Last fall, my fiancé Jason suggested that we ride our bikes across the continental United States during the summer of 2012. We didn’t even own touring bikes at the time, and I had never done a ride longer than 25 miles at a time. It was a completely crazy idea. So of course I said yes. It was a graduation trip for him, and I saw it as a chance of a lifetime. Never mind the fact that we didn’t have a clue how to prepare for something like that.
We got a couple of Motobecane touring bikes, Ortlieb panniers, and began researching everything we’d need to know in order to undertake a cross country bike tour. We learned about mapping routes, biking rules for traveling with cars, basic maintenance, and started scouring biking blogs for advice. Neither of us had extensive funding, so we planned a budget of $3,000 each, planning on camping along the way. People told us we were crazy to try and do it, but I think the most important thing about preparing for this type of adventure is realizing you know nothing, and being okay with learning as you go. Sometimes having no plan opens up the possibility for adventure more than you could have ever expected.
We boxed up our bikes and hopped a Greyhound bus at 2am the morning of May 19th, heading for our starting destination of Port Angeles, Washington. We had to sit separately, crammed in next to a group of what appeared to be escaped convicts. Over the next day and a half we got an inside understanding of the bus systems in the continental United States, and met people who had been riding for over a week to get coast to coast. Thirty long hours later saw us checking into our hotel on the Pacific Coast, thankful to be left to our own method of transportation!
We spent a few days in Port Angeles, putting our bikes together and collecting supplies. Remember the part where I mentioned I have never trained for this type of trip? Well, since I had been training for the Colorado Marathon (and completed it on May 6th), my biking training had amounted to almost nothing. Our first time riding loaded was in the parking lot of our hotel, in the pouring rain the morning we began our journey. I figured I would build endurance as we traveled, and that the first couple of weeks would just be, well, challenging. As we started up over the Cascade Mountains and the Continental Divide a little over a week later, I realized I had underestimated just how hard it would be. I was right about one thing though—I did learn as I went! We both went quickly from being sore every night to just rather tired and from feeling like newbies to confidently tackling any obstacles the road threw at us. This (of course) led to us racing down steep mountain passes, dodging chunks of ice and snow scattered across the road, hitting 40 mph and enjoying every second of it!
In many ways, it’s hard to comprehend attempting a trip across country by bike. There are so many unknowns and the outcome of every day is uncertain, even down to where you get food and water. We had our bikes break down and tires blow out in the most inconvenient places possible, such as just before dark in the middle of nowhere, or in 105 degree weather on deserted country roads. Some days we rode dawn to dusk without seeing any signs of people or civilization. Instead of being wary of strangers offering us food, shelter or assistance, we learned to trust our instincts and have faith in the inherent goodness of people. There were only one or two situations in which we ever felt threatened or unsafe, and every time we found ourselves in a sticky situation (such as that Montana hailstorm!) we found ways to get out of it. It made it easy to realize that most things honestly do stop being frightening or uncertain if you can figure out how to pull yourself together enough to face them head on.
In truth, nothing could have prepared me for anything about our journey. We traveled more than 4,000 miles over 80 days throughout the northern half of America and parts of Canada (including all of Ontario).We slept under the stars on the side of the road, in people’s backyards, along the locks of the Erie Canal, in more campgrounds than I can recall, and with the many friends and generous people we met along the way. We rode at sunrise, in the middle of the night, in the pouring rain and through one of the worst heat waves the Midwest had seen in years. I’ve never met so many people who went out of their way to help us any way they could, and I’ve never ended up at the end of a summer with so many adventure stories to tell! From the Canadian millionaires who invited us to stay at their home for 2 days while they were on vacation, to the Wisconsin doctors who took us up to their cabin for the night, to the pair of slightly intoxicated volunteer firemen who wanted us to pay for using the water fountain at midnight, our summer was full of amazing travel experiences! Add that to all the gorgeous places we got to visit as we biked, and it was altogether the hardest and most amazing thing I have ever done.
We both feel like we do most of our real living when engaged in something that challenges us to our very core, and throws us out of being comfortable and into a true adventure. The things that scare the hell out of you, frustrate you and make you feel like crying are also the times when you have the most fun, see things you’ve never dreamed of, laugh harder than you ever have before and meet more interesting people than you thought possible. And it’s times like these that allow you to view the world with more clarity and understanding than you were capable of previously.
One night as we were debriefing after a hard day, Jason said that to him, the whole bike trip was about struggle, appreciating what you have, and about seeing things slow enough to really SEE them. I really think this might sum up the summer. All too often we do things far too quickly to understand what we are seeing, or comprehend the things we see. After riding across America at 15 mph, I really think I got a good look at the country I live in and the person I really am, maybe for the first time, but certainly not the last!
This being said, I suppose that I have to consider myself a cyclist now! And I am always looking for new adventures, both on and off the bike. At the moment we are planning a 2 week bike tour of the Rocky Mountains for this summer, as well as a couple marathons of course. I love chatting about bikes and rides, and if any of you have any questions or comments, please find me on Facebook or Twitter! Or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Cheers!