The days before starting a 8000 km bike ride across North America were the most nerve-wracking. Little did we know about the favour, surprises and generosity we would experience along the way.
We didn’t know that during a heatwave in Montana, a little cloud would cover the burning sun; that on a stormy night in New York State, a stranger called Ed would offer us a bed and scrumptious steak; or that in a small town in North Dakota, we’d discover a delicacy – Caramel Pig.
Before we set off on our bikes, maps showed our route, yet almost every detail was unknown. Previous rides with my husband Kel, in Europe, had lasted two weeks at most. Kel had long dreamed of cycling across North America and I’d started to share that dream. When we realised we’d be leaving our voluntary work in Europe and returning to our homeland of New Zealand, we understood that we had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to fulfil this dream.
Cycling for months from the west coast of the USA to Canada’s east coast would be more difficult than riding a few weeks in Europe. This prospect grew scarier when friends shared their fears, including the possibility of us encountering bears, tornadoes or dangerous people with guns.
As I started to worry, I was reminded of eating an apple. Taking one bite at a time or, for us, one day at a time. Focusing on the day ahead, rather than on the entire journey. Kel also encouraged me to ignore fear-mongering. Regarding bears, we would take precautions such as putting food and toiletries out of bear-reach when camping. We had bought bear spray and studied what to do, should we accidentally enter an animal’s territory.
So, bear spray handy, we departed the west coast on our bicycles, with our tent, camp-stove, first aid kit, daily food and emergency rations.
From previous rides, we knew the importance of regular, adequate sleep, and food and liquid intake. Whether on a long ride or living everyday life, our bodies and minds become weary and need to sleep, eat and drink. Cycling across a continent, this need was extreme and so was meeting it. After an early morning porridge breakfast, we would stop every 16 km for a snack or meal. Our bodies burned many calories cycling and if we weren’t disciplined about eating and sleeping, our physical and emotional energy was drained. We became grumpy and every obstacle loomed larger.
We met no bears and had planned our route to avoid tornadoes. We slept for free in town parks and our most disturbing night was when a seven-year-old brought her friend to watch us sleep! Life could have been much worse. As with any challenge, planning ahead and researching decisions were crucial. This, combined with the gift of grace: when we couldn’t control circumstances, all worked out. A tiny cloud covered a hot sun, or just when we needed a bed, we met a cyclist who hosted other cyclists.
Many times across the USA, people would tell us stories of steep mountains, terrible weather or dangerous roads ahead. The reality wasn’t that bad. While listening to advice is prudent, the source of that advice is relevant. Fellow tour cyclists were more reliable information sources than local vehicle drivers. When many voices competed for our ears, time and wallets, we needed wisdom. I learned anew not to let fear stop me: particularly other people’s unfounded fears.
Landscapes varied as we rode across the continent. We had scaled mountains in Europe and were mentally prepared for such climbs. Again, experience and building upon this was vital. We knew how to pace ourselves; when to persevere and when to rest. Creation’s beauty also sustained and revived us — deer leaping in the dawn light in lonely Montana, or glorious red and gold autumn leaves cloaking New Hampshire mountain ranges.
As we cycled through heat-waves of up to 48°C in areas without shops or shade, we were grateful for God’s protection and the kindness of strangers and friends. A farming couple offered cold water and freshly-baked chocolate cake. A stranger in New York State invited us home to sleep, then shared his story and barbecued steak. A friendly waiter at the Marion Community Cafe in North Dakota suggested we try their day’s specialty, Caramel Pig. This turned out to be a large cinnamon roll smothered in caramel sauce, lying on a thick slab of cooked ham. Delicious if you can exercise it off!
It was scary and humbling to be alone in a vast country on a low-budget with our bikes, camping equipment and little else. In northern, mostly-white rural USA, each person seemed expected to fend for him or herself. We had lived in an intuitive, communal Baltic European culture, so had to start asking for help in these more individualistic US northern states. We also learned to accept help when this was kindly proffered.
Upon completion of our 8000 km transcontinental bike trek, we took time to reflect. To remember each US state or Canadian province and what we had experienced. Hail and heat-waves; long, desolate stretches and splendid mountain climbs; the generosity of two rich nations. We were blessed to have made it: one day at a time, apple bite by apple bite.
If you would like to read more about this trip click on Sharon’s article in the Otago Daily Times