You Learn a Thing or 2 or 10 When Riding Your Bike Across America
As told by three guys who biked from NYC to Santa Monica
From sea to shining sea.
The phrase that “America the Beautiful” made iconic isn’t just a great way to end a song, but for some it’s also a challenge — one that Alexander Jensen, Chris Buonomo and Ben McNamara chose to accept.
As part of a group of cyclists led by Search and State co-founders Daniel Golden and Devin O’Brien, Alex, Chris and Ben departed from Times Square on June 1st and wound up in Santa Monica on July 9th after more than a month trekking across the backroads of America. (Ok, so Midtown isn’t quite on the Atlantic, but we’re giving them credit for sea to shining sea anyway).
The only three riders to finish the Search Brigade ride from start to finish, the trio of biketeers learned a lot during their 37 days in the seat, but we asked them to narrow it down to 10 takeaways.
Here’s what they came up with:
Be careful near the Grand Canyon
BEN: “Riding to the Grand Canyon we were on a pretty major road that had a six-foot shoulder that would continuously disappear and force you to ride the white line of a highway with a 65 MPH speed limit. A lot of old people and dads with annoying kids in the back driving rented RVs were coming real close to you. I started to get sucked into the draft of an RV, quickly corrected myself and went off the side of the road into loose gravel, falling and opening up my knee.”
If you’re ever in Rico, Colorado, get the breakfast burrito
CHRIS: “We had a really long day of camping the day before, slept in a hostel where some other guy snored wildly all night and woke up to the coldest morning yet. We had breakfast early at a coffee shop at the end of Main Street and it was the best meal of the trip in my opinion. Really good coffee. Fresh watermelon juice. And breakfast burritos with really fresh veggies, fresh pico de gallo and grilled chicken. We were in a tough spot the day before and that burrito was exactly what we needed to start a new day and keep rolling.”
Drivers are considerate of bikers … except in NYC and LA
ALEX: “I was just blown away with how drivers related to you as a cyclist. They would overtake properly and stay back until it was safe to move ahead and still give you thumbs up. This was coherent all across the country except in the big city areas like New York and LA. There seems to be a great consideration for the wellbeing of your fellow man in the Midwest. Everybody seem to sincerely care.”
Expect an adventure, not an epiphany
BEN: “Some people set out on a ride like this with hopes of getting grand revelations and divine insight from the road. I don’t know if that really happens. It might. It’s hard to think too much aside from how much you can’t wait to get to the next gas station and smash a Coke. What I do know is you’ll find are some solid adventures, come across some interesting people and push your body and mind to some new places. And that’s pretty awesome.”
If someone tells you to go right, head left
ALEX: “One thing I have learned is never trust the advice of locals. They will project their own fears onto you. They will tell you horrible stories just to make conversation. Never take their advice on directions and don’t believe what they tell you. If anything, do the opposite of what they tell you and you’ll be fine. Other than that, you have nothing to fear but fear itself it seems.”
Camping in Pittsburg, Kansas, is the pits
CHRIS: “The town sits right after the border with Missouri and the hills, heat and humidity had beaten us up for a week straight when we rolled in there. We had planned to stealth camp and our first choice was a little too exposed so we opted to camp in another park by the river. It was damp, none of our gear dried and there were two train tracks flanking each side of the park. We were wet and heard trains all night long. It just was a miserable night and it was right at the beginning of Kansas, a state that we knew would be the flattest and windiest of the trip.”
If you want free waffles in the morning, help move furniture the night before
ALEX: “I especially remember Salida, Colorado where I befriended a beautiful bartender and her friend at Woods High Mountain Distillery and hung around after hours. After some brilliant, local distilled gin and whiskey we decided to rearrange the bar interior because we all agreed it didn’t work the way it was. I was rewarded for the hard work with a futon and some amazing waffles for breakfast the next morning. It’s not easy making good waffles at 7,000 feet, so this was really a treat.”
The journey is its own reward
BEN: “The best places weren’t necessarily the towns we stayed in but rather the roads we took to get there. What made this trip for me was when I was riding, typically by myself, and everything was good. You find that zone when your legs are feeling strong, the road is perfect, the landscape is beautiful, you’re probably pretty buzzed on Coca Cola and then a Rihanna song comes on and you start smashing miles. This happened in to me in all the states. That’s why I ride bikes.”
It’s all in your head …
ALEX: “Cycling can be physically challenging at times, but most of the time it’s the mental challenge that is the hardest. Endurance cycling is just a long mind game. To find motivation and keep going when there’s no reason to do so. Beer is about the only reason to stop. Food you can eat on the bike. When you stop, make it a vacation and treat yourself. The brain works in a way that you don’t remember the hardship during the ride but only remember the reward after the ride. That’s how you get back on your bike the next day and do exactly the same thing you did the day before. ‘I only remember the future’ is my motto when doing long rides.”
In the end, it’s all worth it.
CHRIS: “The most surprising thing was how we could ride 100 miles a day with no rest and little sleep. Fatigue hit me hard a week later, but getting up every day and hitting the road somehow willed my legs forward. It didn’t really set in along the way, but it started to in the weeks after … This was a bucket list event I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life. No matter how difficult it seems to get the gear, take time off of work, or to actually ride, it’s worth it. If you’re thinking of a long bikepacking trip, do it.”