THE WHAT IF, GUITAR GUY BLOG
The Official Blog of Mike Rayburn
Mike’s Big Bike Trip
In the Spring of 2000 Mike rode a bicycle from San Diego, CA. to New York City. He pedaled 4010 miles, performed over 30 concerts and raised money for St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital.
Here is his story…
I would rather die making every moment count, than live worried about how many moments I have left…
It was a hot July afternoon in Virginia, and I was sweating hard, and happily pedaling my 10-speed west on Hwy 50 toward Winchester with my best friend, Toby, a few yards behind me. We were 15 years old, and on first day of an adventurous 3-day trip, having the time of our lives! We were inseparable and had been riding together for years, each trip pushing a little farther, starting a little earlier, seeing how far we could go… and still be back before dinner. This was our most ambitious undertaking yet and incredibly our parents agreed to let us go for it.
With only a few miles left to go we crossed a creek and I turned and told Toby I had canoed that creek a year earlier. A few seconds later I was holding Toby’s body in my arms.
It happened that fast. I’ll spare you the details save one: Two bicycles were hit by a car traveling 65mph, I was thrown clear with only minor injuries, Toby was not. To this day, I have no idea why it was me. Hours later back at the crash scene the state trooper looked at me and said, “There’s no reason you should be alive.” Which actually meant just the opposite. There is most definitely a reason I’m alive. And instead of living a life of fear I decided that I would rather die making every moment count, as I know Toby did, than live worrying about how many moments I have left.
Since then, I have built a huge and wonderful life around being an entertainer, an adventurer and a business owner and have always pushed myself to the limit. But while I have done everything from kayaking over waterfalls to performing on stage with the Beach Boys, in recent years there had been at least one thing that seemed incomplete: Toby and I never finished that trip.
Are you crazy…?
Josh Wainright and Mark Hellman, my wonderful agents back then, had differing reactions when I emailed them my crazy plan. I told them that I wanted to do the first-ever cross country concert tour ON BICYCLE! I would pedal from San Diego to New York and play concerts along the way. I would do this to generate press for my new CD (optimistically entitled “Unstoppable”) and to raise money for a worthy cause.
Well, Josh was beside himself with enthusiasm and ready to roll! Mark, though, ever the pragmatist was supportive but guarded. He could see ahead to the logistical nightmare this tour would present and that a big work-load and few rewards would likely fall upon the agency. In fun, though, they did say they would both go with me if I could put them in one of those bike trailers and tote them behind me while they drank beer and ate chips. Quite the visual. But kidding aside, I now had the support of the 2 most important people to making this project work and I was off and running! It would take another two months for me learn that there was one more person indispensable to this tour I had completely forgotten, and that my forgetting this person would nearly kill the whole project.
Don’t be average…
I also just wanted to do something different, something unequivocal. I often get questions like, “I am an average musician and I want to make a living with music, what should I do?” I answer, “Don’t be average. Be willing to do what others will not.” This trip would definitely be taking a step beyond mediocrity. That’s what it takes.
My biggest mistake…
The things I needed most to make this tour both possible and successful were money, equipment, and lots of press. To that end I hired a publicist who had some big names in her resume and assured me that all of these were things she did regularly. To make an extremely long story short she accomplished nothing she promised. We had compiled a list of about 15 companies we thought would be a good match for sponsoring a trip like this. I would call her every now and then to find out how things were going and my publicist would say stuff like, “Well, I called two companies last week and I’m waiting for calls back. In the meantime I’ve been re-working the budget.” Folks, here’s what I’ve learned: that’s majoring in minor things. It’s like in college when you have a big paper due or an exam to study for… so you clean the house. Yeah, both tasks probably need doing but one is infinitely more valuable and important than the other.
By the time I truly realized that my publicist was never going to come through with anything for which I had hired her, I had paid her a huge sum of money; so now not only was I out the money I paid her, I still had no funding or equipment for the trip. It was also a mere 2 months before the start of the tour and the tour was hanging on by a thread.
Do whatever it takes…
It was now up to me so I had no choice. I did the thing in life I dislike most: I got on the phone and solicited company after company for funding and equipment I needed. I spent hundreds of hours calling, calling back, talking, printing and overnighting proposals and CDs, and ultimately through all the rejection I was able to secure pretty much everything I needed.
