By: Ethan Maurice
It might seem a bit strange, obscure, or impossible, but its not as outrageous as you might think. At my best guess, I'd say a couple hundreds of people ride their bicycles from sea to shining sea, across the entire United States every year. In the summer of 2013, I did. My brother and I pedaled nearly 4,500 miles over 76 days, from Atlantic to Pacific. We also raised close to $100,000 for a cause I'm very passionate about while doing it. Hands down, best experience of my life to date. You should do it too.
Here's 20 reasons why:
1. Anyone can do it.
Physically speaking, anyone that can jog a mile, can probably ride a bicycle across the United States. It's just going to take longer to do it. The worlds fastest cyclists can make it in about 7 days. My brother and I met a 79 year old man in Colorado that was looking to take about 130 days. You'll most likely fall somewhere in between. But as long as you can ride a bicycle and have no pressing medical issues, one stroke of the pedal at a time, it can be done.
2. It's cheap.
Of course buying a bicycle and the necessary gear is going to be a significant cost. I paid about $1500 for all the equipment... However, when you split that cost over a couple months it's actually quite inexpensive. If you're feeling thrifty, all that's left to pay for is food, bicycle maintenance.
3. No route planning necessary.
You can buy extremely detailed maps specifically designed for riding a bike across the country from the Adventure Cycling Association. I did and they were incredible. They tell you everything. Mileage, where to find food, places to stay (many of them free), it takes planning and route finding completely out of the equation.
4. Only basic bicycle mechanics needed.
Everything one needs to know about bicycle mechanics can be learned in an afternoon at your local bike shop. Know how to change a tube, put your chain back on when it falls off, and a couple other small maintenance tasks. To be honest, that's about all I'm capable of doing. You can rely on bike shops along the way to do the complicated stuff.
5. For students: the trip fits into a summer vacation.
The shortest cross country bike route is about 3,000 miles and can be done at an easy pace in about two months. I took the scenic route, pedaling 4,500 miles over 76 days, which easily fits into a college student's summer break. Plus, you'll have a killer farmer's tan for when you get back to school.
6. Eat like there's no tomorrow.
Seriously, the eating alone is enough reason to ride a bicycle across the country. One expends thousands upon thousands of calories every day and they must be replenished! I drank buckets of soda, ate any kind of food I wanted, as much as I wanted, and lost 15 pounds.
7. Get in great shape.
This is probably the only accurate claim on the internet of eating whatever you want and getting into fantastic shape. It's simple math, expend thousands of calories and if you don't consume as many, weight is lost. My legs we very “stick like” before I struck out on my cross country trip, but when I returned I had the large rock hard quads and calves you'd expect on someone who pedaled their way across a continent.
8. Be awesome.
My brother and I pulled into a gas station in New Meadows, Idaho. Two middle aged men were sitting out in front and as we hopped off our bikes they asked where we were coming from. I replied, “Virginia Beach, Virginia” and they both chuckled a bit and countered, “Nah, seriously though.” We told them we weren't joking. We had actually been riding for the past two months. They were utterly dumbfounded and got up to come over and shake our hands. They both didn't even know such a thing humanly was possible. This happens quite often.
9. It's a real adventure.
Most people have a serious lack of adventure in their lives. Riding a bicycle through unknown lands and filled with complete strangers can fill that void. I went two and a half months without seeing a single person I recognized (other than my brother who rode with me). We pedaled through civil war battlefields, slept in the most random of places, set eyes on the Mississippi, climbed the Rocky Mountains, experienced different cultures, befriended the locals, pushed through headwinds, and crossed deserts. Every day was invigoratingly different from the last.
10. Separation from technology.
Out in the vast empty stretches of the west there is no mobile data, no Facebook, no Instagram. Your cell phone won't be able to even make a call sometimes. This gives you a chance to learn to live in and for the moment. To forget about what everyone else in the world is doing and escape all the often meaningless content posted on your social media outlets. It teaches you to live in the moment and to live for yourself, without the judgment of others.
