Get out of Your Comfort Zone

One of the hardest parts of turning a vision into reality is simply getting started. Professional photographer Christopher Briscoe has made a habit of starting – and completing – bold undertakings, such as multiple long-distance cycling trips in the United States. He embarked on his first cross-country bicycle journey with his friend Brian in 1976. Most recently, in 2016, he and his son Quincy followed Route 66 from Los Angeles to Chicago, a ride that is captured in a book and a film, both titled The Road Between Us. After thousands of miles traversed over every kind of road and every type of weather, and after getting to know so many people, Christopher’s recipe for success is simple: get out of your comfort zone.

Episode Transcript

Christopher: People ask me all the time, “What was the hardest part of all your bicycle trips? Was it going across the desert? Was it going over, you know, Hoosier Pass in the Rocky Mountains? What was the hardest part?” And I look at them, and I say, “getting out of town, your hometown.”

Gabriel: You just heard Christopher Briscoe, talking about a challenge that resonates with most of us: one of the hardest parts of turning a vision into reality is simply getting started. Going into my talk with Christopher, I knew that he and his son Quincy had cycled Route 66 from Los Angeles to Chicago. During our brief time together, I learned so much more. Christopher had cycled across the United States multiple times, sailed across the Pacific Ocean, and had recently obtained press credentials to photograph the front lines of the war in Ukraine. His recipe for success is simple: get out of your comfort zone.

Sandra: You’re listening to The Accidental Bicycle Tourist. In this podcast, you’ll meet people from all walks of life and learn about their most memorable bike touring experiences. This is your host, Gabriel Aldaz.

Gabriel: Hello cycletouring enthusiasts! I first became aware of Christopher Briscoe in an unusual way. You see, my aunt, Kathy Roselli – well, I call her my aunt but she’s actually my grandmother’s brother’s daughter – my aunt Kathy is a pediatric physical therapist turned documentary filmmaker based in Ashland, Oregon. In 2017, Kathy told me that she and a friend had just completed a movie that she thought I would particularly enjoy watching. Titled The Road Between Us, it was about a father-son cycling trip on Route 66, and I loved it! The father in the film was Christopher Briscoe, an Ashland-based professional photographer whose work has appeared on Oprah, Larry King Live, and Entertainment Tonight. His photos have also been printed in Time magazine, People, USA Today, and The Times of London, among many others. Christopher has also created numerous stunning photo books about diverse topics, including some of his bicycle journeys. I am very excited to have Christopher as my guest today on the Accidental Bicycle Tourist.

Christopher: Thank you. What a pleasure, what a pleasure.

Gabriel: It seems your son had to do a bit of convincing to get you to join him on Route 66. However, the movie hints that you had quite a background in cycling cross-country.

Christopher: So my son grew up hearing about my adventures, and when I was 24, I was graduating from the university in Oregon, where Kathy lives, in Ashland, and a friend of mine had built this 32-foot catamaran… a trimaran actually, and was wanting to sail it from Cabo San Lucas all the way to Tahiti. So he invited me to go with him, and I knew nothing about sailing at that point, and so he and I sailed the 4,000 miles to Tahiti with a bunch of jerrycans full of water and a sextant and some freeze-dried food. So that kind of started my adventures. I lived in Tahiti with this old Tahitian grandmother, grand-mère Mommaure, and then I sailed on another boat back to Honolulu, and then came back to Ashland. I was a fry cook and I wasn’t going anywhere, and so I turned to my buddy, who’s also a fry cook. I said, “Buddy, we have to, we have to change our lives. We’re gonna be fry cooks forever if we don’t do something dramatic.” And here I just sailed to Tahiti, right? At 24. So I said, we gotta bicycle across America. This is 1976. And so, I bugged my buddy Brian for six months, and he said, “But we don’t own bikes.” I said, “Okay, we’ll go buy some bikes.” So then we bought some bikes. He said, “We gotta train for this trip.” You know, it’s gonna be almost 4,000 miles.” I said, “Look, Brian, you know, if we train, we’re gonna get burnout and we’ll find an excuse not to go. We’re just gonna… let’s just pretend the first three weeks of the trip is our training time.” After about four days, we made a rule that we would never accept a ride, and then the other rule was, we would never push our bikes.

Gabriel: From where to where was that first trip in 1976?

Christopher: In 1976, it was from Ashland, Oregon, to New York City. You know, I was like, 25 or… yeah, maybe 25, and it was America’s bicentennial. It was the grand, grand adventure.

Gabriel: The 1976 trip you have made into a book. You have a number of books.

Christopher: Yeah.

Gabriel: How did that come about?

Christopher: It’s called Shifting Gears, and it came out of a journal that I kept on the road trip in 1976, and then I wrote it into a book few years later. It’s not a photo-driven book, like a lot of my other ones are. There might be ten pictures in that.

Gabriel: Okay, I see. So that’s more of a travelogue.

Christopher: Yes. And the interesting thing about that book is that it gives the reader a snapshot of America in 1976. The politics of it, the innocence of it, what it was like to bicycle across America. Very few people had bicycled across America. That year is when Adventure Cycling started everything, and then you could go in a group and go across America.

Gabriel: A bit of history. The Adventure Cycling Association, It was originally called Bikecentennial because of the 200th anniversary, or second centennial, of the Declaration of Independence.

Christopher: Yes.

Gabriel: Yeah, there was this huge upswing in interest in bicycling and bicycling across the country. So you were a pioneer, really.

