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Degree Metropolitan Food + Drink: A Denver Culinary Sensation Hiding in Plain Sight

Degree Metropolitan Food + Drink: A Denver Culinary Sensation Hiding in Plain Sight

Degree Metropolitan Food + Drink is one of the newest restaurants to open its doors to in the Denver dining scene. A little hard to find, it is located on the campus of Metropolitan State University (MSU), adjacent to Marriott’s SpringHill Suites®.

Managed by Sage Hospitality, the 48-seat eatery — formerly a food-test kitchen in MSU’s hospitality department — has been repurposed into a trendy eatery. Not only is it convenient for the student on campus, but it is centrally located close to the Pepsi Center, Sports Authority Field, and the Colorado Convention Center. Degree is open for lunch and dinner from 10:30 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.

While many start-ups suffer from a lack of management and culinary experience, that is not the case here. Executive chef Daniel Hyman is no stranger to the food and restaurant industry, having started cooking at the tender age of 12. “I would flip our kitchen table upside down and pretend it was a restaurant. I would serve my sisters tuna sandwiches,” he said with a broad smile.

“My mother was my encouragement,” he continued. “She took us to Trio, in Evanston where I was exposed to a higher rank of food.” Now realizing the possibilities of a career in the food industry, he attended the Cooking & Hospitality Institute of Chicago where he earned his culinary degree. He further honed his skills while working alongside some of Chicago’s top chefs including Alex Cheswick, Stephanie Izard, and Jacky Pluton.

After working at Starwood and Hyatt Hotels, he applied his talents to Denver’s The Corner Office before becoming executive chef at Degree Metropolitan Food + Drink.

With all of the talent and experience as his foundation, Hyman learned the art of using well-thought out ingredients to create vibrant flavors. He prepares each dish with the same attention to detail and all the passion of a maestro conductor. This includes a delicate balance between just the right contrasting amounts of sweet and salty on the palate.

Giving new food makeovers to some traditional meals seems to be one of chef Hyman’s favorite menu innovations.


His Colorado chicken club, for instance, elevates this old late-night room service standby. His version starts with a potato bun and layers it with white cheddar green chili, bacon from a locally-sourced meat supplier, house pickled green tomato, yazu marmalade, lettuce, and grilled chicken. Some customers are so enamored with this one item that they come in for it every day.

The Degree burger is no less impressive for those who are always in search of the perfect one. It starts with grilled Angus beef and is topped with knock-your-socks-off bacon jam, whiskey onions, shitake pickled tomato, white cheddar green chili, guacamole, and for an extra zing, some crispy chicharrón.

Care for something a little more global? You don’t have to travel all the way to Japan for some good ramen. Hyman’s tokusen ramen bowl is almost too pretty to eat and is chock full of braised greens, pork belly, 72 degree egg, sweet pickled chili and shitake and green onion. “This takes six hours to prep,” he says and it is one of his personal favorites.

Desserts are just as creatively prepared as the entrees and include an olive oil cake with Chantilly cream, Toschi cherries, and Marsala caramel. Another must-try is his candy bar (served in a mason jar) with chocolate pate, puffed rice, whisky caramel sauce, honey powder, and…wait for it…marshmallow gelato.

For a small restaurant, Degree has a nice variety of 16 wines and 20 Colorado craft beers on tap. This includes Tivoli Brewing Company’s Helles Lager, Left Hand’s Nitro Milk Stout, and other local brews.

Another interesting aspect of Degree is that students who are enrolled in the on-site Department of Hospitality, Tourism & Events gain real-world experience working alongside chef Hyman and his staff.

Opened for just a month, word seems to be getting out about this small and demure open-kitchen eatery that has heretofore mostly been known by the students who attend the hospitality school there. Whether you are a local or Denver visitor, it’s worth the effort to find your way to Degree Metropolitan + Food for a truly inspiring culinary experience.


THE VIEW FROM BEHIND THE HANDLEBARS

GWYN BALLARD is a professor of biophysics at the Rockefeller University.

Perhaps the most romantic journey in North America is an overland crossing from coast to coast. Done by bicycle, it is also a memorable adventure. No one who has ever plunged down Ten Sleep Canyon on two wheels, or toured Utah's desert wonderlands or crossed the Great Plains under his or her own steam could ever forget it. Weeks on the road bring challenges, undeniably. But they also bring experiences of the most sublime character: solitude, star-studded nights, astonishing landscapes and unforgettable glimpses of the wild.

For more than a decade, my summer vacation has been spent exploring North America by bicycle. A coast-to-coast tour takes me about a month, although most people travel at a somewhat more leisurely pace.

Such a trip can be anything from a sprint to a sabbatical. How fast you go, and where, and what you do en route are up to you. First, though, it's serious traveling.

The journey west from New York City does not, unfortunately, get off to an easy start. The northeastern coastal plain is some of the worst bicycling country in North America, despite the tracts of pretty farmland that remain. There is little to enjoy or admire where one decayed industrial town merges inexorably into the next. Cycling on their busy, potholed highways is a chore rather than a pleasure.

From the George Washington Bridge, the kindest way out of the New York metropolitan area is to take side streets westward through Fort Lee, N.J., to Route 4. Go as far as Paterson, then follow the Hamburg Turnpike and Jackson Avenue to Route 23 at Pompton Plains.

Beyond our back door are the quiet, scenic roads of Appalachia, where instead of ugly urban sprawl there are picturesque valleys and forested mountainsides. It is a different world, invigorating and as yet unspoiled. But those peaceful hills bring some of the hardest climbing of the whole crossing. Coming so early in the tour, they can make the decision not to go by automobile feel like a big mistake.

Far less strenuous, certainly, are the arable lands of the Middle West. Agriculture is a major business of America, and this is the heart of much of it. But the region is also a crowded one. The highways roar with traffic plying back and forth between town and city, farm and market. Riding in it day after day is wearying and hazardous. Only on the Great Plains do the wide open spaces of pioneer legend persist in present-day reality. There the cyclist is most aware of the continent's vastness. Land and sky merge in the haze of distance, and on this stage progress is tedious, almost dreamlike. Indeed, if the wind is contrary, and determined enough, there will be no progress at all.

First sight of the Western mountains - the Black Hills or the Bighorns or the Rockies themselves - brings a thrill beyond words. They're the first clear sign of progress in a week's ride, and the cyclist advancing slowly toward these mountains experiences them much as the occupants of the prairie schooners would have. But long, steep climbs lie ahead. Ascents and descents of close to one vertical mile, with passes that are more than 10,000 feet high, are common in the central Rockies. Nevertheless, cycling in the cool heights and breathtaking scenery is pure pleasure.

Beyond, there are up to 600 miles of desert to cross. Why would anyone do it? Because of the challenge. And because much of North America's most awesome scenery is to be found there.

The final hurdles are the Pacific Coast mountain ranges. Canopied with green forests and frequently obscured by mists and rain, they're a relief indeed from the sand- red oven to the east. Their western slopes, and the windswept beaches beyond, mark the end of the journey, 3,000 miles downrange from New York City.

The preparation for any bicycle tour - and the fun - begin with planning a route. The first source of information is a good motoring atlas, like Rand McNally's. It indicates the location and size of settlements, classifies highways and points out landmarks and other places of interest that might be worth a visit. Upon request, local chambers of commerce will furnish brochures about particular areas and calendars of local events.

Cyclists cannot use Interstate highways except in designated rural areas of some Western states. Freeways, tollroads and turnpikes are also usually off limits. I try to avoid major truck routes like U.S. 40 and U.S. 50. They're in terrible disrepair, worked to death and extremely dangerous. Similarly, I avoid metropolitan and industrial areas whenever possible. Their roads are especially broken up, littered with junk, congested, and poorly marked. By contrast, many of America's rural roads are delightful to ride on. Some that might be used on an east-west crossing are Upper Michigan's Route 28, U.S. 16 through Wyoming, and the North Cascades Highway (Route 20) in Washington State. There are many others, especially in the Pacific and mountain regions. Discovering them is one of the joys of cycling.

What about equipment? You need a reliable 10-speed bicycle, of course. To carry luggage, most cyclists use a handlebar pack and/or rear-wheel panniers. Wheels should have tubular rims for clincher tires, with quick-release hubs and lightweight mudguards. The seat should be of the padded (anatomic) variety. Some water bottles in cages are useful.

For camping out, take along a Gore-Tex one-person bivouac tent and an ultralightweight goose down sleeping bag. They give very efficient protection against rain, biting insects and nighttime cold. A ground pad adds considerably to sleeping comfort.

Campsite cooking requires a miniature gasoline stove and one utensil - an eight-inch Silverstone frying pan with a folding handle. Add a can opener, cutlery, salt, pepper and spices and a pack of paper napkins for cleaning up.

Other things to carry are a towel and essential toiletries, spare clothes, a rain cape, one spare folding tire and inner tube and a puncture repair kit. The only essential tools are a spoke wrench and a pair of tire levers. Light items needed frequently - camera, maps, logbook, snacks, etc. - are best carried in the handlebar pack. The heavy stuff to be used at campsite goes in the panniers.

The most exciting part of a long tour, I think, is the beginning. The sense of escape is immense. There's no feeling in the world like standing with your bicycle on the George Washington Bridge and bidding New York adieu for a month. But what's it like out on the open road?

A typical day begins at first light, when the birds wake you up. It's an enthusiastic sound, and they do it regardless of weather. On bright mornings, emerging from the tent is easy. If it's raining, though, any encouragement is welcome.

I almost never breakfast at campsite the first task of my day is to get going and warm up. Cool air, misty vistas, a quiet road, the promise of a new day - all combine to make the early morning a magical time to ride.

After 10 to 15 miles, I'm ready for breakfast at a roadside restaurant. The large family restaurants are my favorite. Service is fast and courteous, the food good and plentiful. Best of all, such restaurants have lavish washrooms where one can begin the day in earnest with a good scrub. Breakfast is also a nice opportunity to meet people. At first, you'll be surprised to discover what a curiosity you seem to be. But don't be put off. Most motorized travelers find cross- country cyclists irresistibly fascinating.

After breakfast, some serious road work is in order. With a stomach full of pancakes and syrup, it's amazing how the power comes on. Pure rhythm now, pumping the miles along, living with the traffic. White lines tick by, wayside objects waft past, and distant mountains turn their faces in a slow ballet choreographed by your motion. Even the bicycle seems content, humming along on the light metallic note of tire and spoke and the sticky-slick purring of the gears.

Lunch for me is a pit stop at a supermarket or general store. No fancy cuisine - just lots of it. Then it's back on the track. The afternoon heat demands steadier pace, more endurance. I pause often, to drink, to snack, to take photographs. Sometimes there's need for a longer break to fix a flat or do the laundry or take a refreshing dip in a river. The main business, though, is patiently to make miles.

By my 4 P.M. refueling stop, I've usually topped a hundred after that, it's bonus points. They can be easy or difficult, but either way the physical sensation of riding is all-consuming. The thrill of speed and power on the one hand and the inevitable aches and pains and annoyance with traffic or adverse weather on the other are equal and inseparable facets of the experience of bicycle touring.

Cool of evening brings more comfortable riding, and the pace picks up again. Miles pass almost unnoticed in the rich evening light. But as shadows lengthen then fade into dusk I have only one thought - to camp down for the night. I pick up supplies in the next settlement I come to, then haul out well beyond the houses and find a secluded place to pitch the tent. Often a secure campsite is hard to find. It may take several tries. But I never violate this rule: Be invisible from the highway. There is too much mischief about these days to risk attracting attention.

With camp prepared and secured against rain, I settle down to the last pleasures of the day - cooking and eating supper, writing my journal, and bed. By 9 P.M., I'm usually asleep.

I'm sometimes asked: ''Sleeping out like that, don't you get bothered by wild animals?'' Only very rarely. Once my tent was demolished at 2 A.M. by cows - a frightening but not fatal experience. The really troublesome beasts are the small ones, mosquitoes and ants.

Interactions with people on the road are usually positive and enjoyable. Unpleasant things do happen, but not often. Small-town people are particularly friendly, and their hospitality sometimes takes surprising forms. One evening last summer, I had labored in the dark up a mountain to the old silver mining town of Austin, Nev. Arriving after 10 P.M., I expected to find the whole town closed down for the night, and was resigned to going hungry. Instead, the folks were having a barbecue, right on the main street. I managed to stagger away about 3 A.M. stuffed almost to bursting with roast meat and beer.

The cyclist is, of course, completely exposed to the weather. Most of the time in summer it's fine and delightful, but on a lengthy tour you can expect at least a few foul days. Strong winds are particularly irksome they can stop you short.

Squelching along in water-filled shoes, cold and blinded by spray from passing vehicles, is not to everyone's taste. But the worst thing about rain is that it makes a mess of everything. Sleeping bag and spare clothes are difficult to keep dry, and delicate equipment like camera and lenses must be carefully protected from water and condensation. The bicycle particularly suffers, as moving parts lose lubricants and become infiltrated with dirt from the road. Nuisance though it can be, however, rain must be taken as part of normal fare. Indeed, time seems to fly on rainy days and progress is usually excellent.

Riding in the desert poses some special problems. First, the intense heat means extreme rates of water loss daily consumption can easily exceed 20 pints. Furthermore, watering points can be uncomfortably far apart - 50 miles or more. Thus, adequate storage capacity is essential - I recommend at least five quarts. A nice way to supplement this is with encapsulated water - in the form of grapes. The sugar is a valuable bonus.

Sometimes the pavement softens or melts, causing the bicycle's wheels to become encrusted with tar. But desert rain is often far worse, because of the suddenness and ferocity of the storms. Flash floods often cover highways with mud or even tear them up altogether.

When the heat is especially severe, I find shade and camp down. My custom-made silicon solar panel then charges a battery pack to provide power for late-night riding with lights - itself an unforgettable experience. Sunset in the desert can make it seem as if the whole world is on fire. When it subsides, night falls quickly. Surrounded now only by vague shadows, you seem to be flying along. But the darkness exaggerates speed, and after four or five hours each mile seems interminable. By then the air is cold, and stars in the hundreds blaze malevolently in the pitch-black sky. It's a relief to camp down and go to sleep.

