Recently, I finished a bike ride across the country and it was the time of my life. The whole time I've felt confident in our ability to get there. The hills, food, lodging, navigating, meeting strange people on the road, water, bike problems, they are all fixable and I can confidently handle these things. I can never be confident about cars and their drivers, they make me worry for my life.
Semi-trucks, pickup-trucks, logging trucks, RVs, SUVs, Sports cars, even motorcycles constantly remind me that our lives could end at any moment on a bike on the side of the road if the driver is careless or is aggressive towards bikers.
We've done everything we can to stay safe on the road. Biking as far onto the shoulder of the road as possible and constantly checking our mirrors for oncoming cars, we often have to bike in the lane because the shoulder is just gravel, or is covered in glass, or nonexistent. The conditions of the roads often mean there is no completely safe way to get to our destination. Crossing North Dakota, for example, we were forced to bike a total of 50 miles on interstate 94 simply because that was the only paved road in a 50-mile radius, at least I-94 had wide shoulders with speed bumps keeping cars away from us.
So most of the time we have been forced to deal with cars. We've had countless close calls in which cars don't slow down or move over when passing us, zooming just feet away from our bikes at 60 or 70 miles an hour. It always happens too fast to react, and leaves us exasperated and shouting at the car in an effort to retain some sense of control over our fate.
Although bicyclists have a legal right to the road, it sure has not felt that way biking mostly in rural areas designed completely for cars. We've had motorcyclists flip us off and shout "get off the road" while thundering by. One driver did slow down only to scream "get off the god damn road" and call the sheriff complaining that we were biking too far into the road. The Sheriff said he would hate to have taken us to the station if we kept "bothering" cars.
Until this changes and roads become more bike-accessible, bike touring and even casual biking in North American cities will never become fully mainstream. We need a culture shift that changes driving behaviors as well as the structure of roads on a national level in order to treat bicycles like any other vehicle. This will take a long time and there is already a strong biking movement working towards normalizing biking. Until that happens, enjoy the ride, bike safe, and if driving a car please pass bike like you would safely pass any other vehicle.