Christopher:  Yes. Back then they called us independents. You know, we weren’t part of that organization, but a couple of times we would camp with a group from that organization, Bikecentennial. And just to watch the social dynamics of parents with their kids and boyfriends having fights with their girlfriends, and we were like, “No, this is not for us,” so we were happy to be totally independent, on our own. But that was the year that it all got started, and then Bikecentennial morphed into Adventure Cycling. I think they’re based in Missoula, Montana.

Gabriel: Yes, Missoula.

Christopher: And then I went across again with another buddy in 1978. I wanted to, you know, make it a little more extreme, so I actually put my back tire in the Pacific Ocean, off the coast of Oregon. And then, three or four months later, my front tire into the Atlantic Ocean, off of the tip of Cape Cod, in a little town called Provincetown.

Gabriel: Was the second trip chronicled in any way?

Christopher: Ahhh, no, just… I haven’t done anything with it. It’s just in diary form. And then the third one, I haven’t chronicled that, from Ashland to Minnesota in 1980. The thing I liked about the third one, where I rode by myself to Minnesota, 19 days, it might have been a 12-speed, and of course I had the same two rules: Never accept a ride and never push your bike. And in North Dakota I had tailwinds to the point where one day I started at 9 o’clock in the morning, and would just go on these straight roads with this incredible tailwind, and by noon I had made a hundred miles. And then the road got a little crookeder, and by the end of the day, when the sun set, I had made 183 miles, which is my record.

Gabriel: That’s almost 300 kilometers in one day. incredible.

Christopher: Yeah. Most of the time I wasn’t really into miles. So, on all the trips, I don’t wanna offend anyone, but I’m not what I call a Spandex biker. I don’t wear a Spandex. I’m a traveling bicyclist. You know, I’ve got shorts on. I might have some biking shoes, but I’m just a traveling bicyclist, because I’m more interested in the people that I meet along the way than being a mileage guy and looking like I’m from some other planet.

Gabriel: Well, this is the perfect podcast, because it’s focused on people’s stories and not amazing feats of mileage. I share your sentiments exactly.

Christopher: Yes. And then, when I turned 50, I did the southern route from San Diego to the east coast of Florida. And then, the trip that you saw, I think that was 2016, my wonderful son Quincy, who also had bicycled across America, called me and said, “Dad, we gotta do this together before it’s too late. Let’s bicycle Route 66.”

Gabriel: Now, with your son, what was his motivation for going cross-country?

Christopher: Well, he grew up hearing my stories. During his, kind of, gap year after high school, I took him throughout Europe, and he also loved sailboats. So he got a job working on sailboats in Antibes, in Southern France. I handed him his laptop and his passport. I said, “Buddy, I love you, I’ll see you in a year.” And that guy got a real education while all his other friends were in university that first year, and they’d call home to their parents and say, “Umm, where do you shop for food?” And mom said, “Well, you don’t go to 7-Eleven.” I mean, they didn’t even know how to wash the clothes. So then Quincy was working on the boats, and I was back in the States, and it’s one thing to let your kid have a gap year. He is all the way on the other side of the pond, as they say. As a dad, you feel pretty vulnerable. And then he calls me up, he says, “Dad,” and this is the middle of winter, “I wanna bicycle to Barcelona, Spain.” And it’s wintertime. I’m going, “Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! Just wait till spring.” “No, I wanna do it.” I said, “Okay, I’m gonna send you all this new equipment.” “No, no, no! I got a plastic bag as a pannier. I’ve got, you, know I’ve got one pair of long pants. I’m going!” So then he did that, and then he called me up, and then he went back to work, in Antibes. And he calls me up a couple of months later, says, “Dad, I want a bicycle across America.” And my first thought was, “What have I done?” So he flies into Atlanta, and I flew into Atlanta, and he left from the east coast of Florida, where I had bicycled to a decade earlier, from San Diego to the east coast of Florida, to Saint Augustine. And we’re on the same beach that I had bicycled to on my last bicycle trip, and he’s got his BOB trailer and he’s ready to go, and he’s all by himself, and he’s pointing toward the west coast. And my wonderful son bicycled all the way to San Diego, mostly by himself. Then the next summer he says, “Dad, I want to bicycle to San Diego, from Alaska, down the Alcan Highway.” And again, I’m going, “What have I done?” And then, you know, several years after that, that’s when he called me. He said, “Dad, we gotta do it together, before it’s too late.” And I said, “Look, you know, I’m too old, I’m too fat, I’ve been over the Rocky Mountains at least four times. I can’t do it again.” So I went up to this new bicycle shop who had these electric assists. They’re not electric bikes. It’s like having two extra gears and a tailwind. And I test drove that. I just went, “Wow!” Because there were so many people, like my age, who had been bikers, you know, their entire lives, and then they get older. Then they put the bike up, you know, on the rafters in the garage, or if they still have their bike, whenever someone calls, “Hey, you wanna go out to Caldera?” In your mind, you think, “Okay, how many hills are between here and the restaurant? Nah, I think I’ll drive.” But now, with an electric assist, that doesn’t enter your mind at all. You just get on and go, and if you have a hill, you push the Eco button, and it helps you up the hill. The technology came along at the perfect time in my life. And I said, “You know, I think I could do it one more time.”

Gabriel: Was it a conscious decision each time to go from west to east, or did it just happen because you lived in Ashland, Oregon, so it was natural to start there?