Each day has it own flavor, its highs, its hassles. But the coddled mentality of apartment life is gone, replaced by hardiness and indifference to discomfort. The feeling of well-being and inner peace is immense. Slowly, as the remaining miles dwindle, memories accumulate, to be cherished forever. Suddenly, almost incredibly, it seems, the journey is over. But, in the words of the old freight car hobo's song: ''It's got to be the going, not the getting there, that's good.'' There's no better way than on a bicycle.


THE VIEW FROM BEHIND THE HANDLEBARS

GWYN BALLARD is a professor of biophysics at the Rockefeller University.

Perhaps the most romantic journey in North America is an overland crossing from coast to coast. Done by bicycle, it is also a memorable adventure. No one who has ever plunged down Ten Sleep Canyon on two wheels, or toured Utah's desert wonderlands or crossed the Great Plains under his or her own steam could ever forget it. Weeks on the road bring challenges, undeniably. But they also bring experiences of the most sublime character: solitude, star-studded nights, astonishing landscapes and unforgettable glimpses of the wild.

For more than a decade, my summer vacation has been spent exploring North America by bicycle. A coast-to-coast tour takes me about a month, although most people travel at a somewhat more leisurely pace.

Such a trip can be anything from a sprint to a sabbatical. How fast you go, and where, and what you do en route are up to you. First, though, it's serious traveling.

The journey west from New York City does not, unfortunately, get off to an easy start. The northeastern coastal plain is some of the worst bicycling country in North America, despite the tracts of pretty farmland that remain. There is little to enjoy or admire where one decayed industrial town merges inexorably into the next. Cycling on their busy, potholed highways is a chore rather than a pleasure.

From the George Washington Bridge, the kindest way out of the New York metropolitan area is to take side streets westward through Fort Lee, N.J., to Route 4. Go as far as Paterson, then follow the Hamburg Turnpike and Jackson Avenue to Route 23 at Pompton Plains.

Beyond our back door are the quiet, scenic roads of Appalachia, where instead of ugly urban sprawl there are picturesque valleys and forested mountainsides. It is a different world, invigorating and as yet unspoiled. But those peaceful hills bring some of the hardest climbing of the whole crossing. Coming so early in the tour, they can make the decision not to go by automobile feel like a big mistake.

Far less strenuous, certainly, are the arable lands of the Middle West. Agriculture is a major business of America, and this is the heart of much of it. But the region is also a crowded one. The highways roar with traffic plying back and forth between town and city, farm and market. Riding in it day after day is wearying and hazardous. Only on the Great Plains do the wide open spaces of pioneer legend persist in present-day reality. There the cyclist is most aware of the continent's vastness. Land and sky merge in the haze of distance, and on this stage progress is tedious, almost dreamlike. Indeed, if the wind is contrary, and determined enough, there will be no progress at all.

First sight of the Western mountains - the Black Hills or the Bighorns or the Rockies themselves - brings a thrill beyond words. They're the first clear sign of progress in a week's ride, and the cyclist advancing slowly toward these mountains experiences them much as the occupants of the prairie schooners would have. But long, steep climbs lie ahead. Ascents and descents of close to one vertical mile, with passes that are more than 10,000 feet high, are common in the central Rockies. Nevertheless, cycling in the cool heights and breathtaking scenery is pure pleasure.

Beyond, there are up to 600 miles of desert to cross. Why would anyone do it? Because of the challenge. And because much of North America's most awesome scenery is to be found there.

The final hurdles are the Pacific Coast mountain ranges. Canopied with green forests and frequently obscured by mists and rain, they're a relief indeed from the sand- red oven to the east. Their western slopes, and the windswept beaches beyond, mark the end of the journey, 3,000 miles downrange from New York City.

The preparation for any bicycle tour - and the fun - begin with planning a route. The first source of information is a good motoring atlas, like Rand McNally's. It indicates the location and size of settlements, classifies highways and points out landmarks and other places of interest that might be worth a visit. Upon request, local chambers of commerce will furnish brochures about particular areas and calendars of local events.

Cyclists cannot use Interstate highways except in designated rural areas of some Western states. Freeways, tollroads and turnpikes are also usually off limits. I try to avoid major truck routes like U.S. 40 and U.S. 50. They're in terrible disrepair, worked to death and extremely dangerous. Similarly, I avoid metropolitan and industrial areas whenever possible. Their roads are especially broken up, littered with junk, congested, and poorly marked. By contrast, many of America's rural roads are delightful to ride on. Some that might be used on an east-west crossing are Upper Michigan's Route 28, U.S. 16 through Wyoming, and the North Cascades Highway (Route 20) in Washington State. There are many others, especially in the Pacific and mountain regions. Discovering them is one of the joys of cycling.

What about equipment? You need a reliable 10-speed bicycle, of course. To carry luggage, most cyclists use a handlebar pack and/or rear-wheel panniers. Wheels should have tubular rims for clincher tires, with quick-release hubs and lightweight mudguards. The seat should be of the padded (anatomic) variety. Some water bottles in cages are useful.

For camping out, take along a Gore-Tex one-person bivouac tent and an ultralightweight goose down sleeping bag. They give very efficient protection against rain, biting insects and nighttime cold. A ground pad adds considerably to sleeping comfort.

Campsite cooking requires a miniature gasoline stove and one utensil - an eight-inch Silverstone frying pan with a folding handle. Add a can opener, cutlery, salt, pepper and spices and a pack of paper napkins for cleaning up.

Other things to carry are a towel and essential toiletries, spare clothes, a rain cape, one spare folding tire and inner tube and a puncture repair kit. The only essential tools are a spoke wrench and a pair of tire levers. Light items needed frequently - camera, maps, logbook, snacks, etc. - are best carried in the handlebar pack. The heavy stuff to be used at campsite goes in the panniers.

The most exciting part of a long tour, I think, is the beginning. The sense of escape is immense. There's no feeling in the world like standing with your bicycle on the George Washington Bridge and bidding New York adieu for a month. But what's it like out on the open road?

A typical day begins at first light, when the birds wake you up. It's an enthusiastic sound, and they do it regardless of weather. On bright mornings, emerging from the tent is easy. If it's raining, though, any encouragement is welcome.

I almost never breakfast at campsite the first task of my day is to get going and warm up. Cool air, misty vistas, a quiet road, the promise of a new day - all combine to make the early morning a magical time to ride.

After 10 to 15 miles, I'm ready for breakfast at a roadside restaurant. The large family restaurants are my favorite. Service is fast and courteous, the food good and plentiful. Best of all, such restaurants have lavish washrooms where one can begin the day in earnest with a good scrub. Breakfast is also a nice opportunity to meet people. At first, you'll be surprised to discover what a curiosity you seem to be. But don't be put off. Most motorized travelers find cross- country cyclists irresistibly fascinating.

After breakfast, some serious road work is in order. With a stomach full of pancakes and syrup, it's amazing how the power comes on. Pure rhythm now, pumping the miles along, living with the traffic. White lines tick by, wayside objects waft past, and distant mountains turn their faces in a slow ballet choreographed by your motion. Even the bicycle seems content, humming along on the light metallic note of tire and spoke and the sticky-slick purring of the gears.

Lunch for me is a pit stop at a supermarket or general store. No fancy cuisine - just lots of it. Then it's back on the track. The afternoon heat demands steadier pace, more endurance. I pause often, to drink, to snack, to take photographs. Sometimes there's need for a longer break to fix a flat or do the laundry or take a refreshing dip in a river. The main business, though, is patiently to make miles.

By my 4 P.M. refueling stop, I've usually topped a hundred after that, it's bonus points. They can be easy or difficult, but either way the physical sensation of riding is all-consuming. The thrill of speed and power on the one hand and the inevitable aches and pains and annoyance with traffic or adverse weather on the other are equal and inseparable facets of the experience of bicycle touring.

Cool of evening brings more comfortable riding, and the pace picks up again. Miles pass almost unnoticed in the rich evening light. But as shadows lengthen then fade into dusk I have only one thought - to camp down for the night. I pick up supplies in the next settlement I come to, then haul out well beyond the houses and find a secluded place to pitch the tent. Often a secure campsite is hard to find. It may take several tries. But I never violate this rule: Be invisible from the highway. There is too much mischief about these days to risk attracting attention.

With camp prepared and secured against rain, I settle down to the last pleasures of the day - cooking and eating supper, writing my journal, and bed. By 9 P.M., I'm usually asleep.

I'm sometimes asked: ''Sleeping out like that, don't you get bothered by wild animals?'' Only very rarely. Once my tent was demolished at 2 A.M. by cows - a frightening but not fatal experience. The really troublesome beasts are the small ones, mosquitoes and ants.

Interactions with people on the road are usually positive and enjoyable. Unpleasant things do happen, but not often. Small-town people are particularly friendly, and their hospitality sometimes takes surprising forms. One evening last summer, I had labored in the dark up a mountain to the old silver mining town of Austin, Nev. Arriving after 10 P.M., I expected to find the whole town closed down for the night, and was resigned to going hungry. Instead, the folks were having a barbecue, right on the main street. I managed to stagger away about 3 A.M. stuffed almost to bursting with roast meat and beer.

The cyclist is, of course, completely exposed to the weather. Most of the time in summer it's fine and delightful, but on a lengthy tour you can expect at least a few foul days. Strong winds are particularly irksome they can stop you short.

Squelching along in water-filled shoes, cold and blinded by spray from passing vehicles, is not to everyone's taste. But the worst thing about rain is that it makes a mess of everything. Sleeping bag and spare clothes are difficult to keep dry, and delicate equipment like camera and lenses must be carefully protected from water and condensation. The bicycle particularly suffers, as moving parts lose lubricants and become infiltrated with dirt from the road. Nuisance though it can be, however, rain must be taken as part of normal fare. Indeed, time seems to fly on rainy days and progress is usually excellent.

Riding in the desert poses some special problems. First, the intense heat means extreme rates of water loss daily consumption can easily exceed 20 pints. Furthermore, watering points can be uncomfortably far apart - 50 miles or more. Thus, adequate storage capacity is essential - I recommend at least five quarts. A nice way to supplement this is with encapsulated water - in the form of grapes. The sugar is a valuable bonus.

Sometimes the pavement softens or melts, causing the bicycle's wheels to become encrusted with tar. But desert rain is often far worse, because of the suddenness and ferocity of the storms. Flash floods often cover highways with mud or even tear them up altogether.

When the heat is especially severe, I find shade and camp down. My custom-made silicon solar panel then charges a battery pack to provide power for late-night riding with lights - itself an unforgettable experience. Sunset in the desert can make it seem as if the whole world is on fire. When it subsides, night falls quickly. Surrounded now only by vague shadows, you seem to be flying along. But the darkness exaggerates speed, and after four or five hours each mile seems interminable. By then the air is cold, and stars in the hundreds blaze malevolently in the pitch-black sky. It's a relief to camp down and go to sleep.

Each day has it own flavor, its highs, its hassles. But the coddled mentality of apartment life is gone, replaced by hardiness and indifference to discomfort. The feeling of well-being and inner peace is immense. Slowly, as the remaining miles dwindle, memories accumulate, to be cherished forever. Suddenly, almost incredibly, it seems, the journey is over. But, in the words of the old freight car hobo's song: ''It's got to be the going, not the getting there, that's good.'' There's no better way than on a bicycle.


THE VIEW FROM BEHIND THE HANDLEBARS

GWYN BALLARD is a professor of biophysics at the Rockefeller University.

Perhaps the most romantic journey in North America is an overland crossing from coast to coast. Done by bicycle, it is also a memorable adventure. No one who has ever plunged down Ten Sleep Canyon on two wheels, or toured Utah's desert wonderlands or crossed the Great Plains under his or her own steam could ever forget it. Weeks on the road bring challenges, undeniably. But they also bring experiences of the most sublime character: solitude, star-studded nights, astonishing landscapes and unforgettable glimpses of the wild.

For more than a decade, my summer vacation has been spent exploring North America by bicycle. A coast-to-coast tour takes me about a month, although most people travel at a somewhat more leisurely pace.

Such a trip can be anything from a sprint to a sabbatical. How fast you go, and where, and what you do en route are up to you. First, though, it's serious traveling.

The journey west from New York City does not, unfortunately, get off to an easy start. The northeastern coastal plain is some of the worst bicycling country in North America, despite the tracts of pretty farmland that remain. There is little to enjoy or admire where one decayed industrial town merges inexorably into the next. Cycling on their busy, potholed highways is a chore rather than a pleasure.

From the George Washington Bridge, the kindest way out of the New York metropolitan area is to take side streets westward through Fort Lee, N.J., to Route 4. Go as far as Paterson, then follow the Hamburg Turnpike and Jackson Avenue to Route 23 at Pompton Plains.

Beyond our back door are the quiet, scenic roads of Appalachia, where instead of ugly urban sprawl there are picturesque valleys and forested mountainsides. It is a different world, invigorating and as yet unspoiled. But those peaceful hills bring some of the hardest climbing of the whole crossing. Coming so early in the tour, they can make the decision not to go by automobile feel like a big mistake.

Far less strenuous, certainly, are the arable lands of the Middle West. Agriculture is a major business of America, and this is the heart of much of it. But the region is also a crowded one. The highways roar with traffic plying back and forth between town and city, farm and market. Riding in it day after day is wearying and hazardous. Only on the Great Plains do the wide open spaces of pioneer legend persist in present-day reality. There the cyclist is most aware of the continent's vastness. Land and sky merge in the haze of distance, and on this stage progress is tedious, almost dreamlike. Indeed, if the wind is contrary, and determined enough, there will be no progress at all.

First sight of the Western mountains - the Black Hills or the Bighorns or the Rockies themselves - brings a thrill beyond words. They're the first clear sign of progress in a week's ride, and the cyclist advancing slowly toward these mountains experiences them much as the occupants of the prairie schooners would have. But long, steep climbs lie ahead. Ascents and descents of close to one vertical mile, with passes that are more than 10,000 feet high, are common in the central Rockies. Nevertheless, cycling in the cool heights and breathtaking scenery is pure pleasure.

