What a summer! I can still hardly believe that between June 16 and August 5, I rode my bike for nearly 50 straight days, averaging 80 miles a day and pedaling from coast to coast – Oregon to New Hampshire – biking approximately 3700 miles.
I had to miss one day of the ride between Rochester and Syracuse, New York due to some fluid retention. Fortunately I was cleared to continue and finish the ride, but even as we dipped our tires into the Atlantic, I knew I would have to go back and complete the 93 miles I missed. I was not going to settle with an asterisk behind my name – “He rode all the way across the country – except for 93 miles.” So in early October, Tam and I loaded the bike into the car, drove to Rochester and met friends Chuck and Judy from North Carolina. For the first 20+ miles, on a very foggy and chilly October morning, Chuck and I rode on the old towpath of the Erie Canal. It was wonderful to see all the activity along the canal, from joggers, cyclists and dog walkers to rowing crews on the water. For most of the rest of the way, we rode through several small towns on the gently rolling terrain along route 31, skirting the northern edge of the Finger Lakes. We finished the last few miles going through the park along Lake Onondaga and finished at the hotel where my fellow riders stayed earlier this summer. All day long I kept imagining the group riding through two months earlier. Ride completed! Asterisk removed!
It’s been over 2 months already since the group finished the ride at the beach at Wallis Sands State Park just south of Portsmouth, NH. I’ve ridden a bit since then, but nothing more than 60 miles except for the 93 mile “make up” day. I think of the ride almost every day. I look at the pictures regularly, hoping to recollect some of the images and relive a bit of the experience. I still miss my riding buddies from America by Bicycle and have been in touch with a few of them. I guess there are a few final thoughts as I close the book on my Big Bicycling Adventure Across America.
First of all, we have a beautiful country. The land is rich, diverse and productive – from the tall pine forests in the Northwest to the gorgeous mountains in Oregon and Wyoming to the farm fields of Idaho, South Dakota and the Midwest. There were many breath-taking vistas as we came upon some of our nation’s mighty rivers and the gorges carved out over the millennia. We rode along pristine small streams next to roads canopied with tall trees. We saw the “amber waves of grain and purple mountains majesty” as well as miles of corn fields, bean fields, potatoes and cattle ranches as we rode “from sea to shining sea.” As a consequence, Tam and I have added a lot to our bucket list of places to visit during our retirement.
The people we met along the way were spectacular. From coast to coast, I met people who were interested and intrigued by our adventure, but they encouraged us and provided help, even going out of their way to make sure some strangers got to the store to pick up supplies. I met people from various walks of life, backgrounds and circumstances, but found that most have very similar goals. They were very willing to share part of their story and talk about their dreams, hopes and fears. None of those that I met were seeking fame or fortune, but wanted to have sufficient income so their children wouldn’t have to worry about having enough to eat or a roof overhead. They hoped they were teaching their children to be honest, how to live with integrity and a concern for the well-being of those around them, and they hoped their children would be able to chase their own dreams as they got a bit older.I felt privileged to spend a few moments with each person I met and was a little sad that our encounters were so brief, most likely to never see each other again.
While I was with other riders most of the way, there were many times I was by myself and had plenty of time to think.
It struck me that the ride, like much in life, is about persistence and perseverance. To be sure, there were some peak moments like finally cresting after a 6 or 8 mile climb to be treated to a breathtaking vista, coming upon some of our nation’s mighty rivers and the gorges carves out over the millennia or riding along a quiet stream on a road canopied with tall trees. But there were many stretches, even days, when one mile blended into the next, into the next, into the next… Sometimes the scenery didn’t seem to change much (one corn field looks pretty much the same as the next) and a lot of the ride was a matter of simply “keep pedaling” and make it to the next stop. Sometimes we were treated with warm days and the wind was at our back and the terrain not too difficult. But there were days when it was a bit chilly, or the winds were against us or we had to go uphill for miles at a time. Sometimes you have to work hard to just stay on the bike and keep pedaling, knowing that by doing so, you will eventually reach the end.
I guess life is like that at times. There are peak moments and sometimes the road seems easy and things sail in our favor. But there are other times that are more challenging and it’s a struggle just to get through. One day seems pretty much like the day before. You learn, though, that the more you persist and persevere, things eventually become a bit easier and you reach the goal. You learn that you can do difficult things.
Now that the trip has been over for several weeks, I realize that the miles and miles, including, perhaps especially, the difficult parts, made me a much stronger cyclist. Had the road been all downhill with the wind at my back, the ride would not have been nearly as memorable or as satisfying. Sometimes we’d like things in life to go a bit easier, but it’s the challenges we face in life that make us stronger and build our character. We need to test ourselves in order to grow.
While I probably will not make another cross country ride again, I plan to take several multi-day trips in different parts of our country. Riding a bicycle is a great way to see and experience the world around you. I encourage you to get on a bike, even if it’s only for 5 or 10 miles. You never know how far you will end up going.
Be well. Do good.