Christopher: Well, all the research I’ve done… in America, the prevailing winds during the summer are from west to east. That experience I told you about in North Dakota, you know, where I made 183 miles in one day, I would have hated to have going into that. You know, I would have made three miles that day. And we did have some headwinds, you know, all the trips you have headwinds, but from what I read during the summer, most of the time, the prevailing winds in America are from west to east.

Gabriel: Very good. And your son, just to be different, went from east to west.

Christopher: Yes, yes, anything to be different from his dad. Yup! My boy.

Gabriel: Well, not only different. Perhaps there was a bit of friendly competition between you two?

Christopher: So, I didn’t want to be the fat old guy at the bottom of the hill, where my macho son is doing pushups on the top of the hill. I didn’t want that to happen, because, as you know, as a biker, you know, there’s nothing worse than being either the last guy or the guy way ahead. So I wanted to be even, and that new technology came along, and we would race up the hills together, side by side, and at the end of the day we would be equally exhausted. So the fitness gap between the old guy and the macho kid was completely narrowed.

Gabriel: And that made it better for both of you.

Christopher: Yes, for both of us. It was really a wonderful thing.

Gabriel: Nice.

Christopher: The whole thing that I’ve described through my life, from the first sailboat crossing to Tahiti to all the bicycle trips, it kind of formed a theme for my life. And the theme being, get out of your comfort zone. People ask me all the time, “What was the hardest part of all your bicycle trips? Was it going across the desert? Was it going over, you know, Hoosier Pass in the Rocky Mountains? What was the hardest part?” And I look at them, and I say, “getting out of town, your hometown.” Everyone – not everyone – but a lot of people are gonna try and talk you out of going. “You know, there’s too many crazies out there, you’re gonna get shot, you’re gonna run over,” blah blah blah. Well, the fact of the matter is 99.9% of the people out there, in America anyway, will do whatever it takes to help you out along the way from inviting you home for dinner, or letting you sleep in the barn or making breakfast, or helping you find a spoke that, you know, was broken, and you need one, so they’ll take you to a pile of junk in the back forty where they have an old bike that has a spoke that just happens to fit. It’s those kind of things, but getting out of your comfort zone became my theme because of the bicycle trips. So then, years later I wandered throughout Cambodia and Thailand, and then India. And then, about five years ago, a friend of mine, who’s a cataract surgeon from Ashland said, “Hey, I’m doing a lot of work in Ethiopia doing cataract surgeries in these little villages, people that live in them, some of whom have been blind for years. Do you wanna do a book on that?” So I said, “Absolutely!” Now I’d never been to Africa, but now I’ve been there at least five, maybe six times, working on this book. Again, it’s all about getting out of your comfort zone. So then, a year and a half ago, when this part of the Russian invasion started in Ukraine, one of the doctors on that team in Africa called me and said, “Hey, Chris, I’m with another group of doctors on the Polish-Ukrainian border, working in refugee camps. Wanna come?” And it took me five minutes to pack. I was very uneasy. I’m going into a war zone, what… you know, I did not know what to expect at all. And then the doctors, they would get up, and we’d have meetings every night, and they’d say, “Look, do not cross that border into Ukraine. Anyone on the team who crosses the border is off the team.” And then, after a week, they all had to go back to their homes and their families and practices. So they went to the airport in Krakow, and went back home. Well, I canceled my ticket and I got on the train, and I crossed that border into Ukraine and went all throughout Ukraine and did a book along the way. The title of the book is The Child on the Train and Other Stores in War-Torn Ukraine. It’s photo-driven, but also story-driven, of all these amazing people that I’ve met throughout all of Ukraine, from the border all the way up to the eastern front. Then I had to leave after three months because of my visa, and now I’m back, and I’ve been here for almost three months, and tomorrow I’m going to the embassy to see if I can get my visa extended.

Gabriel: And where exactly are you today?

Christopher: Right now, I’m in Lviv, Ukraine; beautiful cobblestoned city, just one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever been in. But when I was here the first time, I went right up to the front where these Ukrainian soldiers made me borscht and I had to wear body armor and… but I do stories here almost every single day on the people I met, and I have to tell you, I’ve never met so many people that have so much courage, so much character. The other day I did a story on a guy named Valentyn. He’s my son’s age, he’s like 30, and he had his leg blown off in a trench ten months ago, and here I am in his apartment, with him, his girlfriend Hanna, and this guy is just a bright light. And I said, “Valentyn, how are you so positive all the time?” And he said, “Chris, I was taught it by my teachers, my friends, my family, my country. It’s in our character.” And everybody I have met in this amazing country has that same sense of character.

Gabriel: Incredible.

Christopher: I am honest in saying I do not want to leave this country, maybe ever.

Gabriel: Oh, really!

Christopher: Maybe ever. You know, I miss my son, I miss my friends in the United States, but there’s nothing like being in a country where everyone is focused on one thing, and that is winning this war. They are not bogged down in trivial politics, or just the stuff that in America, anyway, that you’re just buried in every day. It’s just about winning the war. I took a class from a second-year law student here on how to make a Molotov cocktail. Little old ladies get together in the park, and weave… they put up these old fishing nets, and they bring these baskets of fabric and they weave camouflage netting. Also in the park another day you might see a bunch of college kids giving CPR lessons. Everybody here is geared toward one thing: saving their wonderful country.

