The idea started because I was looking for a summer trip when I was 15 and my Dad jokingly said, “Why don’t you just bike cross-country?” At the time, my longest bike ride was 40 miles and I was in no way able to get it together in time. I started getting serious about riding and set a goal to do it before I turned 20.
So three years later I typed, “Bike coast to coast” into Google and looked into three programs. A company called Cycle America ended up looking the best. They carry your bags for you, feed you, give you a rest day once a week and even map out the day’s ride. All I would have to do is pedal the 4,500 miles from Seattle to Boston.
Well, then again, 4,500 miles is really a lot to do and there are definitely shorter ways to go about getting across the country. Sure, I’d been biking seriously for four years and I knew I could ride the distance, but all in one hot summer and with a group of people I’ve never even met? But for some reason the summer before my first year of college I decided to just go for it. This decision is, to date, the greatest I ever made.
I arrived in Seattle on June 16 with my Celeste-colored Bianchi road bike and a bag full of biking apparel. The first thing I noticed about the large group of over 60 people I was walking towards was that they were all smiling with excitement and each and everyone of them had the classic cyclist tan lines on their arms and legs. I was home and this was the group that became my family for the rest of the summer.
The first week of riding went by fast, mainly because everyone was getting to know each other. The one question that kept on circulating was, “Why are you riding?” The answers varied but my favorite belonged to an older man named Fred Bradshaw, who was on the trip as a fund-raiser for breast cancer research. He kept a picture taped in the middle of his handlebars of his mother Jane who died of breast cancer when he was young.
Six days into the trip we had already ridden across Washington. It was then that it hit me … I was making progress and I’d ridden across a whole state already. I was riding well – usually getting in to camp early in the afternoon. My first trouble shot came at Day 11 when a group of riders and I were cruising at 27 mph closely together to beat the head wind, somewhere between Ennis and West Yellowstone, Mont. Alan, the man in front of me, suddenly stopped, which sent me over my handlebars and straight onto the pavement.
I had severe road rash on my left face and shoulder. Alan had waved down a Cycle America van so that I could clean myself up. We were 15 miles away from camp and it was so tempting to take the crew’s advice and take the van in but I knew I would be mad with myself for not riding the rest of the day. I picked up my bike and Alan and I rode in together.
Road rash is something that usually looks worse before it gets better. The next day I woke up with scrapes all over my face and my shoulder was blue and purple and inflamed – a pretty scary sight. For the next couple of days I was riding slow, finishing late in the day.
We often stayed in high schools, using its football fields to erect our tents. When my friend Alana and I were walking out of the locker room in some high school in Idaho I saw a sign that read “Pain is just weakness leaving your body.” That saying, it became my motto for the rest of the trip. The next day my friend had taped it to my bicycle so I could read it while climbing the Teton Mountains, a 8,600-foot pass.
It’s weird that such a cheesy slogan pasted to a cheer leading locker in Idaho would give me that extra strength to continue riding through my pain, but it did. In fact, my shoulder and face soon healed and I was back to myself again. This allowed me to enjoy the Tetons – the most beautiful sight I have ever seen.
I remember standing at the top of the summit when my friend Gary, from the United Kingdom, said, “We sure do live like Kings, don’t we?” He then got back on his bike and sped down the hill at what looked like 50 miles an hour and probably was.
I used to think that the most boring place in the world was Lodi. That was before I went to South Dakota. I knew that in order to see great places like the Tetons, I needed to go past some of the bad ones like South Dakota. Being from Sacramento, I can handle heat. What I can’t take is 100 plus degrees, head wind, no trees, and worst of all, red necks with huge pickup trucks.
People in Middle America hated us bicyclists – in bright colors and tight spandex shorts, forced to ride on the road with the cars. They honked and screamed at us to get off the road. As a man in a gas station in Philip told me, “It’s one thing for you ladies to wear tight shorts but you tell your boys out there I’ll run ’em off the road.” We got it – not welcomed in South Dakota – and biked as fast as could.
For the most part the people we ran into were extremely nice and friendly. Shirley, from “Bud and Shirley’s,” a small-town family restaurant, thought we were all getting too skinny and fed us her homemade pies from the back of her pickup truck. At home I wouldn’t go near a lady giving away pies from the back of her pickup, but in this small town there was a huge sense of safety that I don’t get at home.
A horrible realization came when I was in upstate New York riding with my friend Erika from the Bay Area – we were almost there. We had one week left and we’d be in Boston. That Atlantic Ocean was a week away and I didn’t want it to end. The people I met had become my family and I knew it was all almost over.
The last day was a 65-mile ride to Gloucester, Mass., a small coastal town. The entire group rode together and it was a bittersweet end to our long journey. I had ridden the entire thing and we had gone through every mile together. We had good reason to celebrate in Boston for one last night out. The next morning I said goodbye to the great people I’d met, boxed my bike and took a shuttle to the airport.
My 62-day bike ride was erased in the four hours it took me to get back home. Then next morning I woke up at 6 a.m. with a sense of panic. For the first day in all of summer, I had nowhere I needed to be. I had zero miles to ride and even though I knew my body needed a rest, my heart wanted to be out there on my bike pedaling as fast as I could.