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.