Gabriel: Well, I hope you get your visa extended. It sounds a bit drastic to say you may never come back.

Christopher: This society has tapped into a part of my soul that I really didn’t know was there. When I went back to America the first time, a year and a half ago, I had kind of a weird form of PTSD, because I’d been around all this trauma and these stories, and everyone here has either lost someone in their family or knows… has a close friend whom they’ve lost. And then you go back to America, and it’s… it took me a long time. It took me a couple of months to get kind of normalized again, and after the second visit, I’m not looking forward to having to go through that again.

Gabriel: Well, I have a feeling we could spend the entire podcast talking about your experiences in Ukraine, because it’s so extreme right now, and I’m really happy that you found it to be so accommodating and warm despite the difficult circumstances. Like I said, I’ve never been there yet. Since this is a bicycle touring podcast…

Christopher: Oh yeah.

Gabriel: We should get back to reminiscing a bit.

Christopher: Darn right.

Gabriel: Right now, you’re in a very vivid present. Some of your observations in Ukraine and the people that you’ve met, you probably have these same sorts of observations from your Route 66 trip.

Gabriel: In terms of fame, few roads in the world can compete with Route 66, which links Chicago, Illinois, with Los Angeles, California. During the Great Depression, from 1929 to 1939, Route 66 was used by impoverished farmers to flee the midwestern dust bowl for the fertile lands of California. In his 1939 novel, The Grapes of Wrath, American author John Steinbeck described the hardships endured by these farmers and proclaimed Route 66 the Mother Road. After World War II, the growing popularity of the automobile and the family road trip caused a boom on Route 66, as restaurants, motels, gas stations, and souvenir shops competed for the attention of motorists. However, the creation of the interstate highway system meant that by 1970 long sections of the original Route 66 had been replaced by modern four-lane highways. The popularity of the road declined for decades, but nostalgia has brought about a revitalization and efforts to preserve both Route 66 and the businesses alongside it.

Gabriel: Out of all of the options, how did you settle on Route 66?

Christopher: Adventure Cycling. They have all these bike routes that are mapped across the United States, and one of the newest ones they had mapped was the old Route 66 route from L.A. to Chicago.

Gabriel: Kathy usually sends me a link when a new movie is available. I’ve seen almost all of her movies over the years, and when I started watching this one, I immediately thought, “Wait! These photographs, they’re absolutely incredible.”

Christopher: Thank you.

Gabriel: Kathy is a talented filmmaker, but I noticed that the visual material was just different, because there were these still photographs, and I thought, “Well, how in the world did Kathy do this?” And after doing some research and talking to Kathy, I found out that she didn’t do it. You were the photographer.

Christopher: Yes. When I went on the trip, I had no idea that I would meet Kathy later after the trip, and that she would put together the film. As a still photographer, I just, you know, kept doing what I do. Just take pictures.

Gabriel: Right. So there was this rich material because there were the still photographs, which were stunning, and then there was also, I would call it more, fun videos that either you or your son took that supplemented that.

Christopher: Yes.

Gabriel: It really comes across, some of the things you did. The footage with him shaving, while eating a pizza!

Christopher: Yeah, that was my favorite. What a great experience with my son! Really fun. And he and I do a lot of things together. A couple of years after that, we got a 32-foot Catalina sailboat in Santa Barbara, that we still have, and we sailed it from Santa Barbara all the way to Hawaii, just the two of us. So we’ve done all kinds of things like that.

Gabriel: When Kathy saw that material, her eyes must have just bulged out, because usually she’s the one who has to do all of the cinematography and so forth, and now she could just be in charge of editing the material.

Christopher: Yes, and Joanne Feinberg was her associate.

Gabriel: Yeah. So in the end, I think they are credited as co-directors on the film.

Christopher: Yes.

Gabriel: What equipment did you bring along? It looks like you had a pretty lean setup.

Christopher: Well, I’ve been a professional photographer for probably 40 years, and I used to have, you know, the traditional heavy Canon equipment, you know, with the big, heavy lenses and everything. And then, several years ago, I switched to the much smaller Sony equipment for two reasons: One, it’s much more compact and light, but also, you know, I love to photograph people. And the Sony had a flip-up screen on the back. So instead of raising the camera to your eye like you’re hunting someone, and pressing the shutter, you’re now with the flip-up screen, you’re looking down into the screen and not straight up at them, and the reaction of people whose picture I took was very, very different, and I found that they were not so guarded. But people ask me all the time, “What’s the best camera?” They call me and say, “I’m going to Paris, or whatever. What kind of camera should I take?” I said, “Get an iPhone, the one in your pocket,” and they look at me. “No, no, no, no, seriously. What kind of camera should I get?” “Get an iPhone, the one in your pocket.” So now I have a 14 Pro, and I have my same cameras that I took on the bicycle trip. I have a… it’s called a sling bag, it’s kind of like a fanny pack that goes crisscross across your chest and under one arm. So all of my professional cameras, Sonys fit in that, but really, when I’m photographing a military funeral here, and I have a press pass and I can go shoot anywhere I want. But bringing out that phone in your pocket, it’s so convenient, so amazing, and the quality always surprises me. And the other thing about the Sony professional camera, you can’t pick it up and order a pizza from it.

Gabriel: You’ve managed to capture people, and Kathy also has your voiceover where you very eloquently describe a few situations. Are those taken from your book of the same title, The Road Between Us?

