the team kit of blue, white, and orange.  Brian climbed Ventoux on holiday this summer and laments the lack of an Alpine range in England.  This sort of attitude probably explains why he regularly drops riders 30 years his junior.

Others rode with family, as Clive did with his son near Birmingham, England.  Although he owns a road bike, Clive can most often be found zipping to/from work and elsewhere on his mountain bike.  His son is quickly following in his footsteps, or should I say pedal strokes?  Apart from getting his son hooked on cycling, Clive has made great strides losing weight while pedaling about the West Midlands.  We (and by “we” I mean “I”) could do well to follow his example.

Keeping with the family theme, Lloyd set out to circle the inexplicably named California-in-England in Berkshire.  Originally part of the Royal Estate of Windsor Castle, the property has been subdivided and sold several times.  No one seems to know what the connection is to a western U.S. state.  Lloyd taught his son how to cycle on this route and has a pedal with him here on most weekends.

Others explored the elements, like Tom, who lives near the border of Scotland and England.  Tom took time from his excellent bird photography to enjoy a quick pedal to Wauchope after a sleet storm to take in the scenery.  I highly encourage you to visit his blog for some excellent photography of this part of the world.

Not everyone was recreating and not everyone was experiencing winter.  Valentine used his bike to ride into town to buy a chicken.  Since he lives in the Southern Hemisphere (Brazil, specifically), he ran his errand on one of the longest days of summer.  Valentine did not mention how he secures his chickens to his bike, so that shall remain left to our imaginations.

In North America, things were chillier than in Brazil.  Chris made a regular trek to Gathland State Park in western Maryland to enjoy one of his favorite views.  The park is named after a Civil War correspondent who owned this land and wrote under the pseudonym, “Gath.”  His name was George Alfred Townsend (care to guess how he picked his nom-de-guerre?) and he erected the monument in the picture’s background to war correspondents.  Chris will soon make this journey on new wheels for his 1999 Marin San Rafael hybrid bike.  The wheels are due to arrive on Monday.

In New Jersey, it was very chilly (25 degrees, in fact) as Iron Rider headed out with the Pennsylvania Randonneurs on a 200 km brevet up the Delaware River.  The group started just after sunrise and pulled into their final stop with their lights on as the sun was setting.  This was hardly a novel event as Mr. Rider has already earned the coveted R12 Award, meaning he has ridden a 200 km event every month for 12 consecutive months.  He is also a Super Randonneur, with rides of 200k, 300k, 40ok, and 600k in one season.  Yikes.

Back in Maryland but closer to DC, Justin travelled the Anacostia River’s Northwest and Northeast branches up to College Park (so named after the University of Maryland, which is located there).  DC has many miles of pathways and this pic is a fine example of this type of riding.

In DC itself, John took the group project to another level by documenting his entire journey throughout DC.  John is a recent transplant from New England and seems to have taken nicely to the urban cycling environment in his new city.  For several excellent photos of his day, I commend to you his blog.

In Northern Virginia, another person named John was using his bike for yet another purpose – an investigation.  He has been searching for a gold Cadillac which seriously injured some cyclists in October.  He has cycled over 50 miles through the neighborhoods of his home in Mount Vernon without finding the car.  He continues his search and I wish him well.  In the meanwhile, he stopped and posed his bike for a pic in front of this interesting home.

30 miles south of John, Yours Truly was circumnavigating Prince William Forest.  I left at midmorning and the 45 degree temperature made it the coldest ride of the winter for me so far.  I checked in on the US Marine Corps Museum and took a picture.  I finished my ride at 2,923 miles – still short of my 3,000 mile goal for the year.

In central Ohio, Roger found time to squeeze in a quick ride.  His work currently has him in Jacksonville, Florida, and he had flown home on Friday to be with his family.  Sunday night, he was back at the airport to continue his work in Florida.  In the meanwhile, he hopped on his Raleigh and pedaled with friends through some covered bridges with temps in the low 50s.

While the riders in the Mid-Atlantic tended to ride on asphalt, the cyclists of Illinois seemed to prefer dirt.  David certainly did and he took his Gary Fisher Big Sur on a trail near Lake Michigan on a rainy day in the Northeastern corner of his state.  This ride put him over 6,400 miles this year.

Illinoisans were not only riding on dirt, but they were tinkering as well.  Matt had traveled from his home in southern Illinois to Land Between The Lakes, Kentucky, and was bringing his new Gopro camera.  Here we see him before his group ride, making sure he knows how his camera works.  If you’re the sort that is curious about how to make your own modifications to your bike, check out Matt’s blog.

It was raining at Ron’s house as well.  He decided discretion was the better part of valor and opted against cycling in the elements.  His bike remains in his garage, ready for the next adventure.  If Ron’s blog reports are any indication, I do not believe it will have to wait very long.

The rain in America’s Midwest fell in Canada the previous day in the form of snow.  Keith enjoyed a snow-covered trail ride on the way to the Strathcona Farmer’s Market in Edmonton.  That’s right, Keith rides his Iron Horse Commuter bike through the snow to the market.  It takes a special kind of attitude to cycle through a Canadian winter and Keith has more than enough of it!  If Matt’s blog doesn’t satisfy your craving for DIY cycling modifications, then Keith’s certainly will.

Still in Canada, but much further East, James took some time off work (please do not tell his boss) for a quick 30-minute pedal.  His single speed Konia is pictured in front of Lac St. Louis (that’s LAKE SAINT LOUIS for those who don’t speak French) near Montreal.  The Union Flag on the seat post belies his status as a British expatriate.

So there it is – my attempt at capturing cycling around the world on a single weekend.  To everyone who submitted a picture, thank you very much!  Obviously, there were a few areas on the planet that were not properly covered but it is evident from the submissions that cycling around the world can be quite varied yet quite similar regardless of the weather, surface, or type of bike.  I thoroughly enjoyed putting this together and hope you enjoyed perusing it as well.  We may do this again next summer.  Until that time, I suggest we all follow the below example of James and continue to get on our our bikes and pedal!

Good Luck, Cherri!

Meet Cherri.  Cherri is a fiber artist who lives in Ashland, Virginia, with her husband, John.  She loves to ride her beloved Bianchi and most days can be found pedaling on the roads in Central VA or in her studio, selling fiber art or giving sewing lessons.  She is an extremely positive person whom I can say has never written an unkind word about anyone or anything.  Her blog posts are full of optimism and her joy of almost everything in her life, including cycling.

This fall, Cherri decided she wanted to pursue a lifelong dream.  All of us have dreams.  Mine usually involve naps and/or alcohol.  Cherri’s dream was to ride her bike to Alaska.  So she’s going to do it.

Alaska. 

I’ll let that sink in for a moment.

Cherri bought a Surly Long Haul Trucker touring bike, sold her studio, and has made preparations to bicycle across one of the world’s continents.  She leaves on April 6.  I encourage everyone to stop by her blog, Saddle surfin’ on My Bianchi, to read about her exploits and wish her good luck.  It should be an incredible journey and I’m looking forward to reading all about it!

And in her honor, I will sign off this post as Cherri does with every one of hers. 

Go make your own breeze and remember: If you’re not having fun; you’re in the wrong gear.