Have you ever taken a long road trip? It is, at once, both miserable and awesome. Last summer my family and I took a trip out west. It was a road trip that we had dreamed about for years. We covered 10,000 miles over five weeks. It was “the family road trip.”
I am sure the trip was part of a process I was going through. After practicing law for many years, and developing real estate, in 2009, at age 41, I went back to college and earned my Ph.D. in finance. Like my fellow students, after graduation I took a tenure-track position, at a small liberals arts college.
Although I loved teaching I didn’t enjoy many of the other aspects of the job. After publishing enough research to get tenure, I decided I didn’t want it. Tenure simply wasn’t for me. Year after year of being focused on research? Sitting behind a desk running mathematical programs? Not that there is anything wrong with that kind of work. It just wasn’t for me. Not at this point in my life. At least not as a primary focus.
At this point in my life I felt that there was no point in working for something that wasn’t fulfilling. Even though it is coveted in academia, tenure didn’t sound fulfilling to me. Life is short. I didn’t want to spend a minute doing anything that I wasn’t driven to do. So in a move that shocked many of my colleagues and friends, last spring, a year before I was scheduled to go up for tenure, I resigned. I walked away from “job security for life,” my colleagues said. But, I say, a “job” isn’t my life.
I took a position at a major state university. It isn’t a tenure-track position. And I like it like that. With a primary focus on teaching, it is exactly what I needed. I can focus on what’s important to me as a teacher. As a part of my plan, it was also time to start to focus on other interests as well. It was time to start developing my life. The problem? I didn’t know what those interests were.
The “Great Road Trip,” as we called it was the first step. Even though the trip was “planned” the year before, it took on new meaning with my refocus on living life to the fullest. “Let’s go see what we can find,” I told the kids. So we set out across the country. Me, my wife, Julie, and our two youngest kids. It was the adventure of a lifetime. In addition to St. Louis, Denver, San Fransisco, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas, we spent time in some of our nation’s greatest national parks. A week in Yellowstone. Arches National Park, Canyonlands, Yosemite, Sequoia, and the Grand Canyon. And a dozen other places in between. What an experience. It made me both appreciate home and want to explore our country more.
Although there were a lot of sites and memories, one of the main things that came out of the trip was the idea to take another trip across the US. While visiting Colorado and Wyoming, we came across cyclist after cyclist traveling the country by bike. It was intriguing to see their minimalist approach to travel, and inspiring to think about the time on the open road, traversing the country, unencumbered by the trappings of life in the 21st century.
While in Yellowstone we met Alana Murphy (pictured above). She was nearing the end of her 4,300 bicycle trip across the US, interviewing refugees and publishing their stories on her website. Alana, who must have been in her early 20s, didn’t know exactly what her future would hold, but it was clear that her journey across the country would change her forever. She certainly inspired me.
While driving across the plains of the United States, headed back home at the end of our journey, I wondered. Was it really possible to bike across the country. Let me rephrase that. Was it really possible for ME to do it?
Like just about everybody that grew up in the 70s, I had done my fair share of biking as a kid. I had even briefly dreamed of being a professional cyclist while I was in high school, but never took a single step toward making that dream a reality. Instead, I took a fairly traditional route through college, law school, and into corporate America. In my late 30s I did a few “adventure races” with my brother which included some mountain biking. But admittedly, many of the memories of those adventures had long faded as I saw middle age become a reality. Having not focused much on fitness for a couple decades, I had no business dreaming of cycling anywhere.
None-the-less, I was still intrigued by the cyclists traveling the country. I want to cycle across the US, I thought. But there was a problem. I didn’t want to be a “cyclist,” per se. I just wanted to bike across the country. Although this seems like an easy way of saying that I didn’t want to do the work necessary to ride a bike almost 4,000 miles, that’s not what I mean. I don’t mind work. If it is focused on a goal. And this is one heck of a goal.
What I mean by not wanting to be a cyclist, is that I recognized that it probably wouldn’t keep my interest for very long. I like the idea. I’m willing to do the work to get there. But I know myself well enough to recognize that I’ll likely need a different, newer adventure in short order. I get bored quickly. Then it is off to the next challenge.
But cycling across the United States isn’t something you can just jump into. It takes preparation. How do you bike from ocean to ocean, knowing that you have very little experience, and a short attention span? Well, most people don’t.
But it’s something I want to do. So I am devising a plan that suits my personality. Something that works within my need to take on challenges that have a short time frame. What does that mean? Do it as soon as possible.
I will cycle across the United States. Next summer.
Part 2 – How do you Bike Across the Country?