Beyond, there are up to 600 miles of desert to cross. Why would anyone do it? Because of the challenge. And because much of North America's most awesome scenery is to be found there.

The final hurdles are the Pacific Coast mountain ranges. Canopied with green forests and frequently obscured by mists and rain, they're a relief indeed from the sand- red oven to the east. Their western slopes, and the windswept beaches beyond, mark the end of the journey, 3,000 miles downrange from New York City.

The preparation for any bicycle tour - and the fun - begin with planning a route. The first source of information is a good motoring atlas, like Rand McNally's. It indicates the location and size of settlements, classifies highways and points out landmarks and other places of interest that might be worth a visit. Upon request, local chambers of commerce will furnish brochures about particular areas and calendars of local events.

Cyclists cannot use Interstate highways except in designated rural areas of some Western states. Freeways, tollroads and turnpikes are also usually off limits. I try to avoid major truck routes like U.S. 40 and U.S. 50. They're in terrible disrepair, worked to death and extremely dangerous. Similarly, I avoid metropolitan and industrial areas whenever possible. Their roads are especially broken up, littered with junk, congested, and poorly marked. By contrast, many of America's rural roads are delightful to ride on. Some that might be used on an east-west crossing are Upper Michigan's Route 28, U.S. 16 through Wyoming, and the North Cascades Highway (Route 20) in Washington State. There are many others, especially in the Pacific and mountain regions. Discovering them is one of the joys of cycling.

What about equipment? You need a reliable 10-speed bicycle, of course. To carry luggage, most cyclists use a handlebar pack and/or rear-wheel panniers. Wheels should have tubular rims for clincher tires, with quick-release hubs and lightweight mudguards. The seat should be of the padded (anatomic) variety. Some water bottles in cages are useful.

For camping out, take along a Gore-Tex one-person bivouac tent and an ultralightweight goose down sleeping bag. They give very efficient protection against rain, biting insects and nighttime cold. A ground pad adds considerably to sleeping comfort.

Campsite cooking requires a miniature gasoline stove and one utensil - an eight-inch Silverstone frying pan with a folding handle. Add a can opener, cutlery, salt, pepper and spices and a pack of paper napkins for cleaning up.

Other things to carry are a towel and essential toiletries, spare clothes, a rain cape, one spare folding tire and inner tube and a puncture repair kit. The only essential tools are a spoke wrench and a pair of tire levers. Light items needed frequently - camera, maps, logbook, snacks, etc. - are best carried in the handlebar pack. The heavy stuff to be used at campsite goes in the panniers.

The most exciting part of a long tour, I think, is the beginning. The sense of escape is immense. There's no feeling in the world like standing with your bicycle on the George Washington Bridge and bidding New York adieu for a month. But what's it like out on the open road?

A typical day begins at first light, when the birds wake you up. It's an enthusiastic sound, and they do it regardless of weather. On bright mornings, emerging from the tent is easy. If it's raining, though, any encouragement is welcome.

I almost never breakfast at campsite the first task of my day is to get going and warm up. Cool air, misty vistas, a quiet road, the promise of a new day - all combine to make the early morning a magical time to ride.

After 10 to 15 miles, I'm ready for breakfast at a roadside restaurant. The large family restaurants are my favorite. Service is fast and courteous, the food good and plentiful. Best of all, such restaurants have lavish washrooms where one can begin the day in earnest with a good scrub. Breakfast is also a nice opportunity to meet people. At first, you'll be surprised to discover what a curiosity you seem to be. But don't be put off. Most motorized travelers find cross- country cyclists irresistibly fascinating.

After breakfast, some serious road work is in order. With a stomach full of pancakes and syrup, it's amazing how the power comes on. Pure rhythm now, pumping the miles along, living with the traffic. White lines tick by, wayside objects waft past, and distant mountains turn their faces in a slow ballet choreographed by your motion. Even the bicycle seems content, humming along on the light metallic note of tire and spoke and the sticky-slick purring of the gears.

Lunch for me is a pit stop at a supermarket or general store. No fancy cuisine - just lots of it. Then it's back on the track. The afternoon heat demands steadier pace, more endurance. I pause often, to drink, to snack, to take photographs. Sometimes there's need for a longer break to fix a flat or do the laundry or take a refreshing dip in a river. The main business, though, is patiently to make miles.

By my 4 P.M. refueling stop, I've usually topped a hundred after that, it's bonus points. They can be easy or difficult, but either way the physical sensation of riding is all-consuming. The thrill of speed and power on the one hand and the inevitable aches and pains and annoyance with traffic or adverse weather on the other are equal and inseparable facets of the experience of bicycle touring.

Cool of evening brings more comfortable riding, and the pace picks up again. Miles pass almost unnoticed in the rich evening light. But as shadows lengthen then fade into dusk I have only one thought - to camp down for the night. I pick up supplies in the next settlement I come to, then haul out well beyond the houses and find a secluded place to pitch the tent. Often a secure campsite is hard to find. It may take several tries. But I never violate this rule: Be invisible from the highway. There is too much mischief about these days to risk attracting attention.

With camp prepared and secured against rain, I settle down to the last pleasures of the day - cooking and eating supper, writing my journal, and bed. By 9 P.M., I'm usually asleep.

I'm sometimes asked: ''Sleeping out like that, don't you get bothered by wild animals?'' Only very rarely. Once my tent was demolished at 2 A.M. by cows - a frightening but not fatal experience. The really troublesome beasts are the small ones, mosquitoes and ants.

Interactions with people on the road are usually positive and enjoyable. Unpleasant things do happen, but not often. Small-town people are particularly friendly, and their hospitality sometimes takes surprising forms. One evening last summer, I had labored in the dark up a mountain to the old silver mining town of Austin, Nev. Arriving after 10 P.M., I expected to find the whole town closed down for the night, and was resigned to going hungry. Instead, the folks were having a barbecue, right on the main street. I managed to stagger away about 3 A.M. stuffed almost to bursting with roast meat and beer.

The cyclist is, of course, completely exposed to the weather. Most of the time in summer it's fine and delightful, but on a lengthy tour you can expect at least a few foul days. Strong winds are particularly irksome they can stop you short.

Squelching along in water-filled shoes, cold and blinded by spray from passing vehicles, is not to everyone's taste. But the worst thing about rain is that it makes a mess of everything. Sleeping bag and spare clothes are difficult to keep dry, and delicate equipment like camera and lenses must be carefully protected from water and condensation. The bicycle particularly suffers, as moving parts lose lubricants and become infiltrated with dirt from the road. Nuisance though it can be, however, rain must be taken as part of normal fare. Indeed, time seems to fly on rainy days and progress is usually excellent.

Riding in the desert poses some special problems. First, the intense heat means extreme rates of water loss daily consumption can easily exceed 20 pints. Furthermore, watering points can be uncomfortably far apart - 50 miles or more. Thus, adequate storage capacity is essential - I recommend at least five quarts. A nice way to supplement this is with encapsulated water - in the form of grapes. The sugar is a valuable bonus.

Sometimes the pavement softens or melts, causing the bicycle's wheels to become encrusted with tar. But desert rain is often far worse, because of the suddenness and ferocity of the storms. Flash floods often cover highways with mud or even tear them up altogether.

When the heat is especially severe, I find shade and camp down. My custom-made silicon solar panel then charges a battery pack to provide power for late-night riding with lights - itself an unforgettable experience. Sunset in the desert can make it seem as if the whole world is on fire. When it subsides, night falls quickly. Surrounded now only by vague shadows, you seem to be flying along. But the darkness exaggerates speed, and after four or five hours each mile seems interminable. By then the air is cold, and stars in the hundreds blaze malevolently in the pitch-black sky. It's a relief to camp down and go to sleep.

Each day has it own flavor, its highs, its hassles. But the coddled mentality of apartment life is gone, replaced by hardiness and indifference to discomfort. The feeling of well-being and inner peace is immense. Slowly, as the remaining miles dwindle, memories accumulate, to be cherished forever. Suddenly, almost incredibly, it seems, the journey is over. But, in the words of the old freight car hobo's song: ''It's got to be the going, not the getting there, that's good.'' There's no better way than on a bicycle.


THE VIEW FROM BEHIND THE HANDLEBARS

GWYN BALLARD is a professor of biophysics at the Rockefeller University.

Perhaps the most romantic journey in North America is an overland crossing from coast to coast. Done by bicycle, it is also a memorable adventure. No one who has ever plunged down Ten Sleep Canyon on two wheels, or toured Utah's desert wonderlands or crossed the Great Plains under his or her own steam could ever forget it. Weeks on the road bring challenges, undeniably. But they also bring experiences of the most sublime character: solitude, star-studded nights, astonishing landscapes and unforgettable glimpses of the wild.

For more than a decade, my summer vacation has been spent exploring North America by bicycle. A coast-to-coast tour takes me about a month, although most people travel at a somewhat more leisurely pace.

Such a trip can be anything from a sprint to a sabbatical. How fast you go, and where, and what you do en route are up to you. First, though, it's serious traveling.

The journey west from New York City does not, unfortunately, get off to an easy start. The northeastern coastal plain is some of the worst bicycling country in North America, despite the tracts of pretty farmland that remain. There is little to enjoy or admire where one decayed industrial town merges inexorably into the next. Cycling on their busy, potholed highways is a chore rather than a pleasure.

From the George Washington Bridge, the kindest way out of the New York metropolitan area is to take side streets westward through Fort Lee, N.J., to Route 4. Go as far as Paterson, then follow the Hamburg Turnpike and Jackson Avenue to Route 23 at Pompton Plains.

Beyond our back door are the quiet, scenic roads of Appalachia, where instead of ugly urban sprawl there are picturesque valleys and forested mountainsides. It is a different world, invigorating and as yet unspoiled. But those peaceful hills bring some of the hardest climbing of the whole crossing. Coming so early in the tour, they can make the decision not to go by automobile feel like a big mistake.

Far less strenuous, certainly, are the arable lands of the Middle West. Agriculture is a major business of America, and this is the heart of much of it. But the region is also a crowded one. The highways roar with traffic plying back and forth between town and city, farm and market. Riding in it day after day is wearying and hazardous. Only on the Great Plains do the wide open spaces of pioneer legend persist in present-day reality. There the cyclist is most aware of the continent's vastness. Land and sky merge in the haze of distance, and on this stage progress is tedious, almost dreamlike. Indeed, if the wind is contrary, and determined enough, there will be no progress at all.

First sight of the Western mountains - the Black Hills or the Bighorns or the Rockies themselves - brings a thrill beyond words. They're the first clear sign of progress in a week's ride, and the cyclist advancing slowly toward these mountains experiences them much as the occupants of the prairie schooners would have. But long, steep climbs lie ahead. Ascents and descents of close to one vertical mile, with passes that are more than 10,000 feet high, are common in the central Rockies. Nevertheless, cycling in the cool heights and breathtaking scenery is pure pleasure.

Beyond, there are up to 600 miles of desert to cross. Why would anyone do it? Because of the challenge. And because much of North America's most awesome scenery is to be found there.

The final hurdles are the Pacific Coast mountain ranges. Canopied with green forests and frequently obscured by mists and rain, they're a relief indeed from the sand- red oven to the east. Their western slopes, and the windswept beaches beyond, mark the end of the journey, 3,000 miles downrange from New York City.

The preparation for any bicycle tour - and the fun - begin with planning a route. The first source of information is a good motoring atlas, like Rand McNally's. It indicates the location and size of settlements, classifies highways and points out landmarks and other places of interest that might be worth a visit. Upon request, local chambers of commerce will furnish brochures about particular areas and calendars of local events.

Cyclists cannot use Interstate highways except in designated rural areas of some Western states. Freeways, tollroads and turnpikes are also usually off limits. I try to avoid major truck routes like U.S. 40 and U.S. 50. They're in terrible disrepair, worked to death and extremely dangerous. Similarly, I avoid metropolitan and industrial areas whenever possible. Their roads are especially broken up, littered with junk, congested, and poorly marked. By contrast, many of America's rural roads are delightful to ride on. Some that might be used on an east-west crossing are Upper Michigan's Route 28, U.S. 16 through Wyoming, and the North Cascades Highway (Route 20) in Washington State. There are many others, especially in the Pacific and mountain regions. Discovering them is one of the joys of cycling.

What about equipment? You need a reliable 10-speed bicycle, of course. To carry luggage, most cyclists use a handlebar pack and/or rear-wheel panniers. Wheels should have tubular rims for clincher tires, with quick-release hubs and lightweight mudguards. The seat should be of the padded (anatomic) variety. Some water bottles in cages are useful.

For camping out, take along a Gore-Tex one-person bivouac tent and an ultralightweight goose down sleeping bag. They give very efficient protection against rain, biting insects and nighttime cold. A ground pad adds considerably to sleeping comfort.

Campsite cooking requires a miniature gasoline stove and one utensil - an eight-inch Silverstone frying pan with a folding handle. Add a can opener, cutlery, salt, pepper and spices and a pack of paper napkins for cleaning up.

Other things to carry are a towel and essential toiletries, spare clothes, a rain cape, one spare folding tire and inner tube and a puncture repair kit. The only essential tools are a spoke wrench and a pair of tire levers. Light items needed frequently - camera, maps, logbook, snacks, etc. - are best carried in the handlebar pack. The heavy stuff to be used at campsite goes in the panniers.

The most exciting part of a long tour, I think, is the beginning. The sense of escape is immense. There's no feeling in the world like standing with your bicycle on the George Washington Bridge and bidding New York adieu for a month. But what's it like out on the open road?

A typical day begins at first light, when the birds wake you up. It's an enthusiastic sound, and they do it regardless of weather. On bright mornings, emerging from the tent is easy. If it's raining, though, any encouragement is welcome.

I almost never breakfast at campsite the first task of my day is to get going and warm up. Cool air, misty vistas, a quiet road, the promise of a new day - all combine to make the early morning a magical time to ride.

