Biking the South

Jan 8, 2016

For most people, travel is all about getting to your destination as fast as you can. But, for two New Yorkers, it’s about seeing every place along the way.

A few weeks ago I saw a bicycle parked outside of a nearby cafe. It wasn’t your everyday bicycle. A customer walking by commented: “Whoever they are, they’ve ridden a long way to get here.” Turns out he was right.

Twenty-nine year old Ian Marsh and twenty-one year old Joey Goldsmith had ridden their bicycles all the way from Brooklyn, New York. They’d been on the road for almost two months when I met them in Baton Rouge, and they'd covered a lot of ground.

“(We) haven’t counted exactly," said Ian, "because we took different routes - so it’s hard to add up exactly how many miles we did - but we think it’s about 2,000.”

They met me at WRKF's studio so I could interview them; I just had to find out what they were doing, and why.

"I was in school in New York, I was a history major, and I studied American History," Joey told me. "While I was studying it the thing I wanted to do the most was travel the country and actually see what was going on. I don’t have a driver’s license or a car, and biking seemed like the easiest way to do that.”

And, Ian decided to join him. They had already spent the past several weeks in the South when I met them, and they described their experiences with the South's famous hospitality.

"They say ‘hello’ to you, and say ‘how’re you doing’," Ian said, "and they really want to know!"

They were full of stories to tell, like the one about the night they spent in Virginia.

"We stopped at a trailer park," Joey said , "and had an awesome night with some old guys who’d been living in the trailer park for years. We drank liquor with them, and we were laughing and having a hell of a time with these guys, and they gave us soup that they had made around the fire pit in the middle of their encampment."

Some encounters, though, weren't so friendly. Like in Cherokee, Alabama when they got off the Natchez Trace.

"We were at a gas station and a woman rolled up, and asked us what we were doing, if we were biking the Trace," Joey told me. "We said 'yes, we’re biking the Trace,' and she said ‘Be careful. I killed one in 2009.’ And I wasn’t immediately sure if she was talking about a cyclist or a deer because of the way she had said it. But, she was telling us that she had hit a cyclist on the Trace and killed him. For both of us it was really shocking, and scary.”

People are one thing; dogs, are another. That's why the guys carry mace.

“One of the scariest things, in terms of heart-pounding scary," said Joey, "are the dogs that chase after you.”

Joey told me about a time he had to spray a dog on the road.

“Well, we had been stopped in the road by a Doberman and Pitbull," Joey said, "and they did not let us pass. I shouted them down and they moved off to the side of the road after about five minutes and we kept riding. And, about a half mile later this little dog, only two feet high, came running down from a porch just straight bee-lining towards me, and I was like ‘Forget about it!' And I just sprayed it.”

Each day on the road they see something new, and that "something new" is not always pretty.

“Yeah, (we see) just a tremendous amount of roadkill" said Ian.

“It’s shocking," said Joey, "and you really smell it. I mean, you’re going up a hill past a deer carcass and you’re breathing hard, and meanwhile these cars are speeding past at 70-80 mph blowing exhaust in your face and it’s a very overwhelming experience.”

I asked them if they ever wanted to quit, give up, grab a car and go home.

“There have been times where I’ve wanted to get a car and keep traveling that way, but I’ve never wanted to stop traveling," Joey told me.

“Yeah, at times I’m willing to take alternate forms of transportation," Ian admitted to me. "Out of New York City we took the train. (But) no. I’ve actually been scared of the opposite; I’ve been scared that my body is not going to allow me to keep traveling with my bicycle, which I really want to do. I’ve never wanted to just give up.”

So far they haven’t. They left Baton Rouge that day after we talked, heading for LaPlace, and then on to New Orleans. After that it’s "destination unknown." But, wherever they go they’ll get there on their bicycles.