One cyclist’s journey from Rochester to Birmingham, and Beyond
By Ramsey Lloyd Wermuth, Bicyclist Extraordinaire, Founder of Tour DeRamsey
To say that Tour DeRamsey isn’t sustainable is not to say that my bicycling isn’t about sustainability.
Since I began Tour DeRamsey, I’ve grown tired, I’ve spent more money than I’ve earned, I’ve been through rain storms and discouraging hunts for safe campsites; all of which drain the sense of determination I had when I left Rochester, NY three months ago.
I knew that this wasn’t going to be easy, and I knew when I left that my capabilities were going to be measured by resources you cannot touch; the money I’ve saved, the work I’ve done to rebuild my bike, the hours I’ve spent studying and training would help me get further – but I realized that the intangible, unwavering determination is the true driving force behind Tour DeRamsey.
What is Tour DeRamsey?
TDR is a cross-country bicycle tour performed by yours truly, Ramsey Wermuth.
I met discouragement before I even left ROCity; a friend at home told me that one person riding their bike as much as they can [through commuting, traveling, riding for fun or exercise] isn’t going to change the world. My Uncle told me that riding a bike around the country wasn’t going to benefit my future; it’s an empty accomplishment and I’m better off staying home focusing on work, or if I’m desperate to travel I’m better off joining the NAVY and getting paid to journey all over the world.
The truth is, I understand where they’re coming from, and I agree with both of them.
I was excited when Jenna contacted me on Facebook, asking me to make a contribution to Humans for a Sustainable Future. Writing for this publication gives me the opportunity to use Tour DeRamsey for something greater than just a bike-ride. I don’t expect everybody who reads this to drive their car into a ditch, buy the most expensive bike they can get, and move to an area where bicycling year-round is a possibility. All I can do is type an article for an old friend, and share my story.
My Inspiration for the Tour
My bicycling career was first inspired by my best friend in college. She left her birth certificate back home in Wyoming, so her years in New York were spent without a Driver’s License; the sticker on her bicycle reads: “My other car is a pair of boots!” She had so much fun riding her bike that I grabbed my dad’s old Huffy and took joy rides on my free afternoons, just trying to capture the childlike enjoyment that she felt. I’d use my car to get to school and work- the places where I needed to go. All the extra places I wanted to go, I would make a point of biking there instead of using gasoline. After a month or so, that feeling of wanting to use less gasoline evolved, slowly, into a desire to ride fulltime.
I started throwing extra clothes in a backpack and rode to school and work once or twice a week, about an hour ride each way. When that wasn’t enough, I would ride every day that I had an extra hour in the morning. Commuting once or twice a week grew into three or four times a week, which turned into feeling bad every time I started my car when it was raining or when I was scheduled to work at 6am.
This whole process developed in one summer, four to five months of riding. I truly admire those who don’t own a car, who commute over 300 days a year on their bicycle; through the rain or snow or super windy days, maybe they’ll take a bus. Because I’ve always had access to a car, I had an easy opportunity to drive on those rainy, windy days and take 4-5 months off during our New York Winters.
I was introduced to the idea of ‘touring’ in that first year of biking, only two years ago.
I’ve thought about traveling, but I grew to accept it as a distant idea, not making efforts towards actually leaving and visiting far-off places. The idea of touring came from my friend’s girlfriend. She told me she just got back from biking across the country and suddenly the flame was lit: I was introduced to what I believed was the best way to get my ass to the West Coast.
Any other ideas I had to travel involved paying somebody else to get me there (via bus, plane, or train) or spend money to get myself there (via car). Driving from New York to
California was my first idea, but spending the money on a reliable vehicle, gas, food, and potential repairs- the same obstacles that keep most people from driving across country – seemed too taxing to even consider. However, by being on a bike, ‘gas money’ is virtually non-existent, food is my fuel, and replacing my derailleur – parts and labor – cost me less than $60 (compare that to repairing a car’s transmission!).
After making my decision, I let the idea of bike touring envelop my life. I spent two and a half summers preparing and dwelling on my upcoming journey. Every time I got on my bike, I was training for my tour: I took several weekend trips to my mom’s house in Geneva, and I even took a four-day trip to Syracuse via the Erie Canal trail. Every time I started my car, I was missing out on my training. I spent my time online collecting websites, researching and gathering information to help me. Even when I was sitting around not doing anything or not reading a book about walking across the US, I felt I was avoiding my trip preparation.
