Dogs Vs. Highways

For a long-distance cyclist, which one is freakier?

Clive Thompson


Photo by Nick Bolton on Unsplash

It’s funny how your sense of what’s risky —and what’s not —can change in an instant.

This happened to me recently during my coast-to-coast cycling trip across the country.

Let me explain.

Basically, I’m spending my summer cycling from NYC to Portland, Oregon, for my next book on micro-mobility. For my route, I’m following maps provided by the Adventure Cycling Association.

Mostly, they stick to smaller country roads and highways — so I’m not fighting trucks, SUV and semis on bigger throughways.

This is good, right? When you’re on a bike, you really don’t want to be too close to 2-ton vehicles. I’ll ride those bigger roads if there’s no other option, but it’s pretty freaky to have those huge vehicles hoosh by with the unsettlingly dopplerian sound of TIE fighters — all rushing wind and shrieking metal.

So I was annoyed when, a couple of days ago while riding from Indianpolis to St. Louis, the maps had me pedaling down US-40.

US-40 isn’t a huge highway, but parts of it are pretty terrible for cyclists. At times there’s virtually no shoulder to ride on — just a tiny foot-wide strip on the right side of the highway. It was like trying to pilot a bicycle along a two-by-four balance beam, with cars only inches away.

Scary for me, but additionally awful for the drivers coming up behind me! The majority of them are as worried as I am about a collision. They don’t want to kill anyone.

So I really wanted to get off US-40.

When I arrived in Marshall, Illinois, after grimly pedaling US-40 for dozens of miles, I vowed that the next day I would chart my own course. To heck with what the map recommended.

So the next day, heading out of Vandalia, I used Google Maps to find a path through the country roads a little north.

At first, it was lovely! As I pedaled down bucolic farming roads, I could feel my blood pressure ease. It was not only safer, but a sensual feast: Fields of freshly planted corn, long loping slow hills, tidy new farmhouses leaning up against old barns that existed in states of artfully toppling decay…



Clive Thompson

I write 2X a week on tech, science, culture — and how those collide. Writer at NYT mag/Wired; author, “Coders”.