“I Got My Confidence Back” – Ashtyn
Ashtyn never thought she could bike across the country. But at twenty two years old, she was lacking motivation and direction. A recent college graduate with no future plans and a waning confidence, Ashtyn decided to attempt the impossible. She texted her older brother, Justin, who also happened to be a Type One diabetic, and asked if he wanted to join her on a cross-country ride to raise awareness for Type One diabetes. Justin’s response? “F*#k yeah.”
Ashtyn, where do you live, and what role does your bicycle play in your life?
I currently live in Chelan, Washington—a beautiful resort town located on a lake. However, I am planning to move to Austin, Texas at the end of this month. My bike is not only my primary source for exercise, but also my way to meditate and escape the craziness of life. It also serves as my main source for adventure!
How did you fall in love with bicycling?
I played collegiate volleyball and spent most of my young life on a workout regimen for the sport. Once I finished my senior season when I was 22, I was a little lost without a routine and purpose for working out, since volleyball always provided that. I started taking a spin class through the university and began spinning almost every day. I was going through a really rough time mentally and the bike became my escape—I would just plug in my headphones and leave the real world for hours at a time at the gym. I didn’t even own a road bike at the time, but that is where it all started—on a stationary bike! (Which I would soon find out was very different from a road bike…)
What inspired you to ride across the United States?
After spending the first part of the fall of 2016 spinning every day in the gym, I started thinking about road biking a lot. My sister’s good friend in college had bicycled across America a couple of years prior, and I’d thought it was the coolest thing ever. I wanted to do something like that so bad, but never thought I could.
“After spinning every day in the gym, I started thinking about road biking a lot.”
I was living in Ellensburg, Washington during that time, one year out of college and I felt like I needed to get out. I was in a pretty dark place and knew I needed to plan something that would pull me out of the depression I was feeling. So, I decided that I wanted to bike across America. My friend had brought up doing it for a cause, and the first thing that came to mind was to raise money for Type One diabetes, since my older brother Justin was diagnosed at the young age of six. I texted Justin in October and asked if he would want to go with me, because he was going through a pretty similar situation. The text said:
“Hey, you want to ride a bike across America with me this summer to raise money for Type One diabetes?”
To which he responded: “Fuck yeah.”
And the planning began.
Tell us about that cross-country bicycle tour last summer.
Justin was 27 at the time and I was 22. We were one hundred percent self supported. We each had four panniers filled with 50-60lbs of gear total, which definitely was a huge challenge.
“Neither of us had ever toured before, let alone ridden more than 20 miles in one day.”
We decided to take the Trans-America route, but we customized it at the end because our destination was Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, not Virginia. We started in Seaside, Oregon on May 1, 2017 and ended in Myrtle Beach on July 3, 2017. It took us 64 days; we rode through 10 states, 3 mountain ranges and a total of 3,300 miles!
How did you prepare for the trip?
Neither of us had ever toured before, let alone ridden more than 20 miles in one day. We bought our bikes a month before we left, after fundraising for all of the supplies!
What surprised you about bike touring?
A couple of things. First off, physically, it was A LOT harder than I’d expected. I didn’t realize how important it was to get your bike correctly fitted. Mine was slightly off, which caused me to get something known as “cyclist’s palsy” in my hands—a result of leaning too much on your ulnar nerve. Basically it caused my pinky and ring fingers on both hands to go numb and a lot of pain, so that was more of a negative surprise.
A pleasant surprise was how nice everyone we met was. I was so scared to go because of everything you see in the media about how terrible people in the world can be, so I figured we’d run into some scary ones, especially because we were on bikes and a lot of drivers aren’t very nice to cyclists. But that wasn’t the case at all. People were SO amazing and kind. There were so many instances where complete strangers would go out of their way to help us—it really renewed my faith in humanity.
“I was so scared because of everything you see in the media about how terrible people can be… but that wasn’t the case at all.
It really renewed my faith in humanity.”
What makes bicycle touring special, compared to other modes of travel?
Bicycle touring is special because it forces you to slow down. We are so used to getting from point A to point B so quick and easily in our cars that we start to forget how lucky we are. When you’re on a bicycle, you are vulnerable. You are in the elements—if it’s windy, you ride against it; if it’s raining, you ride through it; if it’s 100 degrees out, you sweat your ass off and get to your destination—it’s an amazing way to learn to appreciate everything we have in our culture. It also forces you to realize how little you really need—we only had 4 panniers and our bikes for two months, that’s it.
What were some of your biggest challenges on that bike tour?
It was the fact that we were one hundred percent on our own, and that we had no choice but to get up and go every day. Yes, we were doing this by choice, but riding an average of 80 miles a day, every day, for two months, is a huge feat. There were days that I just wanted to be done or I felt like I couldn’t go any further, or Justin would feel the same, but we had to suck it up and keep going. It’s a pretty crazy feeling knowing there isn’t someone you can just call to come pick you up or take care of you—it’s also very freeing. I think both Justin and I grew up a lot on that trip.
“It’s a pretty crazy feeling knowing there isn’t someone you can just call to come pick you up or take care of you—it’s also very freeing.”
What were some of your juiciest rewards?
Making it to the top of each mountain and seeing the elevation sign or the downhill warning sign! There is nothing like the feeling of climbing a mountain on a bike, going 2 or 3 miles per hour the whole time and taking hours to do so, then seeing the sign that says you’ve reached the top. And cruising down the other side at 35-40 miles per hour! That’s the best natural high I can think of.
I think seeing the Atlantic ocean and our family at the end of the journey was also the best reward—just knowing we did it, after literally saying “I could never do that” two years earlier.
How was cycling with Justin?
Having my brother was a huge blessing because we motivated each other every day. If I wasn’t feeling up to getting on the bike that day, or felt like I couldn’t go that extra 20 miles, he would motivate me to do it and I would do the same for him. Even though we didn’t always agree and sometimes fought a lot, we were there for each other, which made a world of difference. I don’t think I could have done it alone—if I did, it would have taken me a lot longer!!
“Having my brother was a huge blessing because we motivated each other every day.”
What did you learn about yourself while cycling?
Bike touring changed my life—it gave me my confidence back and taught me how much I can truly accomplish. After the trip, I landed a great job managing a winery and moved to Lake Chelan, something I never thought I could do and my brother married his best friend and now has a baby! A lot can happen in a year, keep the faith!
Any exciting future plans?
I plan on moving to Austin, Texas at the end of this month and cycling Ireland in May of 2019! My goal is to bike tour a new country every year.
“Bike touring changed my life—it gave me my confidence back and taught me how much I can truly accomplish.”
Ashtyn was born and raised in Woodinville, Washington and now lives in Chelan, Washington, where she works at two wineries. She says she absolutely LOVES the wine industry! When Ashtyn’s not working, she rides her bike next to the beautiful lake, drinks pumpkin spice lattes, enjoys a nice bottle of wine, or watches true crime shows on her couch. You can follow her adventures on Instagram: @ashtynmann