Countless time I’ve found myself in the vast open space between the illustrious Rocky Mountains and my quaint Midwest home. A trip I had first made by train as a wide eyed 18 year old with no more than a few hundred bucks and a ticket to the west. Since then its become a venture I’ve made nearly 20 times. Mostly by car or plane after that first 32 hour train ride, but looking back I’ve spent more hours than I care to remember traveling those same long stretches of black top between here and there. However this fall I made my longest journey yet, from Arvada, Colorado to my childhood home in Rockford, Michigan. This time I was leaving for home with nothing more than my bicycle, anything that would fit on it, and my older brother Chad. All said and done, a route that would take us over 1,500 miles in 16 days.
To be completely transparent, as I started writing this post I had no idea what it should actually be about. Should I just pour out story after story? Or simply list a bunch of stats and things I picked up along the way? But that’s not really what I thought it should be about. I mean sure, there were so many stories and experiences we had shared. Like when we accidentally slept behind Mount Rushmore, wandered into a cult town, drank whiskey and rode abandon stage coach roads, passed through red walled canyons while the sun left purple skies sinking below the horizon. The times we rode deep into the night with only the eyes of cattle lurking all around, crossed Indian reservations, pedaled through the Black Hills, and along the Badlands. Maybe retell the nights we slept out in fields and down by rivers. Or talk about some characters along the way, like a guy following the Lewis and Clark route, or the fellow cyclist at a hole in the wall bar in South Dakota where we talked Dirty Kanza, Barry Roubiax, and gravel racing over a beer or two. How we ate way too many pizzas and reviewed almost every cheap motel across the Midwest. (On that note you can have the best pizza complimented by the worst motel in the heartland with a trip to Joise’s River Queen Bar followed by a stay at the infamous Village Motel which are both conveniently located in the beautiful little river town of McGregor, Iowa.)
Sure we had our fair share of ups and inevitably some downs. We broke parts, got dehydrated, argued, slept in less than ideal conditions, and even got turned around a time or two. But all this just added to the adventure. I feel like without some struggles and hard times it wouldn’t all mean as much. Half the experience for us was finding the place we weren’t meant or never planned to find. For us, the adventure truly started when we slowed down, threw out the map, and took the road less traveled. It’s not about having it all planned or figured out but about finding your way as you go.
So with that said, it soon became abundantly clear to me this post was about more than just my stories. It would have to be more of a call to action if you will. See since I’ve been home I’ve been bombarded with questions like Where did you get water? Did your butt hurt? Where did you sleep? How dirty were you? Honestly, the truth is there were more stores than we could have ever hoped for, yes my butt hurt, we camped a lot but got some motels too, and yes I did indeed wear the same clothes from the Badlands to Milwaukee. But the question I never got is “How can I do something like this?” Truthfully, the answer is you absolutely can, in my opinion anyone can.
It’s not something that takes “careful planning” or “extensive preparation”. Don’t feel like you have to have it all figured out, because you don’t. It also doesn’t have to be some grand tour, and it doesn’t have to be fast. You definitely don’t have to be an “athlete” or have anything special. You don’t even need the best gear or the nicest bike, just the willingness to get up and go. I get that pedaling mile after mile, wearing the same clothes day after day, and sleeping where ever your body decides its had enough isn’t for everyone. Some may say its takes a different person, or maybe just a few loose screws. I’m not here to argue that, because that may very well be. The point I want to make is that it doesn’t take anything special. Sometimes it’s about taking some pedal strokes and choosing to take a few more. Pushing a little further than you think you can. It’s about riding off into the unknown and uncertainty knowing full well there will be things you may not expect but being confident that when they arise you will simply take them in stride. I guarantee if you do, you’ll find something pretty amazing. For me, that was a closer relationship with my brother and a better understanding of myself. Breath taking views, moments I wished would last forever, and some roads I thought would never end. Either way, just go somewhere. Grab your bike, a friend or two, and take a road you never have. Or maybe just take the long way home…