After 10 to 15 miles, I'm ready for breakfast at a roadside restaurant. The large family restaurants are my favorite. Service is fast and courteous, the food good and plentiful. Best of all, such restaurants have lavish washrooms where one can begin the day in earnest with a good scrub. Breakfast is also a nice opportunity to meet people. At first, you'll be surprised to discover what a curiosity you seem to be. But don't be put off. Most motorized travelers find cross- country cyclists irresistibly fascinating.

After breakfast, some serious road work is in order. With a stomach full of pancakes and syrup, it's amazing how the power comes on. Pure rhythm now, pumping the miles along, living with the traffic. White lines tick by, wayside objects waft past, and distant mountains turn their faces in a slow ballet choreographed by your motion. Even the bicycle seems content, humming along on the light metallic note of tire and spoke and the sticky-slick purring of the gears.

Lunch for me is a pit stop at a supermarket or general store. No fancy cuisine - just lots of it. Then it's back on the track. The afternoon heat demands steadier pace, more endurance. I pause often, to drink, to snack, to take photographs. Sometimes there's need for a longer break to fix a flat or do the laundry or take a refreshing dip in a river. The main business, though, is patiently to make miles.

By my 4 P.M. refueling stop, I've usually topped a hundred after that, it's bonus points. They can be easy or difficult, but either way the physical sensation of riding is all-consuming. The thrill of speed and power on the one hand and the inevitable aches and pains and annoyance with traffic or adverse weather on the other are equal and inseparable facets of the experience of bicycle touring.

Cool of evening brings more comfortable riding, and the pace picks up again. Miles pass almost unnoticed in the rich evening light. But as shadows lengthen then fade into dusk I have only one thought - to camp down for the night. I pick up supplies in the next settlement I come to, then haul out well beyond the houses and find a secluded place to pitch the tent. Often a secure campsite is hard to find. It may take several tries. But I never violate this rule: Be invisible from the highway. There is too much mischief about these days to risk attracting attention.

With camp prepared and secured against rain, I settle down to the last pleasures of the day - cooking and eating supper, writing my journal, and bed. By 9 P.M., I'm usually asleep.

I'm sometimes asked: ''Sleeping out like that, don't you get bothered by wild animals?'' Only very rarely. Once my tent was demolished at 2 A.M. by cows - a frightening but not fatal experience. The really troublesome beasts are the small ones, mosquitoes and ants.

Interactions with people on the road are usually positive and enjoyable. Unpleasant things do happen, but not often. Small-town people are particularly friendly, and their hospitality sometimes takes surprising forms. One evening last summer, I had labored in the dark up a mountain to the old silver mining town of Austin, Nev. Arriving after 10 P.M., I expected to find the whole town closed down for the night, and was resigned to going hungry. Instead, the folks were having a barbecue, right on the main street. I managed to stagger away about 3 A.M. stuffed almost to bursting with roast meat and beer.

The cyclist is, of course, completely exposed to the weather. Most of the time in summer it's fine and delightful, but on a lengthy tour you can expect at least a few foul days. Strong winds are particularly irksome they can stop you short.

Squelching along in water-filled shoes, cold and blinded by spray from passing vehicles, is not to everyone's taste. But the worst thing about rain is that it makes a mess of everything. Sleeping bag and spare clothes are difficult to keep dry, and delicate equipment like camera and lenses must be carefully protected from water and condensation. The bicycle particularly suffers, as moving parts lose lubricants and become infiltrated with dirt from the road. Nuisance though it can be, however, rain must be taken as part of normal fare. Indeed, time seems to fly on rainy days and progress is usually excellent.

Riding in the desert poses some special problems. First, the intense heat means extreme rates of water loss daily consumption can easily exceed 20 pints. Furthermore, watering points can be uncomfortably far apart - 50 miles or more. Thus, adequate storage capacity is essential - I recommend at least five quarts. A nice way to supplement this is with encapsulated water - in the form of grapes. The sugar is a valuable bonus.

Sometimes the pavement softens or melts, causing the bicycle's wheels to become encrusted with tar. But desert rain is often far worse, because of the suddenness and ferocity of the storms. Flash floods often cover highways with mud or even tear them up altogether.

When the heat is especially severe, I find shade and camp down. My custom-made silicon solar panel then charges a battery pack to provide power for late-night riding with lights - itself an unforgettable experience. Sunset in the desert can make it seem as if the whole world is on fire. When it subsides, night falls quickly. Surrounded now only by vague shadows, you seem to be flying along. But the darkness exaggerates speed, and after four or five hours each mile seems interminable. By then the air is cold, and stars in the hundreds blaze malevolently in the pitch-black sky. It's a relief to camp down and go to sleep.

Each day has it own flavor, its highs, its hassles. But the coddled mentality of apartment life is gone, replaced by hardiness and indifference to discomfort. The feeling of well-being and inner peace is immense. Slowly, as the remaining miles dwindle, memories accumulate, to be cherished forever. Suddenly, almost incredibly, it seems, the journey is over. But, in the words of the old freight car hobo's song: ''It's got to be the going, not the getting there, that's good.'' There's no better way than on a bicycle.


THE VIEW FROM BEHIND THE HANDLEBARS

GWYN BALLARD is a professor of biophysics at the Rockefeller University.

Perhaps the most romantic journey in North America is an overland crossing from coast to coast. Done by bicycle, it is also a memorable adventure. No one who has ever plunged down Ten Sleep Canyon on two wheels, or toured Utah's desert wonderlands or crossed the Great Plains under his or her own steam could ever forget it. Weeks on the road bring challenges, undeniably. But they also bring experiences of the most sublime character: solitude, star-studded nights, astonishing landscapes and unforgettable glimpses of the wild.

For more than a decade, my summer vacation has been spent exploring North America by bicycle. A coast-to-coast tour takes me about a month, although most people travel at a somewhat more leisurely pace.

Such a trip can be anything from a sprint to a sabbatical. How fast you go, and where, and what you do en route are up to you. First, though, it's serious traveling.

The journey west from New York City does not, unfortunately, get off to an easy start. The northeastern coastal plain is some of the worst bicycling country in North America, despite the tracts of pretty farmland that remain. There is little to enjoy or admire where one decayed industrial town merges inexorably into the next. Cycling on their busy, potholed highways is a chore rather than a pleasure.

From the George Washington Bridge, the kindest way out of the New York metropolitan area is to take side streets westward through Fort Lee, N.J., to Route 4. Go as far as Paterson, then follow the Hamburg Turnpike and Jackson Avenue to Route 23 at Pompton Plains.

Beyond our back door are the quiet, scenic roads of Appalachia, where instead of ugly urban sprawl there are picturesque valleys and forested mountainsides. It is a different world, invigorating and as yet unspoiled. But those peaceful hills bring some of the hardest climbing of the whole crossing. Coming so early in the tour, they can make the decision not to go by automobile feel like a big mistake.

Far less strenuous, certainly, are the arable lands of the Middle West. Agriculture is a major business of America, and this is the heart of much of it. But the region is also a crowded one. The highways roar with traffic plying back and forth between town and city, farm and market. Riding in it day after day is wearying and hazardous. Only on the Great Plains do the wide open spaces of pioneer legend persist in present-day reality. There the cyclist is most aware of the continent's vastness. Land and sky merge in the haze of distance, and on this stage progress is tedious, almost dreamlike. Indeed, if the wind is contrary, and determined enough, there will be no progress at all.

First sight of the Western mountains - the Black Hills or the Bighorns or the Rockies themselves - brings a thrill beyond words. They're the first clear sign of progress in a week's ride, and the cyclist advancing slowly toward these mountains experiences them much as the occupants of the prairie schooners would have. But long, steep climbs lie ahead. Ascents and descents of close to one vertical mile, with passes that are more than 10,000 feet high, are common in the central Rockies. Nevertheless, cycling in the cool heights and breathtaking scenery is pure pleasure.

Beyond, there are up to 600 miles of desert to cross. Why would anyone do it? Because of the challenge. And because much of North America's most awesome scenery is to be found there.

The final hurdles are the Pacific Coast mountain ranges. Canopied with green forests and frequently obscured by mists and rain, they're a relief indeed from the sand- red oven to the east. Their western slopes, and the windswept beaches beyond, mark the end of the journey, 3,000 miles downrange from New York City.

The preparation for any bicycle tour - and the fun - begin with planning a route. The first source of information is a good motoring atlas, like Rand McNally's. It indicates the location and size of settlements, classifies highways and points out landmarks and other places of interest that might be worth a visit. Upon request, local chambers of commerce will furnish brochures about particular areas and calendars of local events.

Cyclists cannot use Interstate highways except in designated rural areas of some Western states. Freeways, tollroads and turnpikes are also usually off limits. I try to avoid major truck routes like U.S. 40 and U.S. 50. They're in terrible disrepair, worked to death and extremely dangerous. Similarly, I avoid metropolitan and industrial areas whenever possible. Their roads are especially broken up, littered with junk, congested, and poorly marked. By contrast, many of America's rural roads are delightful to ride on. Some that might be used on an east-west crossing are Upper Michigan's Route 28, U.S. 16 through Wyoming, and the North Cascades Highway (Route 20) in Washington State. There are many others, especially in the Pacific and mountain regions. Discovering them is one of the joys of cycling.

What about equipment? You need a reliable 10-speed bicycle, of course. To carry luggage, most cyclists use a handlebar pack and/or rear-wheel panniers. Wheels should have tubular rims for clincher tires, with quick-release hubs and lightweight mudguards. The seat should be of the padded (anatomic) variety. Some water bottles in cages are useful.

For camping out, take along a Gore-Tex one-person bivouac tent and an ultralightweight goose down sleeping bag. They give very efficient protection against rain, biting insects and nighttime cold. A ground pad adds considerably to sleeping comfort.

Campsite cooking requires a miniature gasoline stove and one utensil - an eight-inch Silverstone frying pan with a folding handle. Add a can opener, cutlery, salt, pepper and spices and a pack of paper napkins for cleaning up.

Other things to carry are a towel and essential toiletries, spare clothes, a rain cape, one spare folding tire and inner tube and a puncture repair kit. The only essential tools are a spoke wrench and a pair of tire levers. Light items needed frequently - camera, maps, logbook, snacks, etc. - are best carried in the handlebar pack. The heavy stuff to be used at campsite goes in the panniers.

The most exciting part of a long tour, I think, is the beginning. The sense of escape is immense. There's no feeling in the world like standing with your bicycle on the George Washington Bridge and bidding New York adieu for a month. But what's it like out on the open road?

A typical day begins at first light, when the birds wake you up. It's an enthusiastic sound, and they do it regardless of weather. On bright mornings, emerging from the tent is easy. If it's raining, though, any encouragement is welcome.

I almost never breakfast at campsite the first task of my day is to get going and warm up. Cool air, misty vistas, a quiet road, the promise of a new day - all combine to make the early morning a magical time to ride.

After 10 to 15 miles, I'm ready for breakfast at a roadside restaurant. The large family restaurants are my favorite. Service is fast and courteous, the food good and plentiful. Best of all, such restaurants have lavish washrooms where one can begin the day in earnest with a good scrub. Breakfast is also a nice opportunity to meet people. At first, you'll be surprised to discover what a curiosity you seem to be. But don't be put off. Most motorized travelers find cross- country cyclists irresistibly fascinating.

After breakfast, some serious road work is in order. With a stomach full of pancakes and syrup, it's amazing how the power comes on. Pure rhythm now, pumping the miles along, living with the traffic. White lines tick by, wayside objects waft past, and distant mountains turn their faces in a slow ballet choreographed by your motion. Even the bicycle seems content, humming along on the light metallic note of tire and spoke and the sticky-slick purring of the gears.

Lunch for me is a pit stop at a supermarket or general store. No fancy cuisine - just lots of it. Then it's back on the track. The afternoon heat demands steadier pace, more endurance. I pause often, to drink, to snack, to take photographs. Sometimes there's need for a longer break to fix a flat or do the laundry or take a refreshing dip in a river. The main business, though, is patiently to make miles.

By my 4 P.M. refueling stop, I've usually topped a hundred after that, it's bonus points. They can be easy or difficult, but either way the physical sensation of riding is all-consuming. The thrill of speed and power on the one hand and the inevitable aches and pains and annoyance with traffic or adverse weather on the other are equal and inseparable facets of the experience of bicycle touring.

Cool of evening brings more comfortable riding, and the pace picks up again. Miles pass almost unnoticed in the rich evening light. But as shadows lengthen then fade into dusk I have only one thought - to camp down for the night. I pick up supplies in the next settlement I come to, then haul out well beyond the houses and find a secluded place to pitch the tent. Often a secure campsite is hard to find. It may take several tries. But I never violate this rule: Be invisible from the highway. There is too much mischief about these days to risk attracting attention.

With camp prepared and secured against rain, I settle down to the last pleasures of the day - cooking and eating supper, writing my journal, and bed. By 9 P.M., I'm usually asleep.

I'm sometimes asked: ''Sleeping out like that, don't you get bothered by wild animals?'' Only very rarely. Once my tent was demolished at 2 A.M. by cows - a frightening but not fatal experience. The really troublesome beasts are the small ones, mosquitoes and ants.

Interactions with people on the road are usually positive and enjoyable. Unpleasant things do happen, but not often. Small-town people are particularly friendly, and their hospitality sometimes takes surprising forms. One evening last summer, I had labored in the dark up a mountain to the old silver mining town of Austin, Nev. Arriving after 10 P.M., I expected to find the whole town closed down for the night, and was resigned to going hungry. Instead, the folks were having a barbecue, right on the main street. I managed to stagger away about 3 A.M. stuffed almost to bursting with roast meat and beer.

The cyclist is, of course, completely exposed to the weather. Most of the time in summer it's fine and delightful, but on a lengthy tour you can expect at least a few foul days. Strong winds are particularly irksome they can stop you short.