Thanks to my friend, Paul Schatzkin, Songs.com became my title sponsor and gave me the money I needed to rent the RV support vehicle and purchase other equipment. Campus Activities Magazine became my press sponsor and gave me a great cover story and the all-important advertising I needed throughout the trip. Trek Bicycles gave me an awesome 5200, the bicycle Lance Armstrong rides. And Elixir now supplies me with the best guitar strings made. It was not easy but I was committed to do whatever it took.
Josh and I got together that summer for a weekend planning session and laid out the basic tour route and time line. Since no one had really done a bicycle trip concert tour of this magnitude, there was no blueprint, no reference, no mentor to follow. Everything was new but it was the newness that was so enticing, intoxicating. We blazed ahead.
I have to say here that Josh Wainright became the unsung hero of this tour. He booked all the shows exactly when and where we needed them, put in many 12 and 14 hour days, and taught himself the job of publicist in about 4 days. He was infinitely better than the overpriced and overrated publicist I had mistakenly hired at the outset. In almost every location, Josh had TV news crews, radio stations, newspapers, and photographers meeting me as I pedaled into town. There is no one who more positively effected the succes and impact of this tour than Josh!
Hey honey, I forgot to mention this but…
Here’s a suggestion, folks. If you’re married and planning to be gone for 3 months it’s a good idea to ask your wife or husband how he or she feels about it before you make plans. Ahh! I had forgotten to ask Tara!!! How stupid could I be? And what could I say? I was just wrong. I had taken her support and her career and her feelings for granted and I (rightfully) felt like a total heel. Tara and I had been married for 6 years and we almost didn’t make it to 7.
I groveled and apologized. I offered in all seriousness to pull the plug on the whole tour. I came up with different solutions to the time apart. I was willing do do anything. Then Tara had a better idea: She offered to come with me and drive the RV support vehicle. How’s that for incredible? This decision was one of the major turning points to the trip, as Tara would end up being integral to everything positive that happened on the tour. It would also prove to be a great plus for our marriage.
My definition of success will always include philanthropy, giving back. While I considered many worthy charities I ultimately chose to support St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Not only do I believe completely in their mission but my nephew, Eric was born with a brain tumor; he is now 8 years old and cancer free and that would not have been possible without the research that St Jude’s has done.
The rubber meets the road… (and the road wins)
There we stood anxiously at Mission Beach in San Diego with absolutely NO idea of what lay ahead. I was about to attempt to ride a bicycle 4000 miles across the US with my wife, 2 dogs, and a ferret in a 25 ft RV sag wagon and play concerts along the way.
That first day turned out to be one of the hardest of the whole trip. It is my experience that in major endeavors God will test you to see if you’re serious. I started in the late afternoon and got a flat tire within the first 5 miles. They had sent me a bike with racing tires, which don’t hold up under city road conditions, but I didn’t know that. Meanwhile poor Tara had to learn to drive this huge RV in beach traffic! So here I am learning to fix a flat while somewhere else in San Diego Tara is backing up traffic doing an 8-point turn with no idea where she is. Oh, and at that point we had only one cell phone and no way to contact each other. I was hoping to put about 40 or 50 miles behind me that day. I did 10. The day ended with Tara in tears and me with a second flat. We camped out behind a Mexican restaurant, ate dinner and regrouped.
An average day…
The next day went much better and with time we began to get into a nice little groove. An average day on the tour would go like this. We’d wake up around sunrise or so, eat breakfast, chart my route on the map and set our meeting points. Sometimes Tara would meet me 20 or 30 miles down the road. Other times she would drive all the way to the ending destination for the day. Tara never drove right behind me, that was far too dangerous. On the really cold, rainy days Tara would meet me along the way and I would come in and warm up and eat. Once I made my destination or got as far as I could for the day we would meet up, find a place to camp for the night, cook dinner, play with the dogs, and go to sleep.
We camped in truck stops, in the desert, in cornfields and vacant lots, in front of friends houses, a few RV parks, and in more Wal-mart parking lots than I care to remember. In Arizona and New Mexico we would go hiking in the desert. Our favorite thing out west was to find some tiny hole-in-the-wall Mexican food place because they were ALWAYS the best… so much better than the Mexican food farther east! And while we’re on the subject of eating let me tell you, when you’re riding an average of 75 miles every single day your metabolism goes through the roof and I put away some food! We loved to find Shoney’s or Ponderosa and eat the buffet; I didn’t eat FROM the buffet, I ate the buffet.
