What Bicycle Touring Taught Me - Katie
Katie’s not exactly “chill.” A Northeasterner on the outside and a Midwesterner at heart, she spends most of her days as a research scientist working on augmented reality (whatever the hell that means.)
“I am a bit of a planner and can lose composure when things go awry,” admits Katie.
So you’d think, given the unpredictable nature of bicycle travel, that Katie would be a bit traumatized from her recent (and first-ever) cross country bicycle tour across the United States with her boyfriend Rob. But the opposite is true. “The trip taught me that I have the capacity to be less regimented about my life without everything falling apart,” Katie says. “it’s rare, if ever, that the worst case scenarios happen. I’ve gained this trust that things will work out.”
"I’ve gained this trust that things will work out."
What did bicycle touring teach you?
I had never done a bike tour before so I learned everything, and in learning everything, I learned that anyone has the capacity to bike tour. When we started, I expected that the other tourers we’d see on the road would be stone-muscled machines grinding over a hundred miles a day. In reality, the “choose your own adventure” mentality of bike touring meant we saw a broad spectrum of riders. In choosing your own adventure, you can choose what is significant for you whether that’s pushing the limits of fitness or experiencing America through small town diner pies or both. We saw people of all ages and abilities. That’s the beauty and the secret of bike touring: anyone can do it.
Once I figured that out, my reservations and mental blocks about the whole experience were eased. You can learn on the fly and regardless of how well you plan, you won’t be prepared. There’s a humbling comfort in consistently being put in your place. The natural elements are your constant, unpredictable companions. You will feel on top of the world, and you will feel bested by it. This feels preachy to say, in an over-the-top “Karate Kid” sensei kind of way, but when you've fully accepted your tenuous place in your surroundings, you've learned to bike tour.
"When you've fully accepted your tenuous place in your surroundings, you've learned to bike tour."
Did family/friends express concern for your safety? How did you respond to them?
Yes, definitely. The most interesting response that I saw was with older generations. It seemed that in growing older, you have a choice: to feel that age leads to limitations or to see your life post-job and post-kids as an opportunity to experience new adventure.
Some of my older relatives were the most openly concerned about safety, yet others were the most supportive. One of my aunts sent a care package filled with items like a pen, paper, and sanitary wipes that were both thoughtful and practical.
The most common response to our trip was more of a disconnect than pushback. This was a trip clearly outside of comfort zones and the norm (for us too), and many people lacked the vocabulary to discuss it. You can’t engage in conversation or criticism if you don’t know the questions to ask or the buttons to push. I got this mostly from my parents whose concern manifested a bit like ambivalence. I think they were worried but didn’t want to seem overbearing, so that approach led to some detachment. They were supportive when they could be (my mom sent and coordinated many care package deliveries), but were mostly hands-off.
"I've learned that if I’m scared of something, then it’s usually worth doing."
Tell us some of your favorite memories from that cross-country trip.
The most special memories for me are the somewhat unremarkable. There’s monumental moments: the Rockies, the National Parks, the mountain passes w. But it’s the little moments of kindness that are the most impenetrable memories, and there are so many.
At the moment, our days in Bay City, Michigan stick out. We arrived in town for our rest day and were welcomed into the community almost immediately by John, who worked as a bartender in the pub where we ate our dinner. That night we criss-crossed Bay City streets on an informal bike tour, ending with a house party. When we rose the next day, we stopped into the local bike shop where we already knew the staff. Whenever I pass through a new place, I picture what my life would look like there. Who would my friends be? What would my day-to-day look like? In Bay City, John and Crystal gave us the opportunity to experience that within 36 hours.
"I am a naturally anxious person who frets about lots of things… So I’m not going to tell you to not be intimidated:
Do it in spite of the intimidation."
Is traveling by bike something you want to do again? Why or Why not?
I do, but I might need a break. It’s been long enough now that I can think poetically and fondly about our time despite the challenges. It’s easy to forget the days where you would hit a wall and not want to ride, or chamois butter just didn’t solve your problems anymore. I need some time to rebuild my resilience.
I have started plotting my next, shorter adventure. With our recent move to Seattle, I have been eyeing a shorter, likely week-long trip around the Olympics. I say that I need a break, but I just bought a book with route maps that I’m anxious to flip through, so this trip will likely happen this summer. I’m aiming for a solo experience now that I have the confidence of the cross-country trip. Solo is a fundamentally different form of travel so I’m curious to experience just how different it can be.
What advice would you offer to a woman who wants to try bike touring, but is hesitant to do so?
I am a naturally anxious person who frets about lots of things, and I can be easily intimidated. I was intimidated by this trip and I’m still intimidated by the idea of future trips, but I have learned that if I’m scared of something, then it’s usually worth doing. This mantra continues to be true in my life.
I’m not going to tell you to “not be intimidated.” Do it in spite of the intimidation.