A tale of a long-distance cyclist

Seated in the dentist's chair recently having his wisdom teeth removed, Andrew Hopson turned his thoughts away from the surgery and toward the Canadian Maritimes. Toward the Baja Peninsula in Mexico. Toward fascinating people he met during his solo trip around North America by bicycle.

Hopson's 2004 expedition did more than put 13,000 miles on the odometer of his custom-built, steel-framed bike. It also "provides you with a lot of nice thoughts when you're in a situation you don't want to be in," he said.

Now he's off on another adventure.

A tour of Europe

Having conquered North America, Hopson, an occasional resident of Portland, has embarked on a 25-nation tour of Europe. Tracing with his finger the outline of Scandinavia's Gulf of Bothnia, Hopson said: "I'm thinking 8,000 miles, but it's a rough estimate at best because these coastlines are so squirrelly."

Hopson, 32, flew from Boston to Ireland last Sunday and after a few anxious days in Dublin trying to find appropriate fuel for his new alcohol stove, he was ready to push north by the seat of his bicycle. Actually, he stands on his pedals a good deal of the time, nearly always when climbing.

He learned a few things from last year's journey around the outskirts of North America -- the term he uses to describe his long-distance solo cycling expeditions is "cycular." Among them: how to find places to pitch his tent that are safe, discreet and preferably free (schoolyards on weekends and church grounds during the week work well); how to discern from a glance whether someone is to be avoided; why human interaction is nearly as critical to the solo explorer as food, shelter and rest.

One more thing: You can get by with less than you think.

Creative materials

By switching to a lighter tent, titanium cookware and an alcohol stove, among other changes, Hopson was able to halve the weight he carries atop his rear fender and inside his front panniers to 23 pounds.

For a water-resistant tent footprint, Hopson will use a 6-by-3-foot scrap of Tyvek, a house-wrap material that works in much the same manner as Gore-Tex, allowing water vapor to escape while blocking water's intrusion.

After hearing Hopson's tale, a contractor cheerfully sliced off a piece of Tyvek when Hopson stopped at a construction site on a recent bike ride from Portland to Cape Elizabeth.

The Tyvek as ground cover concept came from observing hikers on the Appalachian Trail.

Similarly, a kitty litter box inspired Hopson to ditch his shapeless, watertight kayak bag in favor of lidded, rectangular plastic bucket that will carry his gear atop a rear-wheel fender. His father, a surgeon, helped stitch the straps that secure it. Flipped over, the bucket also functions as a seat or a table.

"I feel more measured this time," Hopson said. "Last time when I took off from (Corpus Christi) Texas, I was so hyped up I kind of blasted out of the gate. Now I realize what a long, even, measured thing this is."

Ever since he landed in Portland at the end of a transcontinental bike trip, Hopson has been enamored with the idea of long-distance solo cycling. His needs are simple: food, rest, shelter. Pare life to the basic necessities and the mind is freed to consider greater questions, or to spend an hour watching ants efficiently clean a tent of cracker crumbs.

"You only go through life one time," Hopson said. "I figure whatever I don't see is my own fault, so I just go after it."

Since completing his five-nation (U.S., Canada, Mexico, Guatemala, Belize) tour of North America last November, Hopson has been working at an outdoor adventure center in New Hampshire, spending six weeks on the southern section of the Appalachian Trail and writing a manuscript for a book detailing his journey.

He also found two sponsors to help defray a third of the $5,500 budget he figures will cover the journey from Dublin, through Great Britain and Scandinavia, south and east through the Baltic states as far as Greece, then west toward Portugal.

A Web designer in Biddeford, Kathy Hardy, created a site that details Hopson's meanderings, posts his updates (he's carrying a hand-held computer) and provides links to his writings about the North American trip.

He plans on returning to Portland in December and would like to remain in Maine until his next journey: Cycular South America 2006.

"I think that's the natural place to go," he said. "I'd like to wrap up the Western Hemisphere."

He's thinking 12,000 miles in nine or 10 months. In order to sustain his explorations, Hopson hopes to find a publisher for his manuscript and speak to groups about his adventures. Not that he's comfortable with the term "motivational speaker."

"I don't believe in motivating people," he said. "I think you can share experience. That's the best you can do. What people do with it is up to them."

Staff Writer Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 207-791-6425 or at: gjordan@pressherald.com.

Discuss This Article