Iron Butts

This was supposed to be a Tour de France drug-bust column. I wanted to talk to a knowledgeable San Diego bike rider about the sport and its habits. There are at least 18 bicycle clubs in and around San Diego. I chose Knickerbikers of San Diego County because I liked their self-description, "A bicycle touring club without formal organization, but with a website."

I have Ken King on the phone. His Knickerbikers title is Club Servant. King is 68. "I was a financial guy for a big conglomerate." We talk about the tour for awhile and then, as is often the case, another, more interesting, topic surfaces. That thread begins when I ask, "How many Knickerbikers tour?"

King says, "We have about 120 members. All of us tour at one time or another. Typically, on any trip, there are 16. I just led one from Salinas to Carmel/Monterey then south to Santa Barbara."

"What's the longest tour you've been on?"

"Last year, I did 3800 miles, from Tijuana to Bar Harbor [Maine]. It took ten weeks."

This is beyond my capacity to imagine. "What was your toughest day?"

"I think the toughest day was out of Pine Valley," King laughs. Pine Valley is 44 miles east of San Diego. "It was April 27th, and it was raining and blowing, a cold rain coming in from the north. We took off anyway because we were excited about the trip. We stopped in La Posta for hot chocolate, stopped in Jacumba for lunch, and then went down the freeway into the desert. We didn't get off the freeway when we were supposed to and a highway patrol guy pulled us over, made us climb through a barbed wire fence and walk along a dirt road. It was a 90-mile day. We finally finished in Brawley."

Cannot imagine self on bike riding into Brawley. "How many people in your group?"

"Eight started, six finished. Mostly, we rode on old federal highways, going through dying towns. We must be losing 100 towns a year. Places that used to be thriving, all they have now is a railroad track, grain elevator, a bar, and a post office. Saw a lot of those," King says sadly, "from Boulder through Julesburg, Colorado, and then through Nebraska. All of those places have dried up."

Making progress. I can imagine self dressed in a bicyclist's uniform. Black tights, red jersey. "How did you work the food and lodging?"

"We camped about a dozen times, so we were in a motel 50 times or so. We'd cruise into a town, like Central City, Nebraska. There are two ma-and-pa motels, and they were both full. We talk to a policeman and he says, 'Hey, spend the night in the city park. I'll watch out, and it's perfectly safe.' Worked out great, except, in the middle of the night, the sprinklers went on."

Having trouble mounting the bike, but my tights look great. "Did locals fall in love with your group?"

"Oh, yeah, in the Midwest, particularly. They'd look at us suspiciously, but if you said, 'Hi,' they'd inundate you with questions. They'd ask, 'Where did you come from?' We'd say, 'Denison,' which is 30 miles back. They'd say, 'That's great. What a long ride! Are you from Denison?' 'No, we started in San Diego.' King laughs. "That really blew them away.

"Every once in a while we'd find a cyclist. There was one guy in New York who was all excited. He said, 'Hold on just a second, I want to show you my bike.' And he ran out to his car and got his bike. 'Yeah, every Saturday I try to ride 80 or 100 miles.' And we're admiring his bike. He says, 'I want to do a cross-country, but my wife would never let me.' A few minutes later his wife came up and we said, 'He says he'd like to go, but you won't let him.' 'Oh, that's nonsense,' she says, 'go for it!'"

Poor bastard. But, I've got my own problems, my bike won't move. "What did you do for yourself that last day? You're in Bar Harbor, you've made it, the trip is over. Did you celebrate?"

"It was a cold, miserable day, but when we got to the ocean we celebrated a little bit, and then went into a bar that was right on the waterfront and had a big lobster feed. We had our picture taken, and the guy who owned the place said he would post the picture. We certainly looked happy and tanned and fit. We ate and then spent most of the day looking around for somebody to transport us and our bikes 45 miles back to Bangor, to meet our plane. We didn't want to ride one more mile. "

For club particulars, click over to www.knickerbikers.com or call King at 858-450-0373.

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