Top 4 Takeaways from a Cross-country Bike Ride
Updated: Nov 10, 2018
4,269 miles, 65 days, 5 pairs of sunglasses, 4 flat tires, 3 cell phones, 2 pairs of gloves, one shattered boy.
Just kidding. It’s been a heck of a trip! I’ve seen and experienced so much these past couple months, as well as learn a thing or two en route. Probably not the most profound of discoveries, but here are 4 key takeaways from my cross country bike trip:
1. The US is freakin’ HUGE.
I just felt the need to call attention to this fact. Likely, you already knew this. I thought I did, too, but traveling by bicycle can totally warp your perception of space (among other things), and I perpetually had my mind blown by the sheer vastness of this country. I spent nearly two weeks just biking around Colorado, and I didn’t even set foot in the western half of the state! I was blown away.
I’d also just like to highlight the myriad communities nestled all throughout the US I pedaled through, and draw attention to their diverse cultures and ways of life. The differences are stark between Kentucky and Montana, sure, but so are those between Hazard, KY, and Louisville, KY. I shared housing with a british couple briefly in Wyoming who recounted their disbelief upon their arrival so many US citizens had never left the country, or even their home state, but came to realize that one can experience an acute culture shock without even crossing state lines. I’d have to agree.
2. Those “extra-thirty-seconds” tasks are always worth it.
I have no idea how many instances on this trip i’ve been faced with a trivial, thirty-second task and decided I either didn’t need to do it right away, or that it would take up too much time and that I should just keep moving. Too many times for sure. And I was almost always worse off for it.
One prominent example would have to be topping off water supplies. Starting on the eastern seaboard heading southwest from D.C., the town gaps, i.e. distance between supplies and services, started pretty small. I got feeling pretty comfortable not taking the time to refill my Camelbak and two bottles every time I was stopped or passed by a gas station simply because I wasn’t worried about finding a place when I hit empty. Worked like a charm the first couple weeks.
This became problematic as I made my way farther west, however. Town gaps widened dramatically, and I found myself suddenly going 30, 40, or even 50 miles at a time without seeing so much as a gas station. It seems silly now, but on countless occasions I would come back out to my bike after refilling my 2L Camelbak and realize I’d forgotten to fill the bottles in my bike frame. “Ah, I’ll be fine ‘til the next stop”, I’d tell myself, and time after time I would put myself in serious jeopardy of running out of water on my rides, all for my acute laziness to take an extra thirty seconds to go back inside and fill my other bottles.
Other examples of extra-thirty-second tasks I consistently forwent included double-checking everything was secured to my bike and my bags - I lost a few pairs of flip-flops and sunglasses this way, as well as compromised a drybag that I hadn’t noticed drooped too loosely from my handlebar harness (this happened on the very first day…), restocking snacks, diligently applying sunscreen - the list goes on.
Bottom line: if it only takes thirty-seconds or less, just do it.
3. Take care of yourself, dummy!
Who knew! This one seems like a gimme, but in all seriousness, one of the biggest takeaways for me from has been the difference it’s made when I’ve consciously eaten right, slept well, and stayed hydrated. Back in Brooklyn when I would take the train to work and then sit at my desk for 9 hours before taking it back home, I think I was able to get away with neglecting self-care a bit more than I should have. That’s probably a conservative estimation. But since I was sitting at a desk most of the day, I had less of a tangible metric for determining how much I was inhibiting my performance and didn’t notice any disadvantage.
This is not the case when pushing your physical limits on a daily basis, and once I realized how much I was handicapping myself by not getting enough sleep, not drinking enough water (see Takeaway #2...), or eating terribly, it was a rude awakening. Conversely, the days I actually made the effort to eat well, drink plenty of water and get a full eight hours of shuteye were leaps and bounds more productive. Like, 30-40 miles further with the same amount of saddle time. The difference was staggering. These days were also more enjoyable, too.
4. When in doubt, ask for help. People are by and large, awesome.
This may have been the most profound takeaway for me from this whole experience. Setting off on a trip like this one, alone, and with next to no experience biking/camping/backpacking, perhaps it shouldn’t have been such a huge surprise I’d find myself in situations where my own problem-solving abilities simply wouldn’t cut it.
I think, in part, my hesitancy to ask for help is rooted in a healthy but inhibitive dose of stubbornness, pride, and confidence in my own ability, but perhaps more so in my misguided belief that by asking someone for help, I was bothering them; my request is a burden and an unwelcome and/or unwarranted interruption to their extremely busy schedule. Put simply, it's rude. But this was just not true.
While en route, I found that the vast majority of people want to help. In almost every instance in which I asked someone for help, they would do everything they could to accommodate me, and if unable to help me themselves, they’d call three of their neighbors who might be able to. Often they’d go above and beyond. If I’d asked to camp in their yard, they’d insist I stay in the guest room and that I join them for dinner. If I’d asked for a lift to the next town where I’d be able to change a flat away from the bugs and out of the 100+ degree heat, they’d instead go out of their way to drop me at the bike shop nearest my destination, and leave me with a few cold beers in my bag.
Other times people would ask me if I needed help. Several times I was stopped on a rainy or hot afternoon and asked if I wanted a ride. When I kindly declined, they would insist on leaving me a cool bottle of water, or a snack, which I didn’t know how much I needed until they’d gone.
These all actually happened. Almost never did someone flat out refuse to help me, unless you count driving past me while my thumb was up in the air. I don’t. And what’s more, several of these examples occurred in some of the poorest places in the country. Communities and people given strikingly few resources and opportunities, but you’d never know it judging by their demeanor and drive to help others. This trip has been an eye-opener in so many ways, but none more in that people are often so much more than what they may appear to be, and to never be afraid to ask for help. It’s part of being human, and can introduce you to some truly incredible people, anywhere you go.