Wednesday July 1st, 2015, Columbia, MD
I've had a few days to reflect on my recent journey. During that period I've received a number of questions. I thought I'd take a moment to share some answers and a few random thoughts.
Why did you choose to do it? The simplest answer is I wanted to see if I could do it. In that regard the trip was a personal indulgence. I also wanted a challenge and goal that was easily defined and measurable, and hopefully obtainable. You leave LA on a bike and you either show up in fifty days in Boston or not. Also, I've always been in love with the "in between" spaces of the country that are often overlooked by those of us that live in a metropolitan area on either coast. What better way to see them? I preliminary made the decision to attempt something like this while recovering from neck surgery in early 2014. It was a reminder that if I postponed "going for it" there was no full-proof guarantee that I could attempt something like this in later years. Life is full of surprises- both good and bad.
Are you glad you did it? Absolutely. In addition to seeing our spectacular country and meeting and spending enjoyable days and evenings with a truly interesting and fun group of people, I learned a lot about myself. Too early to say if it was a life altering experience but it definitely was a life affirming one.
Would you do it again? Yes and no. I wouldn't do this specific tour again. It was wonderful but- been there, done that, got the tee-shirt. Also preparing for and completing a 50 day tour is exhausting, not particularly fair to my family, and expensive. And let me make this clear- the Crossroads Cycling Adventures Tour is a cycling tour, not a sightseeing tour. At 3,400 total miles over fifty days (with only five non-riding days), there is just not enough time (or frankly energy) to stop and smell the roses. So I believe any future cycling tours for me will offer new itineraries, shorter duration, and possibly a more flexible pace.
What were your favorite parts? I'd say the ride to Prescott AZ and visiting Flagstaff AZ, central and eastern New Mexico ( the rides into Santa Fe and into Tucumcari were spectacular), Abilene KS (for its small town quaintness), eastern Kansas (the century ride to Topeka was beautiful), the hilly rollers of North Central Missouri, parts of northeast Ohio, and our quick ride thru southern Vermont.
What parts of the trip did you enjoy least? I enjoyed every section of the country at some level. Each seems to have its own beauty and uniqueness. The least enjoyable sections had more to do with the road/riding conditions then geography. I have less desire to repeat riding days where vehicular traffic was heavy (particularly with tractor trailers) and/or road shoulders were either non-existent or full of potholes and cracks. For these reasons I'd probably pass on ever riding the Mojave desert on I-10 in California again. Also certain parts of Central NY were not particularly enjoyable. But overall there is no sector of the country I'd exclude from revisiting.
How much weight did you lose? Between training and the actual Tour I lost about 15 pounds - a lot for a thin guy like me. I am presently buying new dress pants for work- hopefully it will not be a "short-term" investment. We were fed very well during the Tour but you simply can not replace all the calories burned in a typical day.
What were your greatest surprises?
How mentally tough the Tour was both on and off the bike. I expected the physical part to be very hard but was somewhat surprised about the expenditure of mental energy. The stress of reading a cue sheet and concentrating on what is in front of you (and behind, and beside you) for 6-7+ hours a day is underrated. Then the moment a ride was completed I would start preparing for the next day. Good time management and strict routines became essential. There was always something to do and relatively little down time. And then there was self-motivating myself to go out and do it all again each morning. I think everyone had to dig down deep at some points. My (always successful) trick was to quickly remind myself that this is what I wanted, actually begged for, and how extremely fortunate I was to have the opportunity to ride a bike across the country.
Interpreting the question a bit differently, I would say the enormous scale and diversity of our country. Yes, I intuitively already knew this but had not actually experienced it. Travelling at the speed of a bicycle really drives it home. Most of this country (in space) is still not inhabited or is sparsely inhabited (and for various practical reasons it will probably always be that way). Most of the people live in urban areas but most of the land is still wide open, even in large swaths of the East. And there are still numerous small towns- I can't say they are all thriving, but they are there, and they are quite interesting.
As to what single sight shocked me the most, I'd have to say it was huge cattle feedlots in the Texas panhandle.
How much "climbing" did you do on the trip? Well this stat blows my mind, over 45 riding days we climbed about 133,000 feet, or the equivalent of 25 vertical miles. To clarify, that is an aggregate uphill climbing number not a net elevation gain. Our net elevation gain was zero, we started and ended at sea level.
Was the ride safe? The Crossroads Tour staff took all reasonable precautions to make the trip as safe as possible. Still, riding your bike across the country carries a degree of inherent risk. There is a randomness that one just has to accept. We were fortunate that no one had a serious accident (one rider did have a fall resulting in an injured shoulder that contributed to his withdraw from the Tour). No small feat when you consider that we collectively pedaled almost 70,000 miles (the circumference of the earth being approximately 25,000 miles ).
Where did you stay at night? Over 50 days we stayed at 45 different hotels, mainly nice, nationally branded chains. I tallied them and we stayed at Holiday Express 11 nights, followed by Best Western 7 nights, Drury Inn 6 nights, Comfort Inn 5 nights and Courtyard Marriott 4 nights. Save one or two places they were all more than adequate.
What were your fellow riders like? Diverse in some ways, alike in others, but all truly good people. In age, I was the third youngest among twenty so my stage of life differed from many. My cycling experience was on the low end, especially in distance cycling, where a good portion of the riders had previously completed cross country rides or other long distance tours. I learned much from them. Four of the riders were from abroad. All the riders seemed to be accomplished in some facet of life aside from cycling. What we all seemed to share, regardless of ability, was discipline and commitment. In fifty full days, under sometimes stressful circumstances, a person's true character is usually exposed. I'm happy to say that my group was quite selfless, always quick and happy to assist and encourage one another as needed.
Below: Manhattan Beach, CA, May 10, 2015 and Revere Beach (Boston), MA, June 26, 2015
And wrapping it up. I want to sincerely thank all my family and friends that took an interest in my adventure. Your calls, emails, and texts, all expressing encouragement, were greatly appreciated. I started this endeavor with a lot of understandable self-doubt and finished with a renewed self-confidence (and I didn't have to pay anything extra!).
Cheers, Matt (July, 2015)