Christopher: The Road Between Us, yes. And that is story-driven, as well as photography-driven. Each little chapter is a vignette on these characters we’d meet or adventures we’d have along the way, and it was also a great father-son story. Yeah, later we went into a sound studio, and I did a voiceover. But a lot of the stuff, like the one of Quincy shaving, bicycling, no hands, shaving off his beard, I think part of that was just shot with my iPhone. I mean, imagine you’re bicycling next to someone and, you know, they’re doing some wild thing.  You know, are you gonna stop and get out your pro camera, or you’re just gonna keep bicycling and reach in your pocket and bring out your iPhone?

Gabriel: Right. That kept it natural.

Christopher: Mhm, and spontaneous.

Gabriel: Right. What are some of the more remarkable encounters that you remember? The people behind the pictures. I’m curious, now that some time has passed, who has stuck in your memory?

Christopher: Well, people ask me all the time, “Do you shoot landscapes?” And I go, “You know, really, to me the greatest landscape is the human face, and everybody has a story.” So we were in New Mexico, and Quincy spotted this old cowboy, Archie West, who’s 80-some years old, and is repairing his fence, and we circle around, and you know we just pull up and just start talking to him. Long story short, he’s not only in the book, but I took the book to him after it was published, and he had me in and cooked me chili on this old woodstove that his grandmother used to cook on, in this adobe house. And he lives on this ranch, and he fixes fences all day, so we went out and fixed fences together.

Gabriel: Let’s listen to the opening of the movie, which just so happens to be about Archie West.

Christopher (movie): A black-and-blue thunderstorm circles behind us, unsettling the high desert with strong gusts. Quincy points him out as we pedal towards Santa Fe. I roll up on my loaded bicycle and introduce myself. Archie West is repairing a part of the fence along the edge of his ranch that’s as old and weathered as he is. He tells me the story of his family, his land, and how his dad settled here from Oklahoma just before the Dust Bowl era. “The land’s too dry to plant crops,” he says. “The only thing you can raise here is cattle.” I tell Archie about our bicycle trip up Route 66. “The best part of this bicycle trip is doing it with my son.”

Christopher: You know, everybody has a story, and it’s just taking the time to dig a little deeper to find out the story. And most of us – all of us – are kind of a little afraid, just to walk up to a stranger and just start talking. It’s something that I started practicing doing since 1976. Just take that deep breath and roll in and say, “Hey, you know we’re bicycling all the way from, wherever, Oregon. Do you think we could stay in your barn?” “Sure. Why not?” Next morning, big breakfast laid out for us in the house. Then they invite their friends over to meet you. On almost every trip, people would say, “Chris, you’re gonna take a gun, aren’t you?” And I go, “What? I’m not taking a gun.” “No, no, no,” they say, “No, Chris. People out there, they’re crazy. They got drive-by shootings every minute. They’re crazy, you know,” and I said, “No, I’m not taking a gun.” So then I would bicycle to the first town over from, say, Ashland, Oregon, which is Klamath Falls, and people would invite us to dinner, and at dinner, they’d say, “Hey, you got a gun, don’t you?” “No, I don’t have…” “Oh, you gotta have a gun. Those next people in Lakeview,” another 70 miles away, “They’re crazy! You know, you gotta take a gun.” It’s kinda like the campfire smoke that you can just see over the horizon. You can’t see them, but that smoke is the threat, because the tribe, or whatever is there. And it was like that all the way across America. I would never take a gun on a bicycle trip.

Gabriel: In the movie there was, what I would call a remarkable encounter described, with a host who did have a gun. A shotgun.

Christopher: Oh, yes, yes, yes. We were out in the middle of… God, I don’t know where. I think was in the middle of New Mexico, and the wind was just howling. It was howling to the degree where we couldn’t even set up a tent. And there was this one old guy. Before we even met him, you can just look at this old trailer with electric line strung to his trailer in the middle of nowhere, and you know that this guy wants it that way. He just doesn’t want to be a part of the rest of anything. So, he came out, and we made friends with him, and he was an eccentric guy, and he says, “I’ll tell you what, you guys. I’m gonna give you my bed right here and I’m gonna sleep in the other room in the La-Z-Boy.” So he leans over next to the bed, and he picks up his shotgun and he has a bunch of shells, and he says, “I’m just gonna take this with me.” And we look, and he’s asleep in the La-Z-Boy, and he’s got the shotgun laying right across his lap with the shells right next to him. And he turned out to be really a great, great, great guy. And through the years, every once, while he’ll call me on the phone and he calls me Mister Briscoe. “Mister Briscoe, how are you doing?” Again, it takes that bit of courage to walk up to the stranger, or knock on the door and just ask, and most of the time the door will open.

Gabriel: I do find that in that regard, having a bicycle…

Christopher: Yes.

Gabriel: This has come up in other interviews. Having the bicycle is this perfect way of doing it, because somehow, it’s not threatening. People can decide what to make of it. I find it’s much easier for me to speak to a stranger when I’m on a bicycle trip than some other kind of trip.

Christopher: Yes. If you’re hitchhiking, if you’re on a Harley, if you’re in a car, totally different.

Gabriel: I had a chance to travel that road by car in 2004. To the dismay of my traveling companions, I tried to drive over every possible stretch of original pavement.

Christopher: Yes! good for you! And they wanted to get a freeway, right?

