Cross-country biker stops in Truckee on custom ride
August 10, 2004
Folks around Truckee have probably noticed Micheal Washington riding his custom-built bicycle around town during the last week. The impressive rig ” a high-tech mountain bike with a trailer, on which he has packed everything he needs to survive for indefinite periods of time, including his guitar ” often garners a lot of questions from people curious to know where he has been and what he has seen along the way.
If you guessed that Washington was in the midst of an extended cross-country bike ride, you’d be right; but few might suspect that he is on the return leg of a self-supported bicycle trip that took him from his home in Kerby, Ore., to El Salvador and back.
Long-distance bicycle tours are nothing new to the 62-year-old rider who grew up in Michigan and ran away from home at age 15 on a bicycle. Since that day in 1958, Washington has logged over a million miles on his bike – currently his personal odometer reads 1,015,080 miles and counting – and he has no plans to slow down.
“I started my bicycling career when I was 15 years old in 1958, and I just realized at that point that cycling was going to be a pretty big part of my life,” Washington said. “And I’ve chosen to stay on that route without an automobile since that period of time.”
One of Washington’s goals in life is to demonstrate the possibility of living and traveling without an automobile. He owned a car for a brief period in 1965, but quickly got rid of it and went back to his bicycle for transportation.
“Basically I’ve traveled the world on a bike,” Washington said of his tours through North America, China, the former U.S.S.R., Southeast Asia, South America, East Africa and Europe – trips that have taken him through 68 countries and from the Arctic Circle to the Antarctic Circle.
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Even with a million miles under his belt, Washington’s body belies his 62 years.
“I think I’m an example of what old age can be, rather than what it usually ends up to be,” he said. “To be 62 years old and able to ride a 100-mile day, seven days a week for months, gives me a lot of freedom.”
And while bicycling has kept him in great physical shape, Washington sees living in this country without a car as an important political statement that few are willing to make.
“I’ve chosen [bicycling] for a lot of different reasons. Number one, I really believe that what we’re doing presently, particularly in North America, is we’re out to destroy this planet.
“I don’t think that Americans have the ability to transcend convenience for reality. And to me, the destruction of this planet is just going to have to happen without my help. I’m just going to try to leave a positive message to people that there are alternatives [to automobiles] that actually really work.”
Thus Washington has dedicated himself to what he calls “the art of being human powered,” which also served as the theme of his most recent trip to El Salvador.
Washington and five other dedicated cyclists whom he had met on earlier adventures put together a program they called “Bicycles not Bombs” in which 255 donated bicycles, sewing machines, jig and wood saws and other tools were brought to El Salvador to encourage local residents to become human powered.
“In El Salvador, if you have a bicycle, you have mobility. If you have mobility, then you can get a job and you can get around,” Washington said of the program’s goals. “It was just a really easy sharing of energy and information with people. It was really awesome.”
Now on his way home from that experience, Washington said he has enjoyed the week that he’s spent in Truckee.
“Truckee rocks. This is a great town. People here have been really friendly, very supportive. I play music on the street here and at the farmer’s market, and people just love it. The people are just generally really friendly compared to a lot of places.”
With another couple weeks of riding ahead of him before he makes it back to his home in Kerby, Ore., Washington will have spent almost a year and a half on his bike during this recent trip.
Speaking of what has kept him going during all that time, Washington said, “There are two words in my dictionary that don’t exist – I can’t.”
Watching him pedal his bicycle around town, loaded down with 160-plus pounds of gear, food and water, you get the impression that he just might be right about that.