Icy air stung as the weight of panniers propelled my bicycle downwards. The steep road twisted and turned until the sign boldly proclaiming: “Roger’s Pass/ Continental Divide/ Elevation 5,610” faded into a distant pinpoint. My wet clothing was of no aid, having just crawled from a tent following a rainy night on the bumpy mountain slope. However, as the road flattened, the sun’s embrace greeted the unraveling Montana plains, vaster than anything I had ever experienced.
â–º honorable mention 2012 Teen Travel Writing Scholarship
I was cycling three thousand, five hundred miles across the country, from Cannon Beach, Oregon to New Haven, Connecticut. Our band of eight, eschewing the support of a van, carried all our own gear, everything we would require for six weeks. Adapting to a transient lifestyle, I grew accustomed to sleeping in public parks, the yards of generous strangers, and even dentists’ offices. The incomparable feeling of waking somewhere new drove me on. As my speedometer’s mileage rose, I grew to love bicycle touring.
It was a constant battle with fatigue to continue pedaling, to push that much closer to home. Whenever cycling was difficult, I would adopt a positive outlook, remarking, “Well, it is an adventure.” I had been on bike tours before, across Cape Cod and Quebec. I had been an obsessive cyclist for years, but this relentless effort was taxing as a heat wave moved across the country at the same speed as our bicycles. Yet, when I was cycling, extreme temperatures, damp clothing, and strain became diminutive. It was as if I was fused into the landscape, pressed on by the constant rotation of pedals. Similarly, when I am making art, my actions are determined by the subconscious flow of creating; I turn the pedals.
As I crossed the United States the landscape drastically changed. In the old growth forests in Oregon and Washington the trees looked as if they had been submerged underwater and tangled with kelp. This soon gave way to the winding Snake River of Idaho, miles upon miles of identical turns that featured a hike to secret hot springs. There, one member of the group dropped our jar of peanut butter in the river. The Montana plains stretched for miles and the towns spread farther apart. Yet, the agricultural immensity in America was shocking as I watched enormous sprinklers water never-ending fields of grain and corn. With the northern route, I cycled through North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan and crossed into Canada on the night ferry. As I followed the Great Lakes, stretching outward to the horizon, ending with the frothing Niagara Falls, I felt as if I were dreaming. Only in New York and Connecticut did the landscape begin to look familiar, as I drew closer to home.
Yet it as not merely the places I traveled, but the people I met along the way that stick in my memory. Cole, the slender elderly dentist who owned a pet bobcat and chatted as we waited out a thunderstorm. One woman in Missoula, Montana narrated how she had once broken her neck, and a family in Minnesota bought us pizzas to enjoy on their screened porch.
Cycling is as familiar to me as viewing the entwined branches of the magnolia tree outside my bedroom window. Although I enjoy the comforts of home, I crave the vitality of touring. I miss the closeness and hysterical laughter of a rice and bean dinner around a campfire, or the sugary reward of jellybeans when peaking a mountain pass. There are uncycled roads to be traversed, which I know I will one day explore.
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