Cycles of adventure

In the midst of my wild summer plans, family visits, and national park exploration, I learned that my friend, Jamie Moorby, had cycled across the US for charity, raising money for the DC Area Books to Prisons Project, which has a two-part mission: donate reading material to prisoners and educate the public about prisoner literacy. They aim to bring in reading material because many prisons do not have libraries, and the ones that do often have limited access or selection of materials. This cross-country bike ride was something Jamie and several other people participated in, ending in Oregon last month. I asked Jamie a few questions to talk about her experience.

What inspired you to cycle your way across the US, and how long have you been a long-distance cyclist?

I have dreamed of going on a long bike trip since I was a kid, but never pursued it I until this spring a friend asked me if I’d ride with her from New Orleans to the SXSW music festival in Austin Texas. I was quitting my job at a worker-owned/operated food coop in the DC area and moving to VT this summer anyway, so I said sure. Towards the end of that 10 day trip, another friend called me up and said “since you don’t have a job right now, why don’t you bike across the country with me?” I didn’t have any good reasons not to, so I agreed. Less than a month after finishing my 620 mile ride across Louisiana and Texas, we left Yorktown, VA for a 10 state, 3 month, 4,500 mile ride to Astoria, Oregon.

Did you prepare in any specific way for such a long distance? What’s your “official” mileage from this trip?

I didn’t train at all for my first “short” tour, but considered that training for my cross country trip. As the saying goes, if you’re planning a bike tour of more than a month, the first month is all the training you need! My official mileage on this trip was 4,526 miles. This included several side trips, including one “rest day” on which we rode 95 miles without our gear.

I think you took an earlier trip in Asia, right? What would you say are the biggest differences in these two experiences?

In the last few years I’ve taken a few trips to both Thailand and India, but always backpacking and taking trains/buses to get around. I absolutely love both types of travel, but they are very different. Traveling not-by-bike gives you lots more free time, and thus lots of options on what to see/where to go. Biking, you can only get so far in a day, and having an end of trip goal I generally skip sightseeing opportunities that aren’t directly on my route. If you use bike route maps published by Adventure Cycling, as I did for this trip, there aren’t too many logistics to plan out because all the info is there for you on the map. It’s kind of like following a guide book itinerary suggestion when traveling abroad. What I’d really like to do is combine the two and cycle my way across SE Asia—that’s my plan for 2012!

I heard that you rode across North America in only 5 days. What kind of schedule were you on, and what was that like?

The trip actually took a total of 96 days, of which 88 were “riding” days. We started the trip very slowly, taking our time to cross Virginia at 35-40 miles per day. By the time we left the mountains behind and entered Kansas we started riding 65-85 miles most days, and dipping up into the upper 90’s or even hitting 100 a few days a week. We maintained that basic schedule throughout the Rockies and until we hit the Oregon Coast in Florence, when we realized we were a bit ahead of schedule and could take our time and really enjoy the trip north to Astoria. Our overall trip average, including “0” days, was just 50 miles per day. It was nice having the length of time we had so we never really felt stressed out about “making miles.” We could take days off when we were tired or really enjoyed being in a town, but we also rode enough to push ourselves physically when that was what we wanted to do.

Tell us something unexpected that happened on your journey.

The biggest surprise to me on this trip was how nice people are. Sure, we got honked at and had scary rent-a-RVs almost run us off the road, but overall people were excited to see us, talk to us, and invite us into their homes. Between homes, churches, fire-stations, community centers, and city parks, we rarely paid for housing at all. It was a regular occurrence to knock on a stranger’s door and ask if I could camp in their yard. Not only did I not get turned down even once, more often than not they offered us a room in their house, space in their barn, a hot dinner, showers, laundry, or any number of other luxuries we didn’t even ask for!

Any good recommendations for something to see, somewhere to dine, in the middle of the United States or anywhere along your route?

If you’ve never been to Yellowstone, you should visit. I was a little hesitant before getting there because of how much traffic it gets. If I’m going to experience nature I like to do it in a setting where I’m surrounded by, well, nature—not hundreds of tourists in RVs. So my expectations for Yellowstone were pretty low. And while it’s true that I saw far more people than animals and I had to wrestle RVs for a spot on the road, the geysers, boiling mud “paint pots,” and the few bear, buffalo, and elk I did see were well worth the fight.

Are you looking toward your next cycling adventure yet, and if so, where do you plan to travel?

I can hardly wait to get back out on the open road. I plan to spend two weeks cycling around Prince Edward Island, Canada next summer, and hoping to do a three month, Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos ride in 2012. If that falls through, I might branch out a bit and hike the Appalachian Trail, from Georgia to Maine. Now I just need to find a job that lets me take that much time off!

Any last thoughts?

Go ride across the country. I was absolutely amazed at how many people I met this summer doing it, and what a range of ages, abilities, and experience they had. According to Adventure Cycling, which publishes bike route maps and whose headquarters I visited in Missoula, Montana, more than 500 people riding the Trans-Am cross-continental bike route had stopped in before me this year alone. They also pointed out that the average age of cross-country cyclists has been rising steadily. On my trip, I met literally hundreds of other cyclists, most of whom were biking coast to coast. We saw fathers with children as young as 11 on the back of their tandems, couples ranging in age from early 20s to mid-70s, and everyone in between. While I certainly met avid cyclists, many of the people I met had never been into biking before this trip. The biggest lesson here is truly anyone can do it and it is the trip of a lifetime.

Let us know when you’re heading out again!

Sure will!

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2 Comments on “Cycles of adventure”

  1. Bill Falls
    September 3, 2010 at 8:48 am #

    Great interview. Congratulations again, Jamie – maybe our paths will cross in Vermont.


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