What this is all about - Between the Ends of America - CycleBlaze

September 26, 2010

What this is all about

I try not to think about the hundreds of hours of life I've wasted screwing around on the Internet.

I never really mean for it to happen. I open my laptop and pull up Chrome or Firefox to find out if it's going to rain tomorrow. Three hours later I'm still there, checking out Ozzy Osbourne's Wikipedia page, reading about some 19-year-old hockey player from the Canadian prairies that plays a solid two-way game but might not have the foot speed to make the NHL, or watching a YouTube clip pulled from some Sunday morning CBS show that tells the poignant story of a stray dog that's become best friends with an elephant on some huge nature preserve in Western Tennessee. That's just how the Internet works.

It mostly amounts to nothing at all. But nearly four years ago, on some late winter night in what must have been February of 2007, I come across something seemingly unimportant that ends up changing my life forever.

I don't remember what I set out to find, but I land on the journal of a Purdue University Ph. D. student named Joy Santee, who rode her bike all the way across America from Yorktown, Virginia to Florence, Oregon the summer before (CircumTrektion: TransAm 2006). I never knew people actually did that. But soon enough I learn all about the Transamerica Trail, how Joy got everything together for her big trip, and how she made her way to a beach on the coast of Virginia and started heading west. I don't read the entire journal that night, but it's close. I love the personality of the writing, the character of the pictures, and the stories about the interesting people she meets in the small towns along the way. It's smart, it's funny, and it's genuine. But it's not done by someone who really knew what they were doing, or who even seemed to be all that into biking beforehand. It makes the whole thing seem possible for anyone, even a 24-year-old guy like me who has ridden a bike exactly once since elementary school.

Several times in her writing she mentions the journal Mike Riscica wrote about his 2005 TransAm trip (Mike Riscica CoastToCoast!), so I check it out a day or two later. It's the same sort of thing: honest, entertaining, funny and fascinating, even in the standard bits about where he ate and the roads he took. I love it nearly as much as Joy's and plow through the thing in one night. By the time I finish I'm completely hooked and know I need to get a bike and see America.

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Within a week I join REI and spend a lot of money I don't really have buying a touring bike, a helmet, some panniers, a set of fenders, a pump and some basic tools, riding shorts and a rain jacket. I put in a few hundred miles around Seattle in all kinds of weather in March and April and eventually get into pretty good riding shape. I also spend a lot of late nights and early mornings reading about established routes like the TransAm and Southern Tier, and plotting my own using Google Maps and a 20-year-old U.S. road atlas. It's incredibly nerdy and I love all of it. I really want to get on the road that spring, but unfortunately bailing for three or four months just isn't going to happen. I have a girlfriend I feel guilty about leaving behind and I've mostly run through my savings after quitting my job at the start of the year.

Then, almost as quickly as it starts, I leave riding behind. By May I've taken a job building websites for the government, broken up with the girlfriend, bought a sports car, and put most of my energy into work. Over the summer I fall in love with an amazing girl named Desiree, and from then on any extra weekend time for long-distance biking goes away. The good fall riding weather passes by almost as quickly, but I hardly notice. In December I need to raise some cash for an upcoming Hawaii trip, and I end up selling the bike through Craigslist for $700 to a happy new owner who promises to treat it better than I have.

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But big dreams never die; they just step aside for awhile sometimes. It's not even a year before I start burning out on work and thinking about adventures on the road again. Late in the summer I buy another bike, almost exactly like the last, and pick up a bunch of lightweight camping gear. Even though I'm not in great shape and don't really know what I'm doing, I still manage a few short trips around Washington State. Despite the heat, the passes, the headwinds, and the flat tires I'm back in the game.

Desiree buys her own bike in the spring of 2009 and soon we're riding all around Western Washington. Around that time I start doing the 15-mile round trip to and from work almost every day. And then in June I take my first serious trip, riding from the Seattle area to Davis in Northern California over three weeks. I camp in the woods, dodge bears in the back country, meet some really great people, and eat all day long. I also learn the pain of dragging 50 pounds of crap over a 5,400-foot mountain pass, see my personal hygiene go to hell, and sweat so much that the straps of my helmet become caked with white from all the salt I lose. The ride challenges me every day, but most of the time it's really fun. More than anything it makes me feel alive. And it makes me realize why so many people think bike touring is the greatest thing ever.

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I'm 27 as I write this, still living in Seattle with Desiree, working as a Web developer and a technical writer, and tearing up the ice and winning scoring titles as a left wing for the beer league champion Steelhead hockey team. I'm also learning to play goalie, which I've wanted to do for more than ten years. I've ridden a lot in the city and around Western Washington this year. I've also done a few overnight trips, some four- or five-day rides, and I even took a week-long trip across the state with Desiree. It's been fun, but nothing too serious. That's mostly because I have something a whole lot bigger in mind: riding across America.

Now I'm finally doing it. I feel like I've reached the point where I can't go on with my life unless I leave everything behind for a few months and follow this dream. It's been sitting in the front of my mind and consuming my thoughts for more than a year, and the things that kept me from going in the past have mostly fallen away. There's some fear involved, too: I'm afraid that if I don't do this now I never will. I just can't let myself down like that. But most of all, I really want to ride across the country, day after day, meet new people, see interesting places and things, and push myself to do something amazing that most people find totally ridiculous. Every time I start thinking about the possibilities I get a little twitch in my stomach, a smile on my face, and I find myself in a good mood.

So as long as nothing too serious goes wrong I'm getting on a plane some time in April and flying to Miami, Florida. From there I head to Key West at the end of the Florida Keys, get on my bike, and don't stop riding until I hit the northwest coast of Washington State 6,000 miles and about four months later. Unless I get run over by a motorhome or mauled by a bear or something.

I've read other people's stories. Lots of them. Now it's time to write my own. I hope you'll follow along.

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