Squelching along in water-filled shoes, cold and blinded by spray from passing vehicles, is not to everyone's taste. But the worst thing about rain is that it makes a mess of everything. Sleeping bag and spare clothes are difficult to keep dry, and delicate equipment like camera and lenses must be carefully protected from water and condensation. The bicycle particularly suffers, as moving parts lose lubricants and become infiltrated with dirt from the road. Nuisance though it can be, however, rain must be taken as part of normal fare. Indeed, time seems to fly on rainy days and progress is usually excellent.

Riding in the desert poses some special problems. First, the intense heat means extreme rates of water loss daily consumption can easily exceed 20 pints. Furthermore, watering points can be uncomfortably far apart - 50 miles or more. Thus, adequate storage capacity is essential - I recommend at least five quarts. A nice way to supplement this is with encapsulated water - in the form of grapes. The sugar is a valuable bonus.

Sometimes the pavement softens or melts, causing the bicycle's wheels to become encrusted with tar. But desert rain is often far worse, because of the suddenness and ferocity of the storms. Flash floods often cover highways with mud or even tear them up altogether.

When the heat is especially severe, I find shade and camp down. My custom-made silicon solar panel then charges a battery pack to provide power for late-night riding with lights - itself an unforgettable experience. Sunset in the desert can make it seem as if the whole world is on fire. When it subsides, night falls quickly. Surrounded now only by vague shadows, you seem to be flying along. But the darkness exaggerates speed, and after four or five hours each mile seems interminable. By then the air is cold, and stars in the hundreds blaze malevolently in the pitch-black sky. It's a relief to camp down and go to sleep.

Each day has it own flavor, its highs, its hassles. But the coddled mentality of apartment life is gone, replaced by hardiness and indifference to discomfort. The feeling of well-being and inner peace is immense. Slowly, as the remaining miles dwindle, memories accumulate, to be cherished forever. Suddenly, almost incredibly, it seems, the journey is over. But, in the words of the old freight car hobo's song: ''It's got to be the going, not the getting there, that's good.'' There's no better way than on a bicycle.


THE VIEW FROM BEHIND THE HANDLEBARS

GWYN BALLARD is a professor of biophysics at the Rockefeller University.

Perhaps the most romantic journey in North America is an overland crossing from coast to coast. Done by bicycle, it is also a memorable adventure. No one who has ever plunged down Ten Sleep Canyon on two wheels, or toured Utah's desert wonderlands or crossed the Great Plains under his or her own steam could ever forget it. Weeks on the road bring challenges, undeniably. But they also bring experiences of the most sublime character: solitude, star-studded nights, astonishing landscapes and unforgettable glimpses of the wild.

For more than a decade, my summer vacation has been spent exploring North America by bicycle. A coast-to-coast tour takes me about a month, although most people travel at a somewhat more leisurely pace.

Such a trip can be anything from a sprint to a sabbatical. How fast you go, and where, and what you do en route are up to you. First, though, it's serious traveling.

The journey west from New York City does not, unfortunately, get off to an easy start. The northeastern coastal plain is some of the worst bicycling country in North America, despite the tracts of pretty farmland that remain. There is little to enjoy or admire where one decayed industrial town merges inexorably into the next. Cycling on their busy, potholed highways is a chore rather than a pleasure.

From the George Washington Bridge, the kindest way out of the New York metropolitan area is to take side streets westward through Fort Lee, N.J., to Route 4. Go as far as Paterson, then follow the Hamburg Turnpike and Jackson Avenue to Route 23 at Pompton Plains.

Beyond our back door are the quiet, scenic roads of Appalachia, where instead of ugly urban sprawl there are picturesque valleys and forested mountainsides. It is a different world, invigorating and as yet unspoiled. But those peaceful hills bring some of the hardest climbing of the whole crossing. Coming so early in the tour, they can make the decision not to go by automobile feel like a big mistake.

Far less strenuous, certainly, are the arable lands of the Middle West. Agriculture is a major business of America, and this is the heart of much of it. But the region is also a crowded one. The highways roar with traffic plying back and forth between town and city, farm and market. Riding in it day after day is wearying and hazardous. Only on the Great Plains do the wide open spaces of pioneer legend persist in present-day reality. There the cyclist is most aware of the continent's vastness. Land and sky merge in the haze of distance, and on this stage progress is tedious, almost dreamlike. Indeed, if the wind is contrary, and determined enough, there will be no progress at all.

First sight of the Western mountains - the Black Hills or the Bighorns or the Rockies themselves - brings a thrill beyond words. They're the first clear sign of progress in a week's ride, and the cyclist advancing slowly toward these mountains experiences them much as the occupants of the prairie schooners would have. But long, steep climbs lie ahead. Ascents and descents of close to one vertical mile, with passes that are more than 10,000 feet high, are common in the central Rockies. Nevertheless, cycling in the cool heights and breathtaking scenery is pure pleasure.

Beyond, there are up to 600 miles of desert to cross. Why would anyone do it? Because of the challenge. And because much of North America's most awesome scenery is to be found there.

The final hurdles are the Pacific Coast mountain ranges. Canopied with green forests and frequently obscured by mists and rain, they're a relief indeed from the sand- red oven to the east. Their western slopes, and the windswept beaches beyond, mark the end of the journey, 3,000 miles downrange from New York City.

The preparation for any bicycle tour - and the fun - begin with planning a route. The first source of information is a good motoring atlas, like Rand McNally's. It indicates the location and size of settlements, classifies highways and points out landmarks and other places of interest that might be worth a visit. Upon request, local chambers of commerce will furnish brochures about particular areas and calendars of local events.

Cyclists cannot use Interstate highways except in designated rural areas of some Western states. Freeways, tollroads and turnpikes are also usually off limits. I try to avoid major truck routes like U.S. 40 and U.S. 50. They're in terrible disrepair, worked to death and extremely dangerous. Similarly, I avoid metropolitan and industrial areas whenever possible. Their roads are especially broken up, littered with junk, congested, and poorly marked. By contrast, many of America's rural roads are delightful to ride on. Some that might be used on an east-west crossing are Upper Michigan's Route 28, U.S. 16 through Wyoming, and the North Cascades Highway (Route 20) in Washington State. There are many others, especially in the Pacific and mountain regions. Discovering them is one of the joys of cycling.

What about equipment? You need a reliable 10-speed bicycle, of course. To carry luggage, most cyclists use a handlebar pack and/or rear-wheel panniers. Wheels should have tubular rims for clincher tires, with quick-release hubs and lightweight mudguards. The seat should be of the padded (anatomic) variety. Some water bottles in cages are useful.

For camping out, take along a Gore-Tex one-person bivouac tent and an ultralightweight goose down sleeping bag. They give very efficient protection against rain, biting insects and nighttime cold. A ground pad adds considerably to sleeping comfort.

Campsite cooking requires a miniature gasoline stove and one utensil - an eight-inch Silverstone frying pan with a folding handle. Add a can opener, cutlery, salt, pepper and spices and a pack of paper napkins for cleaning up.

Other things to carry are a towel and essential toiletries, spare clothes, a rain cape, one spare folding tire and inner tube and a puncture repair kit. The only essential tools are a spoke wrench and a pair of tire levers. Light items needed frequently - camera, maps, logbook, snacks, etc. - are best carried in the handlebar pack. The heavy stuff to be used at campsite goes in the panniers.

The most exciting part of a long tour, I think, is the beginning. The sense of escape is immense. There's no feeling in the world like standing with your bicycle on the George Washington Bridge and bidding New York adieu for a month. But what's it like out on the open road?

A typical day begins at first light, when the birds wake you up. It's an enthusiastic sound, and they do it regardless of weather. On bright mornings, emerging from the tent is easy. If it's raining, though, any encouragement is welcome.

I almost never breakfast at campsite the first task of my day is to get going and warm up. Cool air, misty vistas, a quiet road, the promise of a new day - all combine to make the early morning a magical time to ride.

After 10 to 15 miles, I'm ready for breakfast at a roadside restaurant. The large family restaurants are my favorite. Service is fast and courteous, the food good and plentiful. Best of all, such restaurants have lavish washrooms where one can begin the day in earnest with a good scrub. Breakfast is also a nice opportunity to meet people. At first, you'll be surprised to discover what a curiosity you seem to be. But don't be put off. Most motorized travelers find cross- country cyclists irresistibly fascinating.

After breakfast, some serious road work is in order. With a stomach full of pancakes and syrup, it's amazing how the power comes on. Pure rhythm now, pumping the miles along, living with the traffic. White lines tick by, wayside objects waft past, and distant mountains turn their faces in a slow ballet choreographed by your motion. Even the bicycle seems content, humming along on the light metallic note of tire and spoke and the sticky-slick purring of the gears.

Lunch for me is a pit stop at a supermarket or general store. No fancy cuisine - just lots of it. Then it's back on the track. The afternoon heat demands steadier pace, more endurance. I pause often, to drink, to snack, to take photographs. Sometimes there's need for a longer break to fix a flat or do the laundry or take a refreshing dip in a river. The main business, though, is patiently to make miles.

By my 4 P.M. refueling stop, I've usually topped a hundred after that, it's bonus points. They can be easy or difficult, but either way the physical sensation of riding is all-consuming. The thrill of speed and power on the one hand and the inevitable aches and pains and annoyance with traffic or adverse weather on the other are equal and inseparable facets of the experience of bicycle touring.

Cool of evening brings more comfortable riding, and the pace picks up again. Miles pass almost unnoticed in the rich evening light. But as shadows lengthen then fade into dusk I have only one thought - to camp down for the night. I pick up supplies in the next settlement I come to, then haul out well beyond the houses and find a secluded place to pitch the tent. Often a secure campsite is hard to find. It may take several tries. But I never violate this rule: Be invisible from the highway. There is too much mischief about these days to risk attracting attention.

With camp prepared and secured against rain, I settle down to the last pleasures of the day - cooking and eating supper, writing my journal, and bed. By 9 P.M., I'm usually asleep.

I'm sometimes asked: ''Sleeping out like that, don't you get bothered by wild animals?'' Only very rarely. Once my tent was demolished at 2 A.M. by cows - a frightening but not fatal experience. The really troublesome beasts are the small ones, mosquitoes and ants.

Interactions with people on the road are usually positive and enjoyable. Unpleasant things do happen, but not often. Small-town people are particularly friendly, and their hospitality sometimes takes surprising forms. One evening last summer, I had labored in the dark up a mountain to the old silver mining town of Austin, Nev. Arriving after 10 P.M., I expected to find the whole town closed down for the night, and was resigned to going hungry. Instead, the folks were having a barbecue, right on the main street. I managed to stagger away about 3 A.M. stuffed almost to bursting with roast meat and beer.

The cyclist is, of course, completely exposed to the weather. Most of the time in summer it's fine and delightful, but on a lengthy tour you can expect at least a few foul days. Strong winds are particularly irksome they can stop you short.

Squelching along in water-filled shoes, cold and blinded by spray from passing vehicles, is not to everyone's taste. But the worst thing about rain is that it makes a mess of everything. Sleeping bag and spare clothes are difficult to keep dry, and delicate equipment like camera and lenses must be carefully protected from water and condensation. The bicycle particularly suffers, as moving parts lose lubricants and become infiltrated with dirt from the road. Nuisance though it can be, however, rain must be taken as part of normal fare. Indeed, time seems to fly on rainy days and progress is usually excellent.

Riding in the desert poses some special problems. First, the intense heat means extreme rates of water loss daily consumption can easily exceed 20 pints. Furthermore, watering points can be uncomfortably far apart - 50 miles or more. Thus, adequate storage capacity is essential - I recommend at least five quarts. A nice way to supplement this is with encapsulated water - in the form of grapes. The sugar is a valuable bonus.

Sometimes the pavement softens or melts, causing the bicycle's wheels to become encrusted with tar. But desert rain is often far worse, because of the suddenness and ferocity of the storms. Flash floods often cover highways with mud or even tear them up altogether.

When the heat is especially severe, I find shade and camp down. My custom-made silicon solar panel then charges a battery pack to provide power for late-night riding with lights - itself an unforgettable experience. Sunset in the desert can make it seem as if the whole world is on fire. When it subsides, night falls quickly. Surrounded now only by vague shadows, you seem to be flying along. But the darkness exaggerates speed, and after four or five hours each mile seems interminable. By then the air is cold, and stars in the hundreds blaze malevolently in the pitch-black sky. It's a relief to camp down and go to sleep.

Each day has it own flavor, its highs, its hassles. But the coddled mentality of apartment life is gone, replaced by hardiness and indifference to discomfort. The feeling of well-being and inner peace is immense. Slowly, as the remaining miles dwindle, memories accumulate, to be cherished forever. Suddenly, almost incredibly, it seems, the journey is over. But, in the words of the old freight car hobo's song: ''It's got to be the going, not the getting there, that's good.'' There's no better way than on a bicycle.


THE VIEW FROM BEHIND THE HANDLEBARS

GWYN BALLARD is a professor of biophysics at the Rockefeller University.

Perhaps the most romantic journey in North America is an overland crossing from coast to coast. Done by bicycle, it is also a memorable adventure. No one who has ever plunged down Ten Sleep Canyon on two wheels, or toured Utah's desert wonderlands or crossed the Great Plains under his or her own steam could ever forget it. Weeks on the road bring challenges, undeniably. But they also bring experiences of the most sublime character: solitude, star-studded nights, astonishing landscapes and unforgettable glimpses of the wild.

For more than a decade, my summer vacation has been spent exploring North America by bicycle. A coast-to-coast tour takes me about a month, although most people travel at a somewhat more leisurely pace.

Such a trip can be anything from a sprint to a sabbatical. How fast you go, and where, and what you do en route are up to you. First, though, it's serious traveling.

The journey west from New York City does not, unfortunately, get off to an easy start. The northeastern coastal plain is some of the worst bicycling country in North America, despite the tracts of pretty farmland that remain. There is little to enjoy or admire where one decayed industrial town merges inexorably into the next. Cycling on their busy, potholed highways is a chore rather than a pleasure.