Weather was definitely the hardest thing about the riding. I rode in temperatures from 27 to 95 degrees, rain, snow, sleet, and tornado warnings. In Tucson, Arizona I rode through pouring rain and 34 degrees for at least 8 hours- absolutely miserable. However, the worst weather condition was the wind. I would take all the cold and rain in the world over strong winds ANY day! There were days in New Mexico, Texas, and Kansas when standing up on the pedals and pedaling with all my strength I could make maybe 8 mph. It was the most defeating thing. One day in Kansas it took me almost 10 hours to go 69 miles and I had to walk on stage at Ottawa University 1 hour after I arrived.
My stats for the trip: I rode a total of 4010 miles, had 17 flats, crossed 13 states, did 31 concerts and 55 media appearances including USA Today and ZDTV’s “Internet Tonight.” I averaged about 75 miles per day. There were 6 days I rode 100 or more miles, my high being 117 miles, and 6 days I rode 90-100 miles. I broke 3 bones- 1 in New Mexico when I closed my thumb in the door of the RV and the other 2 I will explain later. I was hassled by 4 cops (all for being on “limited access” highways) and helped by 2 local cops in Ohio. I was chased by dogs most often in Oklahoma. The worst weather on average was in Texas. Pennsylvania had the hardest mountains but was my favorite state overall as far as the riding was concerned.
Missouri ended up being quite an interesting state. I had 5 great shows in Missouri. The worst roads were in Missouri. The most catcalls by rednecks were in Missouri. And it was in Missouri that a very large man on a Harley yelled something about liking my legs… ah! Not coincidentally my fastest time was just after he said that – 47 miles in 2 hours.
A Jersey story…
On the last day I had ridden 51 miles with my friend, Ed Barnes, from Sparta, NJ to Liberty State Park, NJ. We were looking across the river at Manhattan and the much anticipated finish of the entire tour lay no more than 7 or 8 miles away at Coney Island. The weather was perfect, sunny and 70’s. While Ed waited for the ferry to Manhattan I went to look for a restroom. Riding very fast I turned a corner and didn’t see a construction fence across the road until I was just a few feet away. In a panic I hit the brakes hard! Those of you who are cyclists (or physicists) know there is a scientific phenomenon that happens when you hit the front brake really hard: The bike stops and you don’t. I became a projectile in sort of a parabolic arch…I was flying. And then I wasn’t.
First of all, I broke the bicycle helmet which I didn’t know was possible. My head was bleeding. It would turn out that in bracing for the landing I broke both bones in my right forearm. Now, there was one guy from New Jersey who saw the whole thing… he was working on the road I was on. First of all he walked over to me. I’m bleeding and he’s walking. (Hey, it’s a beautiful spring day… why not stroll over and see the bleeding man?) He looked at me like an anomaly on the ground (not that he would have known what “anomaly” meant). He didn’t say, “Are you ok?” He didn’t say, “Can I get you some help?” In a thick Jersey accent he looked at me and said, “What? You didn’t see the fence?” A little help with the obvious, there, bud, thanks. No, I saw it an meant to do it… (southern now) that’s whut we-uns do in Tennessee. We jist hit the dern thang!
I then learned literally what it means to add insult to injury.
I did ride on painfully through Manhattan and 2 miles into Brooklyn at rush hour before deciding I really needed medical treatment. 2 days later after cycling to the beach and with Tara and the Barnes looking on, I walked my bike quietly and triumphantly out to the surf at Coney Island and it was done. And while I had achieved national attention for the tour and the cause and my cd, here at the finish it wasn’t a media event. It was a personal victory shared with friends- and that’s what matters. I have learned that despite the fun that brief bursts of fame can be, the most important triumphs – the only real triumphs- are personal ones. The only real competition is with ourselves.
We had a chili-dog and a beer with the Barnes and drove home.
The strange thing is, even with all the challenge that trip was, within a day we all missed it. We still do. Even the dogs… they’re bored.
But we’ll always have one beautiful little reminder of the trip: We returned to find out Tara is pregnant and by the time you read this, we’ll be parents.
Toby, this is for you…