Gabriel: Exactly, exactly. But I do recall that there were some stretches, especially in Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas, where Route 66, it did become part of the interstate, and I don’t think there were any other roads that closely followed it. So how did you deal with that?

Christopher: Well, there were some short gaps – I don’t know, maybe a half a day here or there, not many – where we had to go on the freeway.

Gabriel: Oh, no!

Christopher: Yeah. And one of the good things about going on the freeway is that many of the interstates have this wide, flat shoulder and, you know, of course, they cut through a lot of the passes and stuff, so that was the good part. The bad part is that, apparently in radial tires there is this little micro steel weaving that holds the tire together, and when there’s a flat tire, or when a truck tire breaks or something, these little steel wires that you can’t see are all over the side of the interstate. And we got a lot of flats from those.

Gabriel: I’ve never biked on an interstate. I’ve occasionally, while driving, seen somebody, and I just thought, “Oh, no, those poor people,” because it just seems sometimes like a very treacherous area. Even though it is wide, it seems treacherous. And then you have the trucks going by at full speed, and did the bow waves of the truck affect you at all as they were blowing past?

Christopher:  Yeah, they give you a nice little push, most of the time. Depending where the wind is blowing, you know, you can get blown right off. But if you can give up the fear factor, most of the time they give you a nice little push.

Gabriel: Okay. I’m surprised that that would be part of the official map, but I guess there are no alternatives. That’s what I was getting at.

Christopher: Exactly. And when there are alternatives, there’ll be a sign, “no pedestrians, no bicycles,” and then you cannot go on it, and you have to take little side roads, but that could be really interesting too.

Gabriel: Well, one of my favorite stretches is in Arizona. Like I said, I was driving, basically where Route 66 makes this detour through Peach Springs and Oatman.

Christopher: Yeah, Oatman. Oatman! They have all these wild donkeys out in Outman.

Gabriel: Right.

Christopher: And you’ll be… you’ll be out in the middle of nowhere and there’ll be all these wild donkeys crossing the road.

Gabriel: Right. What other stretches do you recall as being particularly interesting?

Christopher: I also enjoyed going across the middle of America, like in Kansas. So, long, straight stretches. You’re on the side of this highway, and it’s just corn everywhere, or wheat fields everywhere, and then way on the horizon you would see a silver water tower, and you knew that the silver water tower was in the middle – likely – in the middle of a park in the middle of a little town in Kansas. And the good thing about those little towns is that they always had a community swimming pool, which meant a free shower. So we would just look for that silver water tower and just keep being blown across America, and then we’d take a break in the middle of the town, and we’d lean our bicycles up and have a free shower and a swim, and of course, everyone would wanna meet us, and the little cub reporter would come out from the newspaper and interview us for a story. And I just loved that.

Gabriel: And every day, you were doing a couple of portrait sessions of people you met. In almost all of them, the people look very natural, and now I know how you accomplished that. It’s clear in the movie, however, that you and your son had a bit of a disagreement about the photoshoots and how often they were taking place. You tried to get all of these interesting camera angles, like standing on a stool to get a shot. Let’s listen to the movie:

Christopher (movie): Pretty soon, I’m standing on some stool to get a higher viewpoint and Quincy is eating his pancakes, going, “Oh, boy!” And then we’re back on the bikes and, you know, we’re good.

Quincy (movie): And then I hear, “Quincy, Quincy, okay, let’s just pull off here, just pull off here.” And it’s like, “Oh my gosh, like, I am not going to take another photo!” And have me crawl up on top of a haybale and have me jump across eighteen times just so we can get the right shot.

Gabriel: I had to laugh because my wife and I have done little bicycle trips in Germany for five years now, and somehow it became a tradition to take a photo with us on the bale of hay, and…

Christopher: Oh, great.

Gabriel: So usually, we need to set up the phone on the little timer. I tell you these are the photos that take the longest of any, because we don’t have a good place to put it or we’re looking the wrong way. That was a funny thing that you also did.

Christopher: Yeah. I love that picture. Yeah, really fun, really fun. And then, as you know, as a bicyclist, one of the things that, you know, beginning touring bicyclists don’t think about is that you can eat as much as you want. You can eat as much as you want! It’s like, you know, when you go to the park, and you see the chippers where the gardeners are throwing in those branches, and it just turns into sawdust? You can put any amount of – it seems – of food in your body, and it’s like one of those chippers that just turns it into dust in seconds. Quincy and I talk a lot about our favorite time of the day was what we would call the second breakfast. Oftentimes we would stay in a hotel that had some kind of free breakfast, but then, around 10:30, ohhhh, we’d see a Waffle House, and we would go for the second breakfast to get the pancakes and the eggs and bacon. Wow! That was one of our favorite times of the day.

Gabriel: Absolutely. That’s really one of the benefits of touring. You don’t have to have any guilty conscience about putting away a half a pie or something like that.

Christopher: A half, at least. And then, oh, the best thing, how about this? Right about 11:55 a.m., you find one of those pizza places that has an all-you-can-eat lunch buffet of pizzas. Ohhhh! And you sit there and then you order, how about one of those pitchers of Coca-Cola. Now, You know, and you’re always thirsty and… God, I remember, you know, in ‘76, nobody knew anything about nutrition, but we’d say, “Oh, I’m having kind of a slow morning,” and we would go to a little market, we’d get a dozen donuts each, and a liter of Pepsi right and just chug that thing, and we would be, like, flying high for the rest of the day.

Gabriel: Rocket fuel.

