Fear & Love, Across America - Katie B.
"It’s usually the positive sides of adventures that we hear about from friends or read about online," observes Katie. "People rarely talk about the dark sides of their trip." In this interview, Katie and I discuss the challenges of her cross-country bike tour, what inspired her to try bicycle travel in the first place, and the rewards that kept her going. (But my favorite part is her bicycle-flavored love story with her boyfriend and touring partner, Jeff!)
You can read the first part of Katie's interview, "The Cycling Poet," here.
"I found myself logging onto OK Cupid. Within a week... I saw a sweetly-smiling gentleman who claimed to be a bike mechanic and loved to camp and cook. What!?"
Tell us your love story! How did bikes bring you and your boyfriend together?
When I moved to Ashland, Oregon for grad school in 2015, I was not interested in dating. I was embarking on a highly personal and independent journey of pursuing the next phase of my education and it was the first time I had ever moved to a new place alone. So I was surprised when 5 or 6 months into my time in Ashland, I started getting curious as to who lived in my new town besides my school mates. I found myself logging onto OK Cupid. Within a week of bypassing men holding goats and wearing dreadlocks and men holding fish and wearing camo, I finally saw a sweetly smiling gentleman who also claimed to be a bike mechanic and loved to camp and cook. What!?
A couple weeks later, we met up in person for the first time and spent our first date talking almost exclusively about bike touring and what we liked to cook on the road. That was the beginning of what has been an amazing adventure with my partner, Jeff. A few months into our relationship, we hatched the idea of cycling across the country, a notion that was both terrifying and exhilarating. However, I knew that I’d need a break from the grind after grad school and it had been Jeff’s dream for 10 years to bike across the country. He was eager to see the world outside our small Southern Oregon town. So in between school and work, we started looking at Adventure Cycling routes, talking about what gear we’d need to buy, and saving money.
"Two days after I graduated from my masters program, we were driving up I-5 with our bikes and everything we’d need for 6 months of travel."
That’s incredible. So your relationship sparked a cross country bike tour?
Yes. Approximately 16 months after that first conversation and two days after I graduated from my masters program, we were driving up I-5 with our bikes and everything we’d need for 6 months of travel.
What inspired you to try bike touring in the first place?
I’ve never been very interested in driving- I’ve always taken public transit in any city where I’ve lived. So when I moved back to my hometown of Portland in 2011, I inherited my mom’s 1980 Univega steel bike for getting around. Portland was already becoming known for its bike-friendly roads and people, so it was the perfect opportunity to delve into bike love.
Two friends of mine, Annie and Sean, also moved back to Portland at the same time from Washington DC. My friend Sean had loved wrenching on bikes during college, but it was when he moved to DC and met my friend Annie that both of them started traveling by bike. A year later, they brought their newfound love of each other and bicycle touring back to Portland.
"For my first bike overnight, we rode 35 miles west from Portland... I went to sleep that night in my tent, satisfied I had gotten myself there, surrounded by bike people. I was hooked."
That's very sweet. So Sean and Annie sparked your interest in bicycle travel?
Yes. Sean helped me get set up with a CraigsList road bike to replace my heavy steel 10 speed, and soon I was zooming around on the roads, rain or shine. Sean was preparing for a TransAm that same summer, and invited me to come with him on the first day of his journey.
For my first bike overnight, we rode 35 miles west from Portland, part of it along a rail trail that led into a verdant state park where we camped for the night. As the evening wore on, more and more of Sean’s friends from his bike community showed up, filling our campsite with colorful bikes, panniers, bivvy sacks, and beers. I went to sleep that night in my tent overjoyed, sleeping under the stars, satisfied I had gotten myself there, and surrounded by bike people. I was hooked.
How far did you pedal on that bicycle tour with Jeff across the United States?
It was the trip of our lifetime, so far. On June 19, we started our trip in the Puget Sound area of Washington, visiting the San Juan Islands as a warm-up before heading east. Months later, on October 10, we ended our trip in Acadia National Park, surrounded by the ocean and beautiful mountains of Maine. We cycled 5,427 miles.
"It was an incredible experience to see the country, meet people where they live, and learn about each other.
Epic! What were some of your takeaways from the tour?
It was an incredible experience to see the country, meet people where they live, and learn about each other. I took so many memories and life lessons from that trip, some of which I wrote about on my blog at the completion of the journey.
Talk to us about fear. Did you experience it on your bike tour?
It’s usually the positive sides of adventures that we hear about from friends or read about online. People rarely talk about the dark sides of their trip. Despite my excitement for the adventure of this trip, I definitely had a lot of fear going into the journey as well. I was scared that I wouldn’t be able to physically get myself through the days and up the mountains, I was scared that I wouldn’t get enough food or water throughout the day, I was worried about going too fast down mountain passes, I was worried about riding with trucks, and I was worried about being too slow and out of shape. These fears surfaced at least once a day, usually at times when I was needing food, water, or rest. Isn’t that always how it goes? My negative thoughts always emerge when I’m at the end of my rope.
"I had to remind myself that fear was as much a part of the journey as joy, exhilaration, or accomplishment.
How did you overcome those anxieties?
Throughout my experience, I had to remind myself that fear was as much a part of the journey as joy, exhilaration, or accomplishment. The only way to get through it was to keep pedaling and start positive self-talk to change my mindset and drown out the fear or uncertainty. So I took deep breaths when I sensed semi-trucks about to pass me on Montana’s Highway 2. I called myself beautiful and strong when I climbed Going To The Sun Road in Glacier NP, I braked and took rests throughout mountainous descents, and I was patient with myself when I was miles behind Jeff.
How did Jeff's presence influence your adventure?
Jeff and I were very open with each other about our emotions, something I’d highly recommend to people traveling with others. We told each other what we were nervous about at the beginning of the trip, and jumped in to help when the other was low, either calorically or emotionally. Working through fear is a personal journey, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to have a supportive riding partner to encourage you as well.
"Working through fear is a personal journey, but it certainly doesn't hurt to have a supportive riding partner."
Have you been able to keep that bike-touring spark alive in your current life in Ashland?
Yes! I’m a life-long Oregonian and am so proud of my state. I've always boasted to people that Oregon is the perfect mix of every ecosystem that you could think of: temperate rainforest, coastal, alpine, fertile valley, desert, and woodlands. Where there is such amazing scenery and wild lands, there is always good cycling- from deserted Forest Service roads to highways that wind up mountains or along rivers or even bike paths through municipalities.
I am lucky to live in Southern Oregon right now, a special place for cycling. We have an unusually high concentration of bike shops and most people are either interested in mountain biking, road riding, touring, commuting, or all four!
"I am lucky to live in Southern Oregon right now, a special place for cycling... people are interested in mountain biking, road riding, touring, commuting, or all four!"