This word cloud depicts the most frequent language (as pulled from this blog) I used to describe my 87-day, 4,700-mile bike trip across America during the summer of 2010. I rode with, and without, a companion on a physical, emotional, cultural and historical journey through, for the most part, the small-print towns between Astoria, Oregon and Yorktown, Virginia.
Other than the route, Adventure Cycling Association’s TransAmerica Trail, and a West Virginia family reunion, little was prescribed. While the predictability of weather was often welcomed (if only to know that rain was coming), the prospect of what was to be discovered was the lure trolled in front of me day after day.
Traveling by bicycle I lost much of the mobility offered by motorized transport. But in return, I was infused with a high fidelity sense of America–tracking in this groove called the TransAmerica Trail like a phono needle riding a LP record, stimulated by the changing tones of the land and the people. Often, long-distance bicyclists carry the mystique of foreigners; causing a simple turn of people’s heads, garnering mild curiosity over what and how you carry things, or enticing exchanges about life’s experiences.
I was able to take this trip because I was granted a sabbatical from my work developing youth programming in underserved communities. This blog is the product of the leave–an attempt to share my experiences with the youth I work with, and hopefully inspire them to someday do something grand and different on their own.
In The Way of the World, a recollection of his travels across eastern Europe and the Middle East in 1953-4, Nicolas Bouvier summed up the impact an immersive journey has on a receptive traveler when he wrote his reaction to an acquaintance’s resistance to the world around him:
“He has seen all of Europe, Russia and Persia, too, but has refused to surrender his integrity. What a surprising programme! Maintaining his integrity—remaining intrinsically the same simpleton who first set out? He couldn’t have seen very much, then, because there isn’t a single country—as I now know—which doesn’t exact its pound of flesh.”
Bouvier suggests The Journey is a subtractive experience, taking more from you than you receive in return. I found my experience to the contrary–an advantageous barter of mind and body effort in return for an unpackaged, unmediated immersion into America.