20 Years Ago This Week: My Ride Across America
My first job out of college was with Gallo Wine in their management training program. Unfortunately, I quickly discovered that I liked drinking wine a whole lot more than selling it. So when my brother, sister and a friend approached me with an idea to quit our respective jobs and bike across the country I figured, what the hell. Never mind the fact that my only real bike riding experience consisted of the time when I flew head over heels as an eight-year-old straight into a boulder and chipped my front tooth - biking cross country seemed like a perfect opportunity to leave a job I didn't entirely love and reset the clock on my post-college career hunt.
As with most trips, the brochure (or at least the verbal description) didn't exactly match the reality. The reality was that on the first day I barely made it from our home in Connecticut to the Hudson Valley in New York. Small hills felt like mountains and every pedal produced pain. I slept like a rock that night only waking up occasionally to wonder, what was I thinking? The next morning though we climbed on our bikes and we did it all again. And then again. And again. And again. For 64 days. From the Hudson Valley up to Niagara Falls, into Canada, past Toronto, back down into the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, across to Wisconsin, then Minnesota, South Dakota, Montana, Idaho and Washington. Along the way our bodies became accustomed to the grind. We started averaging 90-100 miles every day. My thighs got so large my jeans barely fit. We also realized the great ancillary benefit to all that biking, we could pretty much eat whatever we wanted without gaining weight.
Two funny eating stories: I remember one morning we got up while the sun was just rising, road 40 miles and then decided to stop for breakfast. I pushed the breakfast menu aside and went straight for the "twin cheeseburger platter" (I think we were probably in Wisconsin). Now, to clarify, it was not a double cheeseburger - it was two large cheeseburgers on a platter with fries and coleslaw. I devoured it all... before 9:00 am. Another time, we stopped at a small convenience store one afternoon, probably somewhere in Montana, for a quick break and a light snack. I grabbed a box of Entenmanns assorted donuts - you know the kind: three plain, three cinnamon and three powder donuts in a box with the see-through top. We walked outside, sat down against the wall of the building, and over the next 15 minutes, two of us ate every single one. And, we laughed the entire time.
When I look back at the ride I think I am most struck by the difference in technology then versus now. For starters, we had no GPS - it probably wasn't even invented yet - instead, every 20 miles my sister would pull out a huge book of maps from her bike rack and we would plot our course. For photos, there was none of today's instant digital gratification, we had to ship our film home to get developed. It wasn't until it we returned to Connecticut that we were able to see the results. We made phone calls from pay phones. When we wanted music, my brother strapped a small boom box onto his handlebars with bungee cords. Now, if you had told me back then that one day you could have one device that was a phone, camera, map, clock, stereo, newspaper and tv all in the size of a CLIFF BAR; I would have told you that you were crazy.
Okay, so you have read this far and you're probably wondering what is this blog post all about?
Well, this week it is exactly 20 years to the day that we finished the last of our 3,606 miles on that incredible journey. I remember that final day well. We entered into the city of Seattle cheering and screaming to random people passing by, we rode to the Space Needle, got off our bikes and on the count of three touched it and hugged it like we were greeting a long lost relative. It was a pretty amazing feeling.
So, on the twenty year anniversary of that ride I have thought about it even more than normal and not surprisingly it has me feeling a bit nostalgic. I have also felt very thankful.
I am thankful that I took a random chance 20 years ago to do something different and special. Yes, I left a good job for an uncertain future, but I knew there were other things that I wanted to be doing. And I knew, that in life sometimes you have to take chances. As luck would have it, the first week I returned home for the ride I ran into a college friend who got me an internship at a TV station. I was there for seven amazing years. And that job led to other great and exciting opportunities.
The point is this, while the road untraveled can be uncertain and a bit scary, it's never boring to venture down it. Yes, you might hit a pot hole and get a flat tire, or be forced to pitch camp at a rundown gas station in the middle of nowhere, or get caught in a hailstorm in July. Hell, you might even lose feeling in your private areas for several days, but the experience will be an experience and it will likely lead to other new and exciting opportunities. And, if nothing else, you will remember the journey for a long time to come.