Christopher: Rocket fuel. Yep.

Gabriel: In terms of carbs, there is no limit. I personally do struggle with fat. I can’t handle the grease. My stomach gets heavy, and I actually don’t do very well on the bike, if I’ve eaten, you know, sausages.

Christopher: Wash it down with a liter of Coke, and you’ll be fine.

Gabriel: Yeah, that helps dissolve it.

Christopher: That’ll dissolve anything.

Gabriel: So far, everything we’ve discussed has been very positive, and that’s really great. It sounds like in all your trips, you had a wonderful time, and I do usually ask the guests about low points because we have to face it, it’s not all fun and games. What are some of the difficult times that you had? Now we’re talking about all of your trips, basically, not just this, this latest one.

Christopher: In 19 – I think – 78, my buddy Richard and I went across. That’s when we put our back tires in the Pacific Ocean. And it was just kind of like doing it over again. Oftentimes it was like, “Why am I doing this?” So then, the third time, when I biked by myself from Oregon to Minnesota, I wanted to again get out of my comfort zone. When you go with a friend, they know your whole history of everyone you’ve dated, all your jokes. It’s like bringing part of home with you. But when you go by yourself, you can be anyone you want. You can change your accent. You can make up any kind of history you want. People look at you, and they go, “God, is that guy a homeless guy? What’s the deal?” And then you meet them, but if you’re with a buddy, it’s not the same. So one of my favorite trips, other than the one I did with my son, was when I went by myself, and you’re just out there, and it’s hard to describe, but when you’re by yourself. Wow! If it starts raining, you’re sitting underneath an overpass bridge, you know, for like three hours, waiting for the rain, having a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, it’s still a cool adventure, if you’re you know, if you’re comfortable in your own skin, and I guess some people aren’t, but… I love doing stuff like that by myself, and there were some down times, like when I, in the year 2000, when I went from San Diego to the east coast of Florida. I think I was in, I don’t know, Georgia or somewhere, and some guy… you know what – at 7-Eleven – a Big Gulp is?

Gabriel: Yes.

Christopher: One of those huge plastic cups with a lid on it? Well, it was full of ice, and that guy threw it out of his window and hit me in the shoulder. Damned near knocked me off my bike, and luckily I didn’t have a gun. If I had, I probably would’ve emptied it right there. And that kind of jolted you, because, you know, as you know, you’re so vulnerable out there. And then, when I was on a freeway once, some guy threw out an unopened… one of those tall cars of beers, I don’t know how many ounces, but the tall ones, and luckily it missed me, and that thing exploded on the pavement next to me. If it had hit me, it probably would have broken my shoulder. But other than those two events throughout all those bicycle trips – they’re probably equal to going around the world maybe halfway – those are the only two things that come into mind.

Gabriel: That’s a really good record, I would say.

Christopher: And then the other interesting part especially, you know, after two- or three-month-long bicycle trip, is not on the trip itself. For me, the hardest part is what I call re-entry. So here you’ve been on this bicycle for all these months, and met all these amazing people, and depended on, you know, the pressure in your tire, and how much water you have, and not much else, and then you go home. And that is always the hardest part, because you really have to readjust, go into a whole other lifestyle. And then your friends, they’re gonna want to hear your story for about three minutes, and you’ll push it to five, and then you’ll see their eyes glaze over ’cause they weren’t there, they don’t know, you know what it’s like to sleep on a rock wall in the middle of Texas, because of rattlesnakes. And, you know, they go, “Oh, that’s interesting.” “That rancher guy you met, oh, yeah, with the adobe house, yeah, that’s interesting.” And then, that’s the end of it. You’re inside, and you’re going, “God, they’re they’re not interested.” And they wanna be, but they weren’t there.

Gabriel: Coming back from Ukraine, you had a readjustment, so it’s not just from a bicycle trip, necessarily.

Christopher: Yes. Horrible, horrible.

Gabriel: Thinking back on the movie, I don’t know if you would call it a low point, but there is a point in the movie where you seem to lose energy. You can’t really pedal anymore. And it seems like you didn’t really even know yourself what exactly had happened.

Christopher: Yeah, it was scary. Now, I am not that 24-year-old kid who sailed to Tahiti. I am 72 years old. When you stand up, you know, and old people groan, well when Quincy and I went on our sailing trip, we did a lot of video, when we sailed to Hawaii, and the video is funny to watch afterwards, because every time I stand up on the boat, I groan, because it hurts. So on this trip, on Route 66, we were in Oklahoma, and in Oklahoma during the summer, it is so humid that it’s like breathing through a wet washcloth, and the humidity just sucks every bit of moisture out of you. We would step into like a McDonald’s that had those drinks that have the electrolytes in it, the green stuff, and we would just like drink for, like, two hours. And when we would step outside, we felt like we’re stepping into a microwave, it was so hot. My brain just kind of shut off, and Quincy was way up ahead, and I was just watching his blinking taillight, and I just leaned on my handlebars, and I just started to cry. And I didn’t know why I was crying. I was having some kind of meltdown and Quincy circled back, and he said, “Dad, what’s wrong?” And I just said, “I don’t know.” So he got me to lay down on a picnic table, and he ran into a store, got several liters of Gatorade, and then in an hour I was normal again. But that was, that was really scary in Oklahoma, because I didn’t know really what was going on. And, you know, you always hydrate a lot, and you hydrate the night before and the morning of, but in some instances you just can’t hydrate enough.