From the George Washington Bridge, the kindest way out of the New York metropolitan area is to take side streets westward through Fort Lee, N.J., to Route 4. Go as far as Paterson, then follow the Hamburg Turnpike and Jackson Avenue to Route 23 at Pompton Plains.

Beyond our back door are the quiet, scenic roads of Appalachia, where instead of ugly urban sprawl there are picturesque valleys and forested mountainsides. It is a different world, invigorating and as yet unspoiled. But those peaceful hills bring some of the hardest climbing of the whole crossing. Coming so early in the tour, they can make the decision not to go by automobile feel like a big mistake.

Far less strenuous, certainly, are the arable lands of the Middle West. Agriculture is a major business of America, and this is the heart of much of it. But the region is also a crowded one. The highways roar with traffic plying back and forth between town and city, farm and market. Riding in it day after day is wearying and hazardous. Only on the Great Plains do the wide open spaces of pioneer legend persist in present-day reality. There the cyclist is most aware of the continent's vastness. Land and sky merge in the haze of distance, and on this stage progress is tedious, almost dreamlike. Indeed, if the wind is contrary, and determined enough, there will be no progress at all.

First sight of the Western mountains - the Black Hills or the Bighorns or the Rockies themselves - brings a thrill beyond words. They're the first clear sign of progress in a week's ride, and the cyclist advancing slowly toward these mountains experiences them much as the occupants of the prairie schooners would have. But long, steep climbs lie ahead. Ascents and descents of close to one vertical mile, with passes that are more than 10,000 feet high, are common in the central Rockies. Nevertheless, cycling in the cool heights and breathtaking scenery is pure pleasure.

Beyond, there are up to 600 miles of desert to cross. Why would anyone do it? Because of the challenge. And because much of North America's most awesome scenery is to be found there.

The final hurdles are the Pacific Coast mountain ranges. Canopied with green forests and frequently obscured by mists and rain, they're a relief indeed from the sand- red oven to the east. Their western slopes, and the windswept beaches beyond, mark the end of the journey, 3,000 miles downrange from New York City.

The preparation for any bicycle tour - and the fun - begin with planning a route. The first source of information is a good motoring atlas, like Rand McNally's. It indicates the location and size of settlements, classifies highways and points out landmarks and other places of interest that might be worth a visit. Upon request, local chambers of commerce will furnish brochures about particular areas and calendars of local events.

Cyclists cannot use Interstate highways except in designated rural areas of some Western states. Freeways, tollroads and turnpikes are also usually off limits. I try to avoid major truck routes like U.S. 40 and U.S. 50. They're in terrible disrepair, worked to death and extremely dangerous. Similarly, I avoid metropolitan and industrial areas whenever possible. Their roads are especially broken up, littered with junk, congested, and poorly marked. By contrast, many of America's rural roads are delightful to ride on. Some that might be used on an east-west crossing are Upper Michigan's Route 28, U.S. 16 through Wyoming, and the North Cascades Highway (Route 20) in Washington State. There are many others, especially in the Pacific and mountain regions. Discovering them is one of the joys of cycling.

What about equipment? You need a reliable 10-speed bicycle, of course. To carry luggage, most cyclists use a handlebar pack and/or rear-wheel panniers. Wheels should have tubular rims for clincher tires, with quick-release hubs and lightweight mudguards. The seat should be of the padded (anatomic) variety. Some water bottles in cages are useful.

For camping out, take along a Gore-Tex one-person bivouac tent and an ultralightweight goose down sleeping bag. They give very efficient protection against rain, biting insects and nighttime cold. A ground pad adds considerably to sleeping comfort.

Campsite cooking requires a miniature gasoline stove and one utensil - an eight-inch Silverstone frying pan with a folding handle. Add a can opener, cutlery, salt, pepper and spices and a pack of paper napkins for cleaning up.

Other things to carry are a towel and essential toiletries, spare clothes, a rain cape, one spare folding tire and inner tube and a puncture repair kit. The only essential tools are a spoke wrench and a pair of tire levers. Light items needed frequently - camera, maps, logbook, snacks, etc. - are best carried in the handlebar pack. The heavy stuff to be used at campsite goes in the panniers.

The most exciting part of a long tour, I think, is the beginning. The sense of escape is immense. There's no feeling in the world like standing with your bicycle on the George Washington Bridge and bidding New York adieu for a month. But what's it like out on the open road?

A typical day begins at first light, when the birds wake you up. It's an enthusiastic sound, and they do it regardless of weather. On bright mornings, emerging from the tent is easy. If it's raining, though, any encouragement is welcome.

I almost never breakfast at campsite the first task of my day is to get going and warm up. Cool air, misty vistas, a quiet road, the promise of a new day - all combine to make the early morning a magical time to ride.

After 10 to 15 miles, I'm ready for breakfast at a roadside restaurant. The large family restaurants are my favorite. Service is fast and courteous, the food good and plentiful. Best of all, such restaurants have lavish washrooms where one can begin the day in earnest with a good scrub. Breakfast is also a nice opportunity to meet people. At first, you'll be surprised to discover what a curiosity you seem to be. But don't be put off. Most motorized travelers find cross- country cyclists irresistibly fascinating.

After breakfast, some serious road work is in order. With a stomach full of pancakes and syrup, it's amazing how the power comes on. Pure rhythm now, pumping the miles along, living with the traffic. White lines tick by, wayside objects waft past, and distant mountains turn their faces in a slow ballet choreographed by your motion. Even the bicycle seems content, humming along on the light metallic note of tire and spoke and the sticky-slick purring of the gears.

Lunch for me is a pit stop at a supermarket or general store. No fancy cuisine - just lots of it. Then it's back on the track. The afternoon heat demands steadier pace, more endurance. I pause often, to drink, to snack, to take photographs. Sometimes there's need for a longer break to fix a flat or do the laundry or take a refreshing dip in a river. The main business, though, is patiently to make miles.

By my 4 P.M. refueling stop, I've usually topped a hundred after that, it's bonus points. They can be easy or difficult, but either way the physical sensation of riding is all-consuming. The thrill of speed and power on the one hand and the inevitable aches and pains and annoyance with traffic or adverse weather on the other are equal and inseparable facets of the experience of bicycle touring.

Cool of evening brings more comfortable riding, and the pace picks up again. Miles pass almost unnoticed in the rich evening light. But as shadows lengthen then fade into dusk I have only one thought - to camp down for the night. I pick up supplies in the next settlement I come to, then haul out well beyond the houses and find a secluded place to pitch the tent. Often a secure campsite is hard to find. It may take several tries. But I never violate this rule: Be invisible from the highway. There is too much mischief about these days to risk attracting attention.

With camp prepared and secured against rain, I settle down to the last pleasures of the day - cooking and eating supper, writing my journal, and bed. By 9 P.M., I'm usually asleep.

I'm sometimes asked: ''Sleeping out like that, don't you get bothered by wild animals?'' Only very rarely. Once my tent was demolished at 2 A.M. by cows - a frightening but not fatal experience. The really troublesome beasts are the small ones, mosquitoes and ants.

Interactions with people on the road are usually positive and enjoyable. Unpleasant things do happen, but not often. Small-town people are particularly friendly, and their hospitality sometimes takes surprising forms. One evening last summer, I had labored in the dark up a mountain to the old silver mining town of Austin, Nev. Arriving after 10 P.M., I expected to find the whole town closed down for the night, and was resigned to going hungry. Instead, the folks were having a barbecue, right on the main street. I managed to stagger away about 3 A.M. stuffed almost to bursting with roast meat and beer.

The cyclist is, of course, completely exposed to the weather. Most of the time in summer it's fine and delightful, but on a lengthy tour you can expect at least a few foul days. Strong winds are particularly irksome they can stop you short.

Squelching along in water-filled shoes, cold and blinded by spray from passing vehicles, is not to everyone's taste. But the worst thing about rain is that it makes a mess of everything. Sleeping bag and spare clothes are difficult to keep dry, and delicate equipment like camera and lenses must be carefully protected from water and condensation. The bicycle particularly suffers, as moving parts lose lubricants and become infiltrated with dirt from the road. Nuisance though it can be, however, rain must be taken as part of normal fare. Indeed, time seems to fly on rainy days and progress is usually excellent.

Riding in the desert poses some special problems. First, the intense heat means extreme rates of water loss daily consumption can easily exceed 20 pints. Furthermore, watering points can be uncomfortably far apart - 50 miles or more. Thus, adequate storage capacity is essential - I recommend at least five quarts. A nice way to supplement this is with encapsulated water - in the form of grapes. The sugar is a valuable bonus.

Sometimes the pavement softens or melts, causing the bicycle's wheels to become encrusted with tar. But desert rain is often far worse, because of the suddenness and ferocity of the storms. Flash floods often cover highways with mud or even tear them up altogether.

When the heat is especially severe, I find shade and camp down. My custom-made silicon solar panel then charges a battery pack to provide power for late-night riding with lights - itself an unforgettable experience. Sunset in the desert can make it seem as if the whole world is on fire. When it subsides, night falls quickly. Surrounded now only by vague shadows, you seem to be flying along. But the darkness exaggerates speed, and after four or five hours each mile seems interminable. By then the air is cold, and stars in the hundreds blaze malevolently in the pitch-black sky. It's a relief to camp down and go to sleep.

Each day has it own flavor, its highs, its hassles. But the coddled mentality of apartment life is gone, replaced by hardiness and indifference to discomfort. The feeling of well-being and inner peace is immense. Slowly, as the remaining miles dwindle, memories accumulate, to be cherished forever. Suddenly, almost incredibly, it seems, the journey is over. But, in the words of the old freight car hobo's song: ''It's got to be the going, not the getting there, that's good.'' There's no better way than on a bicycle.


THE VIEW FROM BEHIND THE HANDLEBARS

GWYN BALLARD is a professor of biophysics at the Rockefeller University.

Perhaps the most romantic journey in North America is an overland crossing from coast to coast. Done by bicycle, it is also a memorable adventure. No one who has ever plunged down Ten Sleep Canyon on two wheels, or toured Utah's desert wonderlands or crossed the Great Plains under his or her own steam could ever forget it. Weeks on the road bring challenges, undeniably. But they also bring experiences of the most sublime character: solitude, star-studded nights, astonishing landscapes and unforgettable glimpses of the wild.

For more than a decade, my summer vacation has been spent exploring North America by bicycle. A coast-to-coast tour takes me about a month, although most people travel at a somewhat more leisurely pace.

Such a trip can be anything from a sprint to a sabbatical. How fast you go, and where, and what you do en route are up to you. First, though, it's serious traveling.

The journey west from New York City does not, unfortunately, get off to an easy start. The northeastern coastal plain is some of the worst bicycling country in North America, despite the tracts of pretty farmland that remain. There is little to enjoy or admire where one decayed industrial town merges inexorably into the next. Cycling on their busy, potholed highways is a chore rather than a pleasure.

From the George Washington Bridge, the kindest way out of the New York metropolitan area is to take side streets westward through Fort Lee, N.J., to Route 4. Go as far as Paterson, then follow the Hamburg Turnpike and Jackson Avenue to Route 23 at Pompton Plains.

Beyond our back door are the quiet, scenic roads of Appalachia, where instead of ugly urban sprawl there are picturesque valleys and forested mountainsides. It is a different world, invigorating and as yet unspoiled. But those peaceful hills bring some of the hardest climbing of the whole crossing. Coming so early in the tour, they can make the decision not to go by automobile feel like a big mistake.

Far less strenuous, certainly, are the arable lands of the Middle West. Agriculture is a major business of America, and this is the heart of much of it. But the region is also a crowded one. The highways roar with traffic plying back and forth between town and city, farm and market. Riding in it day after day is wearying and hazardous. Only on the Great Plains do the wide open spaces of pioneer legend persist in present-day reality. There the cyclist is most aware of the continent's vastness. Land and sky merge in the haze of distance, and on this stage progress is tedious, almost dreamlike. Indeed, if the wind is contrary, and determined enough, there will be no progress at all.

First sight of the Western mountains - the Black Hills or the Bighorns or the Rockies themselves - brings a thrill beyond words. They're the first clear sign of progress in a week's ride, and the cyclist advancing slowly toward these mountains experiences them much as the occupants of the prairie schooners would have. But long, steep climbs lie ahead. Ascents and descents of close to one vertical mile, with passes that are more than 10,000 feet high, are common in the central Rockies. Nevertheless, cycling in the cool heights and breathtaking scenery is pure pleasure.

Beyond, there are up to 600 miles of desert to cross. Why would anyone do it? Because of the challenge. And because much of North America's most awesome scenery is to be found there.

The final hurdles are the Pacific Coast mountain ranges. Canopied with green forests and frequently obscured by mists and rain, they're a relief indeed from the sand- red oven to the east. Their western slopes, and the windswept beaches beyond, mark the end of the journey, 3,000 miles downrange from New York City.

The preparation for any bicycle tour - and the fun - begin with planning a route. The first source of information is a good motoring atlas, like Rand McNally's. It indicates the location and size of settlements, classifies highways and points out landmarks and other places of interest that might be worth a visit. Upon request, local chambers of commerce will furnish brochures about particular areas and calendars of local events.

Cyclists cannot use Interstate highways except in designated rural areas of some Western states. Freeways, tollroads and turnpikes are also usually off limits. I try to avoid major truck routes like U.S. 40 and U.S. 50. They're in terrible disrepair, worked to death and extremely dangerous. Similarly, I avoid metropolitan and industrial areas whenever possible. Their roads are especially broken up, littered with junk, congested, and poorly marked. By contrast, many of America's rural roads are delightful to ride on. Some that might be used on an east-west crossing are Upper Michigan's Route 28, U.S. 16 through Wyoming, and the North Cascades Highway (Route 20) in Washington State. There are many others, especially in the Pacific and mountain regions. Discovering them is one of the joys of cycling.

What about equipment? You need a reliable 10-speed bicycle, of course. To carry luggage, most cyclists use a handlebar pack and/or rear-wheel panniers. Wheels should have tubular rims for clincher tires, with quick-release hubs and lightweight mudguards. The seat should be of the padded (anatomic) variety. Some water bottles in cages are useful.