Pimpin’ My Ride
I rode my dad’s rust bucket for a year and a half before I decided to get an upgrade. I paid $160 for a used 20-year-old Gary Fisher Marlin that I found on Craigslist. I put a lot of work into it, replacing and cleaning all the pieces from the bottom up. My buddy Will worked with me and taught me a lot about assembling all those little components – which saved me a lot of money on labor costs – and I donated all the parts that were still functional to his used-gear collection to go on someone else’s bike who needed it.
The saddle bags I’ve been using for the last two years are plastic Tidy Cats kitty litter bins, strapped to my rear rack with hose clamps. The trailer I’ve been using came with a minor malfunction, but it was easy to work around it. As I continued on my tour, more parts failed with it, but it still works overall, so there’s no reason to send it to a landfill when it still works as a functioning bike trailer.
Sustainability on the Road
Being environmentally conscious on the road is painful sometimes. When in Rome: if you buy a soda or single-use beverage in a foreign state where there isn’t a developed recycling program (five cents for every can and bottle in NY doesn’t exist in every other state), you have to bite the bullet and throw the can in the trash. Bikers and hikers eat a lot of single-serving foods (Clif bars, granola bars, instant oatmeal packets, and ramen noodles to name a few) that we unwrap, consume, and throwaway the wrappers on a daily basis.
That being said, I have found a few tricks to consume less and produce less waste.
I don’t pay for bottled water – drinking from the tap is the easiest. All my food is kept in a bag anyway, so instead of gathering needless plastic bags, I put my groceries back into the shopping cart and transfer them into my bag when I’m outside. I do my best to find a place to recycle the boxes that granola bars and toaster pastries come in, but not every grocery store offers that, so a lot gets thrown out after a trip to the grocery store. I have zip-lock bags that I’ve been using for the last three months – the bags I keep bulk oatmeal and trail mix in. The zippy bag that granola and trail mix come in can totally be re-used for other food or supplies – you never know when they’ll come in handy. Taking the stairs instead of the elevator at hotels saves electricity, too.
In addition, a lot of my camping gear has been re-gifted or donated. I sleep in a used EMS rental tent. A lot of my clothing articles were bought used and when I get new clothes, I’ll either donate my old ones, or ship them home so I can have them when this tour comes to its inevitable end.
Sustaining Tour DeRamsey and Saving the World
I say Tour DeRamsey is NOT sustainable because I don’t believe it can last forever: It’s exhausting and it drains my bank account. I’m on a glorified vacation, with no intention to stretch this out to the end of my life. I plan on coming home, or making a new home, eventually, and continuing to bike as much as possible. This tour started out as a desire to have fun riding my bike, and grew from biking as a feasible mode of transportation to the basis for my life’s greatest journey (so far). I’m happy to say that I’ve already inspired a few friends back home to buy bikes and start riding, and that’s a start.
I’ve always believed that if the American people treated bicycles like we do cars, we’d live in an entirely different country. Goodbye inactivity and obesity, high gas prices and dependence on foreign countries’ oil! However, the bicycling lifestyle isn’t for everyone; people living in rural counties can’t be expected to bike 30 miles one way to work every day, and families with multiple children can’t be expected to get everyone where they need to be in a timely manner. These are realities I’ve come to realize: we cannot do away with cars and automobiles altogether.
If I can introduce anything to the world, it’s that I rode my bike from ROCCity, NY to Birmingham, Alabama where I am now. This is my work, my effort, my accomplishment. I don’t know what the next chapter of my life will bring, but I know I’ll be bringing my bike with me when I get there. I love biking, I love riding and I love seeing other people ride. I even love seeing a bike or a pair of bikes hanging on the trunk of somebody else’s car.
What started out as a little hobby, a way to waste time and get some exercise turned into my entire life and something I’m genuinely attracted to. I had no idea this would happen; I met my inspiration, hopped in the saddle and peddled on.
This same thing can happen to anyone, and their inspiration can come from anywhere.
For more updates on Ramsey’s adventures, visit: www.facebook.com/tourderamsey2000