Gabriel: I would say that you had bonked, but usually you don’t cry when you bonk, so I don’t know if there’s some kind of…

Christopher: I don’t know, yeah.

Gabriel: Emotional part of it.

Chistopher: Yeah, yup.

Gabriel: Yeah, that was a difficult moment, for sure, and probably a little scary for both of you.

Christopher: Yeah, for both of us.

Gabriel: Have you had other physical challenges to overcome during your cross-country trips?

Christopher: I really got into hill climbing and we’d be going over the Rockies. One pass, Hoosier Pass, is 11,550 feet. Probably shouldn’t say this on the air, but until the bicycle trip I took in the year 2000, I rarely wore a helmet. You know, like I said, I’m just a traveling bicyclist. So, in ‘76 we didn’t have helmets, and we didn’t even have padded handlebars. So there’s, as you know, there’s this nerve that runs along the bottom of your palm, and if you don’t have a pad gloves or handlebars, it gets pinched and you lose all feeling in the tip of your finger. So we went to a carpet store and got some carpet padding and duct-taped that around our handlebars. So, anyway. So back to the hill climbing thing. So I always had a baseball cap on, and what I would do is when I was going on the Rockies, hour after hour, I would bring the brim of my baseball cap down as far as I could, so that I would be only visually dealing with the first ten feet of pavement in front of my tire, and as long as I would not look up, and just look at that first ten feet of pavement, I could go forever. But if I cheated and, you know looked up to see where the top of the pass was. My whole body, just, you know, slow down to nothing. But if I could just you might make my whole world that first ten feet of pavement. That’s what I did, and I told that story years ago to my wonderful son Quincy, and the other day in Santa Barbara. He was in a marathon and running, and he didn’t use the same technique. And he says, Dad, I used the baseball cap technique and man, I finished the marathon a record time, and it’s kind of a metaphor for a lot of challenges in life. You know, if you can just get rid of all the distractions and focus on just that, metaphorically, 10 feet in front of you, you can go a long way.

Gabriel: In the movie, there’s this cool photo of you where you’re cruising down the road on this blue Peugeot road bike, and you’ve got that baseball cap on, and you’ve got a t-shirt that’s a little bit too short, and shorts that are a little bit too short, and all kinds of things strapped down to your rear rack. That was how bicycling looked in 1976, and that brings the story full circle.

Christopher: Yes. I remember in 1976, when we went to Pennsylvania, we saw this big Sunday get-together picnic of all these Amish people, you know, with their horse-and-buggies, and we just rolled right up. And I kinda identified the alpha, Old Grandpa Amish Guy, and he looked at us, and he says, “What are you doing? Get out of here. This isn’t a tourist place.” And I said, very humbly, I said, “Oh, we just bicycled from Oregon, and we were just wondering if we could camp in your field.” And he said, “Oregon? Seriously?” “Yeah!”  And we not only camped in this field, but he gave us a job bucking hay for a week, and I got to drive a team of horses, and it was the same thing. But exactly what you’re referring to. It’s the respect of, you’re on a bicycle, and they really wanna know like, “Where did you come from? How many miles do you make a day? How many flat tires have you had?” You know, all those usual questions. A lot of people that I’ve met through the years on my bicycle, they look at you and they start asking the questions. And you can see in their eye, like, “What if I had done that? Would my life be any different?” They always say, “Gee! I wish I could do that,” and my buddy and I always say, “Well, you can. You got a bike. Come on, you can come with us,” and then you look past them, and it might be, you know, we might be in front of a 7-Eleven, and you’ll see. You know the station wagon full of kids and the wife’s waiting, and you just know that’s just not gonna happen for them. But there’s always that twinkle in their eye of, “Gee! Wow!” People love adventures.

Gabriel: Right. Just in this short time we’ve talked, you’ve already piled up so many adventures into the conversation, between the sailing, the bicycling, and being in the war zone… and Africa, let’s not forget Africa. You’ve definitely made a point of living an adventuresome life.

Christopher: Again, it’s all about getting out of your comfort zone, and it’s so easy for all of us to stay in the comfort zone.

Gabriel: What an inspiring conversation with Christopher Briscoe! Sadly, the day after our interview, he found out that his visa had not been extended. However, he obtained a new visa and will be returning to Ukraine in April. Christopher is the author of seven books, including Shifting Gears, The Girl on the Train, and The Road Between Us. His complete works can be found either on his Amazon page or on the Shifting Gears Publications website. Links are given in the show notes. Kathy Roselli and Joanne Feinberg’s movie The Road Between Us was released in 2017 and accepted by several film festivals, including Filmed by Bike, a prestigious Portland-based worldwide touring film series. A link to the movie’s Vimeo page is also given in the show notes.

Gabriel: The transcript for this episode is available on the Accidental Bicycle Tourist website. I welcome feedback and suggestions for this and other episodes. You’ll find a link to all contact information in the show notes.  If you would like to rate or review the show, you can do that on your favorite podcast platform. You can also follow the podcast on Instagram. Thank you to Anna Lindenmeier for the cover artwork and to Timothy Shortell for the original music. This podcast would not be possible without continuous support from my wife Sandra. And thank you so much for listening. I hope the episode will inspire you to get out and see where the road leads you.   

Gabriel: How old were you then?

Christopher: I’m thinking I was 66.

Gabriel: 66 on Route 66! Come on, that was not a coincidence.