Have you ever wanted to travel cross-country? To see this glorious land as it truly is, from sea to shining sea, redwood forest to Gulf Stream waters? The rolling hills of Ohio, Route 66, the Grand Canyon?
How would you do it? By car, shelling out cash for gas? By train, with Amtrak’s monthly pass? Greyhound, with its bus stations and potential decapitations? Hitching it by thumb? Hoofing it by leather? Or have you ever thought about traveling by bicycle?
I met a guy who biked from the United States all the way down to Argentina. The worst thing that happened to him was that he was hit by a car in the deserts of Mexico. The best thing that happened to him was that he got to experience the entire hemisphere by bicycle, on the ground, using his own two-wheeled volition.
Think about it: traveling at your own speed and with your own momentum. Your route – 20-mile days or maybe 100-mile days – going where you choose, completely independent. Think of the sense of accomplishment, making use of foreign public libraries, the chance to meet friendly locals who want to get you drunk, the lessons you’ll learn on ‘lightening the load.’ Think of your desire for adventure. I once saw a sign that read, ‘A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent upon arriving.’
I have a couple of friends who biked across Europe one summer. In Ireland, they reassembled their bikes, cruised through Wales fueled by two liters of hard cider, ferried to Amsterdam, peddled across Holland – the Promised Land for bicycles – stopped in small Belgian taverns, ate local French cheeses, camped along slow Italian byways and didn’t stop until they swam in the warm waters of the Mediterranean. They stayed with bikers networked through WarmShowers.com, the bike community’s take on couch surfing. It only cost them what they could eat and drink and the occasional spare tube.
If I ever became nomadic, this is how I would go.
Of course, there are more organized, productive ways to travel long distances by bicycle. I have another friend who is part of the Bike and Build Program here in the United States; the program is a charity that helps combat the housing crisis. After raising $4,000 per person, she and her group of young adults will bike for five days, arriving at a destination and helping to build a house for a day or two before continuing with their journey. She’s about to graduate and was never able to do as much community service as she liked because of school and her part time job. Yet after coming back from Tanzania, she wanted to see our country’s terrain, its hills and valleys, its deltas and deserts, its cities and towns and highways and byways. She just got fitted for her bicycle and is so excited she’s practically bursting with anticipation.
It’s a bold plan. After deciding to travel 2,488 miles from Providence to Seattle, it kind of puts that one- to-two-mile commute to campus into perspective, doesn’t it?