Philadelphia-St. Louis (PA-MD-OH-IN-IL-MO)
People often ask me why I’m biking. “Like, is it for charity or a cause or something?” And usually, I just say no, I just wanted to try to see if I could do it. I suppose this is the truest reason for why I started, but I’ll often find myself wondering while I’m riding why I keep doing it.
On a regular day, I’m up at seven and on my bike by nine and ride until six or sunset. I put in an average of around 75 miles a day, depending on the weather, what time I start, if I have mechanical hiccups and the distance to my next stop. I try to do this at least five days a week and then rest up and hang out with friends on off days. Since starting, I’ve only stayed more than one night in a place a few times. I spend my nights with friends, friends of friends, parents of friends, friends of parents of friends, people I’ve found on Warm Showers (an online bicyclist-hospitality community) or camping. It seems I am learning a bit about networking and a lot about generosity. Without a doubt, seeing familiar faces and meeting new ones is what makes all of this worth it.
I reread my first update and it seems wild how far I’ve come since then. To think that I had written that after my first 200 or so miles and now I’ve put in somewhere close to 1600 I am blown away. Well, anyway, from Philly I started my weeklong ride across Pennsylvania headed west through the southern part of the state. I learned about the revolutionary and civil wars and started to find out that railroads are still extremely active. In the past three weeks, I have seen, heard and been waking up by more trains than ever before in my life.
A couple of days into the Great Pennsylvania Crossing, I decided to try out Warm Showers (think: couch surfing for bikers) & ended up totally lucking out. I was hosted by a couple (Mark Flowers & Kristy Higby) who teach art at a boarding school in southern PA. You can see their work here: http://mountainteastudios.com/new/ & check out & support the film Kristy is finishing up. From there, I ended up dipping down into Maryland and connecting with the C&O canal towpath (the southern half of a trail that goes from DC to Pittsburgh & is closed at the moment due to the shutdown). This brought me to Cumberland where I discovered I had broken the axle on my rear wheel. Luckily, this being the connecting town between the two trails, there was a bike shop that helped me out and I got myself a new, sturdier wheel. After the minor delay, I headed north toward Pittsburgh by way of Falling Water—Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous house, which sits surrounded by Ohiopyle state park. It felt like a pilgrimage getting there and seeing the house. Once inside, I was even more moved by the interior.
It was a cold, rainy 75 miles up to Pittsburgh the next day, but was warmly received by another couple from Warm Showers, Dan and Clare, who had cycled across the country in ‘82 and were also hosting another cyclist coming eastward from LA. With its confluence of rivers and history, Pittsburgh impressed me far more than I had anticipated. After a good night’s rest, Dan biked with me out of the city and eventually I crossed the Ohio state line. The next day, I made it to the Trapp Family Farm, where my friend, Megan, and her husband, Adam, are working with their friends (Mark and Emily) on a small family farm in the middle of Cuyahoga National Park (like it here: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Trapp-Family-Farm/397734006992657 and read about it here: http://www.cleveland.com/metro/index.ssf/2013/05/greenhorn_farmers_reviving_19t.html). I spent two days hanging out and doing what I could to help out around the farm and eating fresh and delicious food. The farm was born out of a dream and constant hard work and I felt really lucky to get to spend some time there. It was most inspiring because Mark, the farmer, invests everything into what he believes in. I wanted to stay and work and live, but took off again to visit another friend in Lima, OH. I got there earlier than expected so stopped at the local bike shop where I was welcomed like an old friend. Kent, the owner opened the shop a few years back out of his passion for biking and it has become nationally recognized. If you ever find yourself there, stop by Crankers Cycling. In Lima, I was taught about buckeyes and was given more good food and sweets. I went south to Dayton, where I stayed with the parents of my friend Ben, who masterfully edited our documentary, Little Things With Passion and his dad escorted me out the next day and connected me with their good friends who kindly put me up the next night in Indiana. Then, was hosted by another friend named Ben’s parents in Indianapolis. From there, I biked 300 miles in 3 days, stopping in a small town in Illinois with a friend of a friend and was treated to some local night life before taking off for St. Louis, where I’ve been for the past few days, staying with good friends and meeting new ones. A lot has happened in a few weeks and I am full of gratitude for the overwhelming support and hospitality I’ve been shown. From the people who take me in for a night to the locals who offer me bottles of water and sports drinks, and other cyclists who ride with me for some time, share stories, direction, water and food and keep me motivated and inspired, I have found so many reasons to keep biking.
I’ve been trying to keep a daily log of my daily happenings and observations. While riding, my thoughts float casually around and I often find my mind quiet. When something interesting or challenging or insightful comes up, I play around with it for a while and eventually try to write it out. Only recently have I started to listen to music while riding, which can bring a big lift to my spirits, but I still ride without it more often than with it. A quicker remedy for a lull is simply recalling that I have gotten where I am by bicycling. This instantly brings a smile to my face and often a laugh.
However, that’s not to say it is easy to stay positive all the time. After explaining what I’m doing, the first question is usually, “Alone?” I used to take this in relation to a concern for safety, but I’ve started to think that maybe the lack of support and accompaniment might be the surprise. Unlike other times I’ve travelled alone, I don’t find myself continuously wishing to share my experience with another. For the most part, I appreciate going my own pace, stopping when I want and need to and pushing on when I feel like it. The loneliness comes when things don’t go as planned, like when I popped two additional tires while trying to replace a punctured tube or when the chain and gear mechanics came undone and I had to find the parts and figure out how to repair it. It’s when I’m stalled that I think to myself, “What am I doing?” Doubt floods out confidence and I feel like the whole thing is foolish and unnecessary and selfish and that I have no business biking across the country. This is when I wish I had a friend biking with me. I take time to get frustrated and upset, but eventually only one choice reveals itself to me: keep biking. So I do and in time, that too floats away.
I find myself playing the part of the passive observer. I tread lightly from place to place and take in what I see to think about later. I feel privileged to see so many small towns. It is quite intimate to find myself a traveller among locals. I witness hundreds of small pieces of lives that would be nearly unknown outside ten miles from their homes. I’ve been with families and couples and individuals who share the struggles and comforts of their lives, their hopes and dreams, worries and doubts. And I share my story and I bike on.
Moving on is always a challenge. It’s hard uprooting all of the time, especially when I start to take in good soil with good friends. Tomorrow, I’ll leave St. Louis, where I’ve felt welcomed as if home since I arrived. I’ll head south down the River to Clarksdale, Mississippi where I’ll meet another good friend before turning west and making my way through Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona and eventually California. I have to constantly recommit to this, which is hard when I am content with what I’ve done and where I’ve been and who I’ve met. I could stay and I know that, but for now, I want to finish this trip. Before I left the farm in Ohio, Adam reassured me that I did not need any more reason for biking than the dream and desire. What am I biking for? To take a break, to change, to visit friends, to see the country, to push myself, to learn humility, to rely on others, to be amazed, to appreciate small and simple things, to smile, to feel the sun, to feel the rain, to be hopeful, to save gas, to encourage others to bike, to meet new people, to experience the unexpected and to do something simply because I wanted to. I suppose the list will keep going as I do.
(And as before, you can follow my trail at trackmytour.com/DXQNJ & Instagram.com/andthony & email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.)