How do you talk about biking across the country?


Aidas Vilgalys, Max
Wong, Catherine

Dates of Trip: 

June 17, 2018 to August 26, 2018

How do you talk about biking across the country?

This is not a rhetorical question. This is not a segue into an adventure story that will take your breath away. I am earnestly curious. Because this summer my friend and I biked across the country, and I don’t know how to talk about it.

How was the trip? I’ve tried to answer that question so many ways – It was long. It was hard. It was a lot of biking. It was wonderful but I wouldn’t do it again. It was awful but I’m glad I did it. And my personal favorite, Fine.

I like Fine because most people don’t know what to say after. I like Fine because when I think of the trip I think of the days, small and ordinary. Because when I try to explain the experience it always falls short, so it feels safer not to try. Because Fine feels more true than anything else.

When people ask for details, I can recite facts with the confidence of a diligent student. The total distance was four thousand miles. It lasted seventy days. We carried all our belongings in two bags attached to each bike. We had one tent and no stove. We went through fourteen states plus D.C. We saw many wild dogs but only one hit us. Kansas is less flat than Colorado. The Midwest is not all corn, there is also soy. My favorite place was the Grand Tetons. The scariest place was an abandoned church in Wyoming. Denver had the best sushi, St Louis had the best ice cream, Pittsburgh had the best breakfast.

Fewer people ask how it felt, although I have a few facts prepared for this too. I did not get bored. I was tired all the time. I am glad to be back. I feel strong now, invincible.

If they keep asking, we get to the part of the story where the glamour of the idea of a bike trip falls away to the dull reality of the thing. For ten weeks I was sitting on a piece of metal, moving my feet in circles to inch along an endless road. The trucks were too fast, the bags too heavy, hills too high, miles too long. Sweat and bugs, rain and wind, feeling like we could not go on and going on anyway. In short, we were helpless. And because of this, it was wonderful.

When you are helpless, people want to help you. Our needs were written in our thirsty stares and slumped shoulders, and they were met with so much kindness I still cannot believe it. Strangers let us into their homes and cooked for us. Trucks drove us down harrowing country roads. A family invited us to join their barbecue, pushing bananas into our hands as we said good night. A man in an RV gave us two bottles of water without saying a word. Every small kindness felt immense, and there were so many small kindnesses.

Beyond this point, I do not know how to say enough. I wish instead I could take you to the fields of Kansas. To the crushing heat, the hills that never end, the knowledge that after tomorrow there will still be so many tomorrows. Maybe then you would know how good cold water can feel. You would see how deep my gratitude is. You would understand why for the first time I can remember, I assume people are warm and trustworthy. I will keep looking for the words that can make you feel what I felt. But for now, how was the trip?

It was fine.

Read more about this adventure on