It’s easy to do something that turns you into the Cheshire Cat of Glee. Everyone has that activity that lights up their soul and makes them smile ear-to-ear. Recently, mountain biking the best trails in the west does that for me, rolling up to a trailhead in the van and careening off into the distance eyes aglow. During the last eight months, I’ve had some of the most content moments of my life ripping along twisty trails or halfway through a ride eating lunch with a splendid vista.
And now, gears are shifting. We are parking the van at Chelsea’s parents’ near Moscow, Idaho and depart in two days on the next phase of our adventure: biking 4,500 miles cross-country to Maine! We’re embarking with just our touring bikes, a tent and other camping gear for an unsupported trek that will take us along the Canadian border. We’ll pedal north through eastern Washington, then turn east to cross Idaho, Montana, the Great Plains and Great Lakes, then meander all the way to Bar Harbor, Maine (Acadia National Park).
Waiiiit a second Dakota, you’re thinking. Why the HECK are you trading the fun of mountain biking for cruising slowly along on a loaded touring bike all the way across the country this summer? If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! You’re the guy in a van, don’t change things up on us. Not fair!
Frankly, life being so good is exactly why I’m down for a new course. As I’ve alluded to in past writing, anything great will eventually grow stale without introducing new challenge to the mix. Whether that’s a shift in careers, a fresh hobby or a challenge like this one (totally Chelsea’s idea, by the way), leaning into the unknown creates that adrenaline-fueled excitement. Everything and everyone has New Relationship Energy when you’re just getting started.
What to expect of the ride? Neither of us has toured longer than five days straight! Thousands of miles is a LONG way to ride a bicycle, and my mind, body, soul and relationship will be tested along the way. Even at 50 miles a day, 4,500 miles is three months straight pedaling up mountains, across plains and through forests hauling all our gear. And the bad stuff! What if we get hit by a drunk oil truck driver in North Dakota? What if bears eat our food, then our bikes and tents with us inside? What if this is the hottest, craziest tornado summer of the last 100 years?! A bike helmet doesn’t save you when a giant Walmart truck drops from the sky.
Ohhhh, the bad stuff, that indistinct terror of the unknown. Often, we fear anything new, jumping to the worst case in our mind first instead of the best case. Think of anytime you’ve told family and friends about a big undertaking. A few will celebrate the new journey – “wow, that’s amazing!” And the majority will dig through every anecdote and news story that they’ve ever encountered to offer words of warning. “My cousin Rick tried that and barely survived,” or “My buddy’s uncle’s co-worker just sits in a corner staring blankly after a trip like yours.”
I can’t imagine what early settler’s heard from their safety-minded friends. I’m exaggerating…but you know what I’m saying. Everyone in your life cares about keeping you safe and away from harm and often the first response is one of concern and cautionary tales, however far-fetched. Rather than “have fun!” it’s “be safe.” Perhaps it stems from bygone days when our ancestors could only pass down wisdom via stories, and so warnings like that literally could save lives. “Thag, you steer clear of those TrampleYourAssasauruses in the summer, your uncle SlagHeap was mashed by one.”
Well, I have news. These days, life is safe! We in developed countries live in a world so ridiculously luxurious that people run 100 miles for fun and can fly (safely) around the planet on a whim for an insanely low price relative to bygone days. A hailstorm or flat tire in the middle of nowhere is a test, yet certainly not the end of our existence.
None of this is to say that I’m tough. I’m totally leery of the negative things that could happen; they crop up in my mind on an hourly basis. Testing our new tent on the back deck at C’s parent’s house in the country, the sound of a bear roaring nearby at midnight transfixed us in our sleeping bags for a couple minutes as we pictured the headline: “Dumb city slicker couple mauled in tent ten feet from house.” Mild terror until C’s dad starting laughing and turned off the iPad nature app featuring grizzly growls. Ohhh he’s quite the joker, her dad. Now I have to wash my sleeping bag!
Really though, we shall see how this goes. Dude, I’ve been driving around the country in my luxury German vehicle with a fridge and hot water boiler. I have wireless internet everywhere I go, and my favorite Synergy kombucha is almost always available. Our biggest roadblock, finding healthy plant-based food, is entirely a personal choice. Hmmm, can I actually do this?! Trading my comfy Sprinter van and mattress for a tent and sleeping pad? My stereo system for headphones? Accelerator for a pair of pedals and a bike seat? This sounds like a serious pain in the butt (literally, I’m sure).
And that’s why I’m game. I can always return to the van, or our house, to be coddled by the comforts of modern society. I can hop on a plane to Hawaii for a week in the sun, or drive to the beach for a weekend out of the city. But first, I’m spinning off into the Rocky Mountains to find some tent-eating bears. There will be trials of logistics and weather, plus the hangry (hungry+angry) moments when I don’t eat enough and Chelsea has to fend me off with a bike pump. (She calls that alter-ego NARG. Picture an ugly, surly monster with no logic or empathy.) Headwinds will batter the core of my convictions in the Great Plains and afternoon rain will perhaps dampen my spirits. It’s going to be hard…and so bodaciously rad! (The 80s live on.)
I know this: I’m going to emerge a stronger person with a new sense of what our bodies and minds can accomplish when we say “DO THIS” and set off on a big adventure. The best case is more confidence in the reality that testing our limits results in growth in directions we never expect. (Certainly in my quads.) And I suspect seeing new territory at bike-touring speed, and meeting kind, amazing people along the way, will light me up and crack my face into a big grin just like when I’m mountain biking.
Right now, it feels riskier to not keep mixing fresh horizons and new adventures into our lives, and this is simply the newest escapade. Living a life of no regrets is my guiding star, and so I grab my bike and point the front tire east. To Maine, I say! As a wise world traveler we met in Yellowstone told us, ““Be good, and if you can’t be good, be careful, and if you can’t do that, be really good!”
Friends and blog readers (one and the same): Drop us a line with your favorite places across the northern U.S.! If you have family or buddies anywhere along our route, please put us in touch. Meeting people during our travels is absolutely our favorite part of being vagabonds. I’ll be updating the trip map along the way, so follow along to see if we accidentally wander into the Arctic Circle (not part of the plan).
Dakota & Chelsea
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