Rider remembers highlights of cross country adventure

  • Kelsey Cougan<br>For the Enterprise
  • Friday, February 29, 2008 11:32am

After weeks of flat terrain in Indiana, Illinois and Ohio, the last 55 miles of the Big Ride Across America started off in hilly Pennsylvania.

Our biking group nicknamed Pennsylvania “the final exam” and like any good final exam, it included a bit of everything — peaceful trails, steep mountain passes with fast descents, isolated country roads and busy suburban highways.

With three hurricanes/severe tropical storms heading our way, Pennsylvania also delivered a nice mix of weather: humidity, wind, heat and rain. We poured over the NOAH weather reports with a great deal of curiosity. Our trip had featured amazingly wonderful weather. The Midwest was suffering through an unusually cool summer, resulting in only four biking days above 100 degrees.

Continuing our string of unbelievable luck, Hurricane Alex took a sudden turn, heading out to sea and not into Washington, D.C., as expected and Hurricane Charley’s approach was delayed slightly, meaning we finished our trek just as the rain began to fall. Miraculously, we cycled in rain only twice the entire summer.

Since returning home, I’ve been asked the question on everyone’s mind countless times: “So would you do it again?” A question so convoluted, it may never be fully answered. I prefer to work through it in parts.

Would I make the decision to tackle the Big Ride again? This answer is by far easier — a quick and emphatic yes. I made my original decision in a rash state of panic and with very little thought to the possible hardships or rewards of the trip. Operating under the firm belief that the less I thought about the summer, the more likely I would be to complete the trek, I began my journey with more than a little fear.

While I started the trip in fear and panic, I ended the trip in such a calm state of relaxation, well, the loved ones back home hardly recognize me. Pre-trip I walked as though I was training for the speed walking championships. Now, I mosey, a nice slow amble. Pre-trip I tended to fixate on order, details and the bottom line. I had trouble simply sitting and relaxing. Now, I hope to meet the old me somewhere in the middle, or nothing will get done at work.

I took a vacation like no other vacation. A vacation from life, from reality. For an amazing 48 days I did not have to deal with the stress of bills or work or the trappings of life. There was no TV to shout out the evils of the world.

Virtually every decision was taken care of for me. “What’s for dinner?” The Winnona Chamber of Commerce will be ready to feed us at 6. “What am I going to do today?” Eighty-eight miles of rolling hills. (And while 88 miles of biking might not seem like a vacation, picture beautiful farm country and occasional towns with cute coffee or ice cream shops to stop at and enjoy a treat.)

Once in camp for the night, aside from setting up our tents and some minimal bike maintenance (there is a mechanic on duty) we were free to read, chat with the other riders, write, or just sit and relax by the lake. Until you leave your city life, you have no idea just how noisy and stressful it is.

Would I bike across America again? This is by far a more difficult question. In our group we had four individuals biking for a second time. Discussing this absurdity made many miles fly by. Like all major events, as time passes