I Decided to Ride a Bicycle Across America
I spent all of summer 2012 sitting on my butt. Now that may seem extremely lazy of 15 year old me but I never thought I could experience everything from fear to strength to joy on the seat of a bicycle.
It all started in June on a 115-degree day at the Savannah airport in Georgia. There, for the first time, I met my two counselors and eventually the other eleven kids that were crazy enough to sign up for this. We were all going to become one another’s leaders, best friends, and family over the course of the following six weeks. We were going to bike 3,000 miles across America: Tybee Island, Georgia, to Santa Monica, California. We assembled our bikes, bungeed our gear on our backs, and began.
The trip began at the break of dawn on June 23. The first two weeks through Georgia and Alabama were a test of our physical ability to ride over 80 miles through sweltering heat and humidity to make me question my choice about signing up for this while my friends were at the beach. Fortunately, I had the privilege of experiencing small town America on a personal, 15 mile-an-hour level. Through Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, Arizona, and California we went. I spent nights in small Southern towns in churches and community centers, with family cooked dinners and around townspeople wondering what in the world a pack of fourteen bikers were doing outside the local Piggly Wiggly. I met people who had never left their hometowns, had never ridden a bicycle, and were so inspired by who we were but at the same time bewildered that we were doing this just because we convinced ourselves we could.
As we cycled through the cornfields of Kansas, the Rockies of Colorado, the infamous Route 66 through the Mojave Desert, and the San Bernardinos in California, the trip became not just a physical challenge but a mental one. 4 A.M. wakeups, 100+ mile days, desert monsoons, and mountain climbs became strenuous not only on my legs. Throughout the last week, all of us were completely and utterly drained of energy. But on our final day, we shot up from bed, still half asleep, packed up, and prepared to reach the sea. We had ridden 2,970 miles. Only 30 to go. It was surreal.
One man in Mississippi told us “It’s the journey, not the destination” and I will never forget it. I realize that it was the journey where I found strength, determination, the ability to fall and get back up, and discovered the value in unwavering loyalty. I had the privilege of spending six weeks with a group of the most passionate, determined, and persevering people I have ever known. It was in the journey that I realized I may never find the one place I feel the most at home, because maybe it isn’t one place at all. The journey allowed me to improve my leadership and group work skills, stay focused, and achieve what was seemingly the impossible. But in all honesty I think that if you tell yourself you can do something, if you keep pedaling, you can.
I have lived only twenty years of my life and if there is anything biking across this continent has taught me, it’s that 3,000 miles is very far. But it’s only a fraction of what there is to explore in a fraction of my life. It made me realize that I have plenty more miles to cover and more incredible people to meet. And they might just be a bike ride away, so keep pedaling.