I rode my bike across America
and this is what I learned…
It started as a simple idea. I would ride my bike across America, take all the time needed and would take as little stuff as possible. So I have returned after 31 days of biking non-stop and would like to share some random thoughts from my trip with you.
Roads are the paths we travel
Building great roads has been the essence of human development and the US has one of most recent and astonishing histories of building great roads. On my trip I starting from New York City, crossing the Appalachians in the south at the Blue Ridge Mountains and then going West through the Great Plains, heading North in the Rockies and then following the Oregon Trail to the Pacific. In riding across America there are endless options. I mainly followed the well thought out routes of the Adventure Cycling Association and spend most of my trip on the Trans America Bike Trail. The roads where mostly small country roads avoiding cities and focussing on a country side experience. I have always been obsessed with roads but after riding 4790 km I have gained a deeper understanding of why they are so important for us humans. Choosing your route essentially defines not only your trip, but also your experiences and whom you meet. I rode through countless towns, stopped at corner stores, rode past peoples houses and private spaces, saw how people choose to live, how they create and define their spaces, crossed countless railways, rode along rivers, canyons, through forests, plains, deserts and never ending mountains. I rode early mornings, in the heat of the summer sun, late at night, saw spectacular storms, got soaked, froze, was hungry, fed up, thirsty, drunk but always happy. Going West was what tied it all together, gave me direction and purpose. Following the paths of the settlers, who had explored these routes, who build the first roads was simply incredible. How could they overcome such distances on mere paths, through the wilderness with all the dangers of a wild country? How could they endure the hardship and the pains that go with it? They must have had an unbreakable will and direction. It was a humbling experience for me. We choose our roads every day, but I will be more careful in choosing my roads from now on. If you want great experiences, choose great roads.
It’s all about good people
Countless interactions define our every day lives. And on this trip is was all about these interactions, mainly short hellos, getting directions, recommendations, buying stuff, getting help, asking for shelter, fixing things, helping out, getting invited. I have met all kinds of people, many genders, ages on countless occasions. All interactions where sweet, friendly, helpful, open. I really enjoyed the little talks and once you meet, people where open, truly sincere and very, very nice. We shared stories about life, places, countries, politics, riding, food, beer. I felt at home, cheering, was always welcomed. And I thought to myself that we should be happy about all those little interactions, we should take them more serious, be more conscious and awake and only spend our time with good people and yes, simply ignore the others, don’t waste your time, there are many good people out there.
Vast spaces and wilderness
Coming from ever crowded Europe the space available in the US is unbelievable. I sometimes stopped in the middle of the road with infinite space around me. Nobody to be seen in any direction, views to the endless horizons and a big sky above. I looked around, yelled as loud as I could in all directions and felt really good afterwards. This was a truly humbling experience. I was just a little dot, too small to be even noticed. Not a thing in the universe cared or even noticed me there on my bike. Somehow this was refreshing and gave me a nice perspective, the right perspective. The same feeling I had in canyons, wild rivers, forrest, in the Rocky Mountains. Wilderness has a special effect on us urban living creatures and it is well worth experiencing this. And yes, outside is free. In fact, the best things in life are free.
Human history and outlook
This is more of a personal learning, riding your bike for weeks alone gives you a lot of time to think and reflect. Sometimes I listened to audio books to overcome the pains of riding all day and I spend some time learning about human history. I listened to books like Sapiens, — a brief history of mankind, Debt — the first 5000 years and Bury my heart at Wounded Knee- the history of American Indians. I was also inspired by the historic sites of the US, the landmarks of the Indian culture and the settlers of early America. All this gave me a bigger perspective in seeing humans not only in the recent hundreds or thousands of years but making sense of the overall evolution, which I find more consistent now and which leads me to believe that things will change inevitably moving forward. And because of the fast pace of change that 7 billion humans (soon to be 11 billion humans) enable, I will likely see a lot of that change in my life span. I am more certain, that the digital transformation will create a new reality for humans (homo nerdicus). Humans have always created their own realities, such as states, countries, religions, corporations, laws, etc. All these are merely thought-up, human created realities. The new virtual reality will be the masterpiece of what humans can do, and it will change our lives and everything we do forever and more fundamentally than we can probably imagine today. This is both fascinating and inevitable. And I am happy, interested and eager to take part in this transformation and will devote more time and efforts in making the best of it.
Why ride your bike
In the end, this trip was all about riding my bike. Riding all day is hard and painful. My legs where tired, they never fully recovered. My wrists and hands hurt, not to speak of my butt. We were definitely not created to ride our bikes all day, every day and even though I ride a lot, I was quite surprised to learn this again and again. But I still really enjoyed it and the pain was bearable, here is why you should ride your bike.
Because you are free — you can just get up in the morning and go. You can always decide whether to go left or right, to ride on, to turn back. I rode on shoulders, in the middle of the roads, sometimes even on the left side of the road, just because I could do so. You are not limited in any way. No hands on the handle bars, no cares, no worries.
Because riding makes you think — I don’t know what it is about peddling, but it surely gets your mind going. I don’t know if it is the constant motion, the monotony of the roads, the wind, or whatever causes riding to inspire thinking, but it definitely does. And even after many weeks on the road I still really enjoyed all the thinking that I could do while riding.
Because riding is a great way to meet people — and interactions are easy. People respect cyclists especially if they are packed with gear and obviously traveling. You are very approachable to other people when cycling. They can ask you where you are from, where you are going, whether you just got wet in the thunderstorm, they can offer you help, shelter, food, water. Biking is a great way to meet new people and good people are what life is all about.
Because riding is a way of life — I would not go as far as saying that cyclists are special people, but if you love to ride your bike, you will know what I mean.
These are just a few thoughts and impressions from my trip, thanks to my family, friends and team for giving me the opportunity to do this. Contact me if you want to learn more, or have any questions. I published some photos at http://cehl.tumblr.com, during my trip I posted frequently and loved all the likes and comments, they kept me going. And yes, if you have any chance to do this or something similar. Don’t hesitate a minute — just do it, it is the only way to go…