11. Understand what the U.S. is all about.
If you're from the suburbs or a city, you get this sense that the world is so developed and full of buildings, roads, and people. There is a lot of empty space out there, most of the United States is still undeveloped, beautiful land. Riding through different regions gives you perspective on other cultures and beliefs. You might find yourself empathizing with people who have views opposite yours. My experience opened my eyes to the lives of coal miners in Virginia and farmers in Missouri. Bicycling across the U.S. gives one a firsthand, personal experience of the rich cultural diversity throughout our country.
12. Freedom baby!
Freedom! One rule, get to the other side of the continent in the time you have allotted yourself. There are no obligations, there is nobody to please, and there is no schedule to follow. Time doesn't matter, just look to the sun in the sky. Sleep in, wake up early, ride 100 miles in a day, take the day off, eat what you want, pee right off your bike on the side of an empty highway, serenade the cattle you're riding by, it's up to you. Life is of you're creation and you set the terms. Experience freedom like you never have before.
13. Renew your faith in humanity.
People are good. Watch the news, deal with rush hour traffic, or go shopping on Black Friday and you might forget this - but people are good. The first day of our bike tour someone bought us lunch. In Missouri, a man we conversed with bought our breakfast and gave us money for our next meal. My tire ripped one day and the first person to pass by gave me a tire from one of her bikes and let us stay at her Bed and Breakfast free of charge. We met a couple in Wyoming that lived in Oregon where we were finishing our ride. When we reached the end of our trip, they fed us for a day and a half, gave us a tour of the city, and drove us two hours into Portland to catch our flight. I could go on and on.
14. Fundraise for a cause (optional, but worth it).
Most people don't know it's even possible to ride a bicycle across the United States. So go the distance for a cause you're passionate about and it will get more attention than any other fundraiser possibly could. My brother and I raised over $96,000 for Phoenix Children's Hospital on our cross country bike ride.
15. Ample time to think.
The “real world” keeps you very busy. Bills, family, work, school, email, social networks, dishes, responsibilities, and relationships are all simultaneously being processed in your head every day. It's easy to lose your direction in a sea of responsibilities, removing yourself from your routine for a couple months allows you time to consider everything and change course if necessary. Time in the saddle is Grade A thinking time.
16. Meet other awesome, adventurous people.
How does one meet awesome, adventurous people? By doing awesome, adventurous things. We met people from all over the world. I'm still in contact with other riders that originate from all over the United States and Europe. Just outside of Yellowstone National Park, I had one of the most influential conversations of my life with a Master's Degree holding New Zealander who just so happen to stealth camp in the same patch of forest we did. He had designed security systems for North African Cruise Ships to ward off pirates, taught infrastructure to city planners in India, and lived in over 20 different countries so far in the 30 or so years he'd been alive. He was currently on a two year long vacation. Hands down the coolest person I've ever met, we talked about what's important in life. Our conversation was a major reason why I decided to start this site.
17. The confidence to be self sufficient.
After you experience such exposure to the environment, pedal through a couple days of rain, over the Rockies, and know what it feels like to cross an entire continent under your own power, you will have the confidence to be self sufficient anywhere. You will no longer require walls to feel secure or need routine to feel normal. You will have the confidence to travel anywhere, by any means. The world is your playground and you'll be ready to go explore.
18. The power to bicycle around the world.
By the time we had climbed and conquered the Rockies, we felt like we could bike anywhere. I felt like some kind of half human, half bicycle creature that could endlessly turn the pedals to take me wherever my heart desired. Biking across a state starts to seem like nothing. You feel like you could bike around the entire world - because you could.
19. Bragging rights.
It's hard to top a story about biking across a continent. How many people have embarked on an adventure of such proportions? Ride across the country and you've earned the right to boast, a little bit. Don't let it go to your head though...
20. Only thing you need for your next tour, food!
This is the best part. Once you've finished, you'll find you want to keep riding. The good news is - you can! Plan another tour, you've got everything you need. Your bike will probably need a tune up and some new tires, but all that's left to pay for is your food while your out on the open road. Every bicycle tour after costs next to nothing!
So get going! The open road is calling.
Have any questions? I've got answers!