For camping out, take along a Gore-Tex one-person bivouac tent and an ultralightweight goose down sleeping bag. They give very efficient protection against rain, biting insects and nighttime cold. A ground pad adds considerably to sleeping comfort.

Campsite cooking requires a miniature gasoline stove and one utensil - an eight-inch Silverstone frying pan with a folding handle. Add a can opener, cutlery, salt, pepper and spices and a pack of paper napkins for cleaning up.

Other things to carry are a towel and essential toiletries, spare clothes, a rain cape, one spare folding tire and inner tube and a puncture repair kit. The only essential tools are a spoke wrench and a pair of tire levers. Light items needed frequently - camera, maps, logbook, snacks, etc. - are best carried in the handlebar pack. The heavy stuff to be used at campsite goes in the panniers.

The most exciting part of a long tour, I think, is the beginning. The sense of escape is immense. There's no feeling in the world like standing with your bicycle on the George Washington Bridge and bidding New York adieu for a month. But what's it like out on the open road?

A typical day begins at first light, when the birds wake you up. It's an enthusiastic sound, and they do it regardless of weather. On bright mornings, emerging from the tent is easy. If it's raining, though, any encouragement is welcome.

I almost never breakfast at campsite the first task of my day is to get going and warm up. Cool air, misty vistas, a quiet road, the promise of a new day - all combine to make the early morning a magical time to ride.

After 10 to 15 miles, I'm ready for breakfast at a roadside restaurant. The large family restaurants are my favorite. Service is fast and courteous, the food good and plentiful. Best of all, such restaurants have lavish washrooms where one can begin the day in earnest with a good scrub. Breakfast is also a nice opportunity to meet people. At first, you'll be surprised to discover what a curiosity you seem to be. But don't be put off. Most motorized travelers find cross- country cyclists irresistibly fascinating.

After breakfast, some serious road work is in order. With a stomach full of pancakes and syrup, it's amazing how the power comes on. Pure rhythm now, pumping the miles along, living with the traffic. White lines tick by, wayside objects waft past, and distant mountains turn their faces in a slow ballet choreographed by your motion. Even the bicycle seems content, humming along on the light metallic note of tire and spoke and the sticky-slick purring of the gears.

Lunch for me is a pit stop at a supermarket or general store. No fancy cuisine - just lots of it. Then it's back on the track. The afternoon heat demands steadier pace, more endurance. I pause often, to drink, to snack, to take photographs. Sometimes there's need for a longer break to fix a flat or do the laundry or take a refreshing dip in a river. The main business, though, is patiently to make miles.

By my 4 P.M. refueling stop, I've usually topped a hundred after that, it's bonus points. They can be easy or difficult, but either way the physical sensation of riding is all-consuming. The thrill of speed and power on the one hand and the inevitable aches and pains and annoyance with traffic or adverse weather on the other are equal and inseparable facets of the experience of bicycle touring.

Cool of evening brings more comfortable riding, and the pace picks up again. Miles pass almost unnoticed in the rich evening light. But as shadows lengthen then fade into dusk I have only one thought - to camp down for the night. I pick up supplies in the next settlement I come to, then haul out well beyond the houses and find a secluded place to pitch the tent. Often a secure campsite is hard to find. It may take several tries. But I never violate this rule: Be invisible from the highway. There is too much mischief about these days to risk attracting attention.

With camp prepared and secured against rain, I settle down to the last pleasures of the day - cooking and eating supper, writing my journal, and bed. By 9 P.M., I'm usually asleep.

I'm sometimes asked: ''Sleeping out like that, don't you get bothered by wild animals?'' Only very rarely. Once my tent was demolished at 2 A.M. by cows - a frightening but not fatal experience. The really troublesome beasts are the small ones, mosquitoes and ants.

Interactions with people on the road are usually positive and enjoyable. Unpleasant things do happen, but not often. Small-town people are particularly friendly, and their hospitality sometimes takes surprising forms. One evening last summer, I had labored in the dark up a mountain to the old silver mining town of Austin, Nev. Arriving after 10 P.M., I expected to find the whole town closed down for the night, and was resigned to going hungry. Instead, the folks were having a barbecue, right on the main street. I managed to stagger away about 3 A.M. stuffed almost to bursting with roast meat and beer.

The cyclist is, of course, completely exposed to the weather. Most of the time in summer it's fine and delightful, but on a lengthy tour you can expect at least a few foul days. Strong winds are particularly irksome they can stop you short.

Squelching along in water-filled shoes, cold and blinded by spray from passing vehicles, is not to everyone's taste. But the worst thing about rain is that it makes a mess of everything. Sleeping bag and spare clothes are difficult to keep dry, and delicate equipment like camera and lenses must be carefully protected from water and condensation. The bicycle particularly suffers, as moving parts lose lubricants and become infiltrated with dirt from the road. Nuisance though it can be, however, rain must be taken as part of normal fare. Indeed, time seems to fly on rainy days and progress is usually excellent.

Riding in the desert poses some special problems. First, the intense heat means extreme rates of water loss daily consumption can easily exceed 20 pints. Furthermore, watering points can be uncomfortably far apart - 50 miles or more. Thus, adequate storage capacity is essential - I recommend at least five quarts. A nice way to supplement this is with encapsulated water - in the form of grapes. The sugar is a valuable bonus.

Sometimes the pavement softens or melts, causing the bicycle's wheels to become encrusted with tar. But desert rain is often far worse, because of the suddenness and ferocity of the storms. Flash floods often cover highways with mud or even tear them up altogether.

When the heat is especially severe, I find shade and camp down. My custom-made silicon solar panel then charges a battery pack to provide power for late-night riding with lights - itself an unforgettable experience. Sunset in the desert can make it seem as if the whole world is on fire. When it subsides, night falls quickly. Surrounded now only by vague shadows, you seem to be flying along. But the darkness exaggerates speed, and after four or five hours each mile seems interminable. By then the air is cold, and stars in the hundreds blaze malevolently in the pitch-black sky. It's a relief to camp down and go to sleep.

Each day has it own flavor, its highs, its hassles. But the coddled mentality of apartment life is gone, replaced by hardiness and indifference to discomfort. The feeling of well-being and inner peace is immense. Slowly, as the remaining miles dwindle, memories accumulate, to be cherished forever. Suddenly, almost incredibly, it seems, the journey is over. But, in the words of the old freight car hobo's song: ''It's got to be the going, not the getting there, that's good.'' There's no better way than on a bicycle.


THE VIEW FROM BEHIND THE HANDLEBARS

GWYN BALLARD is a professor of biophysics at the Rockefeller University.

Perhaps the most romantic journey in North America is an overland crossing from coast to coast. Done by bicycle, it is also a memorable adventure. No one who has ever plunged down Ten Sleep Canyon on two wheels, or toured Utah's desert wonderlands or crossed the Great Plains under his or her own steam could ever forget it. Weeks on the road bring challenges, undeniably. But they also bring experiences of the most sublime character: solitude, star-studded nights, astonishing landscapes and unforgettable glimpses of the wild.

For more than a decade, my summer vacation has been spent exploring North America by bicycle. A coast-to-coast tour takes me about a month, although most people travel at a somewhat more leisurely pace.

Such a trip can be anything from a sprint to a sabbatical. How fast you go, and where, and what you do en route are up to you. First, though, it's serious traveling.

The journey west from New York City does not, unfortunately, get off to an easy start. The northeastern coastal plain is some of the worst bicycling country in North America, despite the tracts of pretty farmland that remain. There is little to enjoy or admire where one decayed industrial town merges inexorably into the next. Cycling on their busy, potholed highways is a chore rather than a pleasure.

From the George Washington Bridge, the kindest way out of the New York metropolitan area is to take side streets westward through Fort Lee, N.J., to Route 4. Go as far as Paterson, then follow the Hamburg Turnpike and Jackson Avenue to Route 23 at Pompton Plains.

Beyond our back door are the quiet, scenic roads of Appalachia, where instead of ugly urban sprawl there are picturesque valleys and forested mountainsides. It is a different world, invigorating and as yet unspoiled. But those peaceful hills bring some of the hardest climbing of the whole crossing. Coming so early in the tour, they can make the decision not to go by automobile feel like a big mistake.

Far less strenuous, certainly, are the arable lands of the Middle West. Agriculture is a major business of America, and this is the heart of much of it. But the region is also a crowded one. The highways roar with traffic plying back and forth between town and city, farm and market. Riding in it day after day is wearying and hazardous. Only on the Great Plains do the wide open spaces of pioneer legend persist in present-day reality. There the cyclist is most aware of the continent's vastness. Land and sky merge in the haze of distance, and on this stage progress is tedious, almost dreamlike. Indeed, if the wind is contrary, and determined enough, there will be no progress at all.

First sight of the Western mountains - the Black Hills or the Bighorns or the Rockies themselves - brings a thrill beyond words. They're the first clear sign of progress in a week's ride, and the cyclist advancing slowly toward these mountains experiences them much as the occupants of the prairie schooners would have. But long, steep climbs lie ahead. Ascents and descents of close to one vertical mile, with passes that are more than 10,000 feet high, are common in the central Rockies. Nevertheless, cycling in the cool heights and breathtaking scenery is pure pleasure.

Beyond, there are up to 600 miles of desert to cross. Why would anyone do it? Because of the challenge. And because much of North America's most awesome scenery is to be found there.

The final hurdles are the Pacific Coast mountain ranges. Canopied with green forests and frequently obscured by mists and rain, they're a relief indeed from the sand- red oven to the east. Their western slopes, and the windswept beaches beyond, mark the end of the journey, 3,000 miles downrange from New York City.

The preparation for any bicycle tour - and the fun - begin with planning a route. The first source of information is a good motoring atlas, like Rand McNally's. It indicates the location and size of settlements, classifies highways and points out landmarks and other places of interest that might be worth a visit. Upon request, local chambers of commerce will furnish brochures about particular areas and calendars of local events.

Cyclists cannot use Interstate highways except in designated rural areas of some Western states. Freeways, tollroads and turnpikes are also usually off limits. I try to avoid major truck routes like U.S. 40 and U.S. 50. They're in terrible disrepair, worked to death and extremely dangerous. Similarly, I avoid metropolitan and industrial areas whenever possible. Their roads are especially broken up, littered with junk, congested, and poorly marked. By contrast, many of America's rural roads are delightful to ride on. Some that might be used on an east-west crossing are Upper Michigan's Route 28, U.S. 16 through Wyoming, and the North Cascades Highway (Route 20) in Washington State. There are many others, especially in the Pacific and mountain regions. Discovering them is one of the joys of cycling.

What about equipment? You need a reliable 10-speed bicycle, of course. To carry luggage, most cyclists use a handlebar pack and/or rear-wheel panniers. Wheels should have tubular rims for clincher tires, with quick-release hubs and lightweight mudguards. The seat should be of the padded (anatomic) variety. Some water bottles in cages are useful.

For camping out, take along a Gore-Tex one-person bivouac tent and an ultralightweight goose down sleeping bag. They give very efficient protection against rain, biting insects and nighttime cold. A ground pad adds considerably to sleeping comfort.

Campsite cooking requires a miniature gasoline stove and one utensil - an eight-inch Silverstone frying pan with a folding handle. Add a can opener, cutlery, salt, pepper and spices and a pack of paper napkins for cleaning up.

Other things to carry are a towel and essential toiletries, spare clothes, a rain cape, one spare folding tire and inner tube and a puncture repair kit. The only essential tools are a spoke wrench and a pair of tire levers. Light items needed frequently - camera, maps, logbook, snacks, etc. - are best carried in the handlebar pack. The heavy stuff to be used at campsite goes in the panniers.

The most exciting part of a long tour, I think, is the beginning. The sense of escape is immense. There's no feeling in the world like standing with your bicycle on the George Washington Bridge and bidding New York adieu for a month. But what's it like out on the open road?

A typical day begins at first light, when the birds wake you up. It's an enthusiastic sound, and they do it regardless of weather. On bright mornings, emerging from the tent is easy. If it's raining, though, any encouragement is welcome.

I almost never breakfast at campsite the first task of my day is to get going and warm up. Cool air, misty vistas, a quiet road, the promise of a new day - all combine to make the early morning a magical time to ride.

After 10 to 15 miles, I'm ready for breakfast at a roadside restaurant. The large family restaurants are my favorite. Service is fast and courteous, the food good and plentiful. Best of all, such restaurants have lavish washrooms where one can begin the day in earnest with a good scrub. Breakfast is also a nice opportunity to meet people. At first, you'll be surprised to discover what a curiosity you seem to be. But don't be put off. Most motorized travelers find cross- country cyclists irresistibly fascinating.

After breakfast, some serious road work is in order. With a stomach full of pancakes and syrup, it's amazing how the power comes on. Pure rhythm now, pumping the miles along, living with the traffic. White lines tick by, wayside objects waft past, and distant mountains turn their faces in a slow ballet choreographed by your motion. Even the bicycle seems content, humming along on the light metallic note of tire and spoke and the sticky-slick purring of the gears.

Lunch for me is a pit stop at a supermarket or general store. No fancy cuisine - just lots of it. Then it's back on the track. The afternoon heat demands steadier pace, more endurance. I pause often, to drink, to snack, to take photographs. Sometimes there's need for a longer break to fix a flat or do the laundry or take a refreshing dip in a river. The main business, though, is patiently to make miles.

By my 4 P.M. refueling stop, I've usually topped a hundred after that, it's bonus points. They can be easy or difficult, but either way the physical sensation of riding is all-consuming. The thrill of speed and power on the one hand and the inevitable aches and pains and annoyance with traffic or adverse weather on the other are equal and inseparable facets of the experience of bicycle touring.

Cool of evening brings more comfortable riding, and the pace picks up again. Miles pass almost unnoticed in the rich evening light. But as shadows lengthen then fade into dusk I have only one thought - to camp down for the night. I pick up supplies in the next settlement I come to, then haul out well beyond the houses and find a secluded place to pitch the tent. Often a secure campsite is hard to find. It may take several tries. But I never violate this rule: Be invisible from the highway. There is too much mischief about these days to risk attracting attention.

With camp prepared and secured against rain, I settle down to the last pleasures of the day - cooking and eating supper, writing my journal, and bed. By 9 P.M., I'm usually asleep.

I'm sometimes asked: ''Sleeping out like that, don't you get bothered by wild animals?'' Only very rarely. Once my tent was demolished at 2 A.M. by cows - a frightening but not fatal experience. The really troublesome beasts are the small ones, mosquitoes and ants.

Interactions with people on the road are usually positive and enjoyable. Unpleasant things do happen, but not often. Small-town people are particularly friendly, and their hospitality sometimes takes surprising forms. One evening last summer, I had labored in the dark up a mountain to the old silver mining town of Austin, Nev. Arriving after 10 P.M., I expected to find the whole town closed down for the night, and was resigned to going hungry. Instead, the folks were having a barbecue, right on the main street. I managed to stagger away about 3 A.M. stuffed almost to bursting with roast meat and beer.

The cyclist is, of course, completely exposed to the weather. Most of the time in summer it's fine and delightful, but on a lengthy tour you can expect at least a few foul days. Strong winds are particularly irksome they can stop you short.

Squelching along in water-filled shoes, cold and blinded by spray from passing vehicles, is not to everyone's taste. But the worst thing about rain is that it makes a mess of everything. Sleeping bag and spare clothes are difficult to keep dry, and delicate equipment like camera and lenses must be carefully protected from water and condensation. The bicycle particularly suffers, as moving parts lose lubricants and become infiltrated with dirt from the road. Nuisance though it can be, however, rain must be taken as part of normal fare. Indeed, time seems to fly on rainy days and progress is usually excellent.

Riding in the desert poses some special problems. First, the intense heat means extreme rates of water loss daily consumption can easily exceed 20 pints. Furthermore, watering points can be uncomfortably far apart - 50 miles or more. Thus, adequate storage capacity is essential - I recommend at least five quarts. A nice way to supplement this is with encapsulated water - in the form of grapes. The sugar is a valuable bonus.

Sometimes the pavement softens or melts, causing the bicycle's wheels to become encrusted with tar. But desert rain is often far worse, because of the suddenness and ferocity of the storms. Flash floods often cover highways with mud or even tear them up altogether.

When the heat is especially severe, I find shade and camp down. My custom-made silicon solar panel then charges a battery pack to provide power for late-night riding with lights - itself an unforgettable experience. Sunset in the desert can make it seem as if the whole world is on fire. When it subsides, night falls quickly. Surrounded now only by vague shadows, you seem to be flying along. But the darkness exaggerates speed, and after four or five hours each mile seems interminable. By then the air is cold, and stars in the hundreds blaze malevolently in the pitch-black sky. It's a relief to camp down and go to sleep.

Each day has it own flavor, its highs, its hassles. But the coddled mentality of apartment life is gone, replaced by hardiness and indifference to discomfort. The feeling of well-being and inner peace is immense. Slowly, as the remaining miles dwindle, memories accumulate, to be cherished forever. Suddenly, almost incredibly, it seems, the journey is over. But, in the words of the old freight car hobo's song: ''It's got to be the going, not the getting there, that's good.'' There's no better way than on a bicycle.


THE VIEW FROM BEHIND THE HANDLEBARS

GWYN BALLARD is a professor of biophysics at the Rockefeller University.

Perhaps the most romantic journey in North America is an overland crossing from coast to coast. Done by bicycle, it is also a memorable adventure. No one who has ever plunged down Ten Sleep Canyon on two wheels, or toured Utah's desert wonderlands or crossed the Great Plains under his or her own steam could ever forget it. Weeks on the road bring challenges, undeniably. But they also bring experiences of the most sublime character: solitude, star-studded nights, astonishing landscapes and unforgettable glimpses of the wild.

For more than a decade, my summer vacation has been spent exploring North America by bicycle. A coast-to-coast tour takes me about a month, although most people travel at a somewhat more leisurely pace.

Such a trip can be anything from a sprint to a sabbatical. How fast you go, and where, and what you do en route are up to you. First, though, it's serious traveling.

The journey west from New York City does not, unfortunately, get off to an easy start. The northeastern coastal plain is some of the worst bicycling country in North America, despite the tracts of pretty farmland that remain. There is little to enjoy or admire where one decayed industrial town merges inexorably into the next. Cycling on their busy, potholed highways is a chore rather than a pleasure.

From the George Washington Bridge, the kindest way out of the New York metropolitan area is to take side streets westward through Fort Lee, N.J., to Route 4. Go as far as Paterson, then follow the Hamburg Turnpike and Jackson Avenue to Route 23 at Pompton Plains.

Beyond our back door are the quiet, scenic roads of Appalachia, where instead of ugly urban sprawl there are picturesque valleys and forested mountainsides. It is a different world, invigorating and as yet unspoiled. But those peaceful hills bring some of the hardest climbing of the whole crossing. Coming so early in the tour, they can make the decision not to go by automobile feel like a big mistake.

Far less strenuous, certainly, are the arable lands of the Middle West. Agriculture is a major business of America, and this is the heart of much of it. But the region is also a crowded one. The highways roar with traffic plying back and forth between town and city, farm and market. Riding in it day after day is wearying and hazardous. Only on the Great Plains do the wide open spaces of pioneer legend persist in present-day reality. There the cyclist is most aware of the continent's vastness. Land and sky merge in the haze of distance, and on this stage progress is tedious, almost dreamlike. Indeed, if the wind is contrary, and determined enough, there will be no progress at all.

First sight of the Western mountains - the Black Hills or the Bighorns or the Rockies themselves - brings a thrill beyond words. They're the first clear sign of progress in a week's ride, and the cyclist advancing slowly toward these mountains experiences them much as the occupants of the prairie schooners would have. But long, steep climbs lie ahead. Ascents and descents of close to one vertical mile, with passes that are more than 10,000 feet high, are common in the central Rockies. Nevertheless, cycling in the cool heights and breathtaking scenery is pure pleasure.

Beyond, there are up to 600 miles of desert to cross. Why would anyone do it? Because of the challenge. And because much of North America's most awesome scenery is to be found there.

The final hurdles are the Pacific Coast mountain ranges. Canopied with green forests and frequently obscured by mists and rain, they're a relief indeed from the sand- red oven to the east. Their western slopes, and the windswept beaches beyond, mark the end of the journey, 3,000 miles downrange from New York City.

The preparation for any bicycle tour - and the fun - begin with planning a route. The first source of information is a good motoring atlas, like Rand McNally's. It indicates the location and size of settlements, classifies highways and points out landmarks and other places of interest that might be worth a visit. Upon request, local chambers of commerce will furnish brochures about particular areas and calendars of local events.

Cyclists cannot use Interstate highways except in designated rural areas of some Western states. Freeways, tollroads and turnpikes are also usually off limits. I try to avoid major truck routes like U.S. 40 and U.S. 50. They're in terrible disrepair, worked to death and extremely dangerous. Similarly, I avoid metropolitan and industrial areas whenever possible. Their roads are especially broken up, littered with junk, congested, and poorly marked. By contrast, many of America's rural roads are delightful to ride on. Some that might be used on an east-west crossing are Upper Michigan's Route 28, U.S. 16 through Wyoming, and the North Cascades Highway (Route 20) in Washington State. There are many others, especially in the Pacific and mountain regions. Discovering them is one of the joys of cycling.

What about equipment? You need a reliable 10-speed bicycle, of course. To carry luggage, most cyclists use a handlebar pack and/or rear-wheel panniers. Wheels should have tubular rims for clincher tires, with quick-release hubs and lightweight mudguards. The seat should be of the padded (anatomic) variety. Some water bottles in cages are useful.

For camping out, take along a Gore-Tex one-person bivouac tent and an ultralightweight goose down sleeping bag. They give very efficient protection against rain, biting insects and nighttime cold. A ground pad adds considerably to sleeping comfort.

Campsite cooking requires a miniature gasoline stove and one utensil - an eight-inch Silverstone frying pan with a folding handle. Add a can opener, cutlery, salt, pepper and spices and a pack of paper napkins for cleaning up.

Other things to carry are a towel and essential toiletries, spare clothes, a rain cape, one spare folding tire and inner tube and a puncture repair kit. The only essential tools are a spoke wrench and a pair of tire levers. Light items needed frequently - camera, maps, logbook, snacks, etc. - are best carried in the handlebar pack. The heavy stuff to be used at campsite goes in the panniers.

The most exciting part of a long tour, I think, is the beginning. The sense of escape is immense. There's no feeling in the world like standing with your bicycle on the George Washington Bridge and bidding New York adieu for a month. But what's it like out on the open road?

A typical day begins at first light, when the birds wake you up. It's an enthusiastic sound, and they do it regardless of weather. On bright mornings, emerging from the tent is easy. If it's raining, though, any encouragement is welcome.

I almost never breakfast at campsite the first task of my day is to get going and warm up. Cool air, misty vistas, a quiet road, the promise of a new day - all combine to make the early morning a magical time to ride.

After 10 to 15 miles, I'm ready for breakfast at a roadside restaurant. The large family restaurants are my favorite. Service is fast and courteous, the food good and plentiful. Best of all, such restaurants have lavish washrooms where one can begin the day in earnest with a good scrub. Breakfast is also a nice opportunity to meet people. At first, you'll be surprised to discover what a curiosity you seem to be. But don't be put off. Most motorized travelers find cross- country cyclists irresistibly fascinating.

After breakfast, some serious road work is in order. With a stomach full of pancakes and syrup, it's amazing how the power comes on. Pure rhythm now, pumping the miles along, living with the traffic. White lines tick by, wayside objects waft past, and distant mountains turn their faces in a slow ballet choreographed by your motion. Even the bicycle seems content, humming along on the light metallic note of tire and spoke and the sticky-slick purring of the gears.

Lunch for me is a pit stop at a supermarket or general store. No fancy cuisine - just lots of it. Then it's back on the track. The afternoon heat demands steadier pace, more endurance. I pause often, to drink, to snack, to take photographs. Sometimes there's need for a longer break to fix a flat or do the laundry or take a refreshing dip in a river. The main business, though, is patiently to make miles.

By my 4 P.M. refueling stop, I've usually topped a hundred after that, it's bonus points. They can be easy or difficult, but either way the physical sensation of riding is all-consuming. The thrill of speed and power on the one hand and the inevitable aches and pains and annoyance with traffic or adverse weather on the other are equal and inseparable facets of the experience of bicycle touring.

Cool of evening brings more comfortable riding, and the pace picks up again. Miles pass almost unnoticed in the rich evening light. But as shadows lengthen then fade into dusk I have only one thought - to camp down for the night. I pick up supplies in the next settlement I come to, then haul out well beyond the houses and find a secluded place to pitch the tent. Often a secure campsite is hard to find. It may take several tries. But I never violate this rule: Be invisible from the highway. There is too much mischief about these days to risk attracting attention.

With camp prepared and secured against rain, I settle down to the last pleasures of the day - cooking and eating supper, writing my journal, and bed. By 9 P.M., I'm usually asleep.

I'm sometimes asked: ''Sleeping out like that, don't you get bothered by wild animals?'' Only very rarely. Once my tent was demolished at 2 A.M. by cows - a frightening but not fatal experience. The really troublesome beasts are the small ones, mosquitoes and ants.

Interactions with people on the road are usually positive and enjoyable. Unpleasant things do happen, but not often. Small-town people are particularly friendly, and their hospitality sometimes takes surprising forms. One evening last summer, I had labored in the dark up a mountain to the old silver mining town of Austin, Nev. Arriving after 10 P.M., I expected to find the whole town closed down for the night, and was resigned to going hungry. Instead, the folks were having a barbecue, right on the main street. I managed to stagger away about 3 A.M. stuffed almost to bursting with roast meat and beer.

The cyclist is, of course, completely exposed to the weather. Most of the time in summer it's fine and delightful, but on a lengthy tour you can expect at least a few foul days. Strong winds are particularly irksome they can stop you short.

Squelching along in water-filled shoes, cold and blinded by spray from passing vehicles, is not to everyone's taste. But the worst thing about rain is that it makes a mess of everything. Sleeping bag and spare clothes are difficult to keep dry, and delicate equipment like camera and lenses must be carefully protected from water and condensation. The bicycle particularly suffers, as moving parts lose lubricants and become infiltrated with dirt from the road. Nuisance though it can be, however, rain must be taken as part of normal fare. Indeed, time seems to fly on rainy days and progress is usually excellent.

Riding in the desert poses some special problems. First, the intense heat means extreme rates of water loss daily consumption can easily exceed 20 pints. Furthermore, watering points can be uncomfortably far apart - 50 miles or more. Thus, adequate storage capacity is essential - I recommend at least five quarts. A nice way to supplement this is with encapsulated water - in the form of grapes. The sugar is a valuable bonus.

Sometimes the pavement softens or melts, causing the bicycle's wheels to become encrusted with tar. But desert rain is often far worse, because of the suddenness and ferocity of the storms. Flash floods often cover highways with mud or even tear them up altogether.

When the heat is especially severe, I find shade and camp down. My custom-made silicon solar panel then charges a battery pack to provide power for late-night riding with lights - itself an unforgettable experience. Sunset in the desert can make it seem as if the whole world is on fire. When it subsides, night falls quickly. Surrounded now only by vague shadows, you seem to be flying along. But the darkness exaggerates speed, and after four or five hours each mile seems interminable. By then the air is cold, and stars in the hundreds blaze malevolently in the pitch-black sky. It's a relief to camp down and go to sleep.

Each day has it own flavor, its highs, its hassles. But the coddled mentality of apartment life is gone, replaced by hardiness and indifference to discomfort. The feeling of well-being and inner peace is immense. Slowly, as the remaining miles dwindle, memories accumulate, to be cherished forever. Suddenly, almost incredibly, it seems, the journey is over. But, in the words of the old freight car hobo's song: ''It's got to be the going, not the getting there, that's good.'' There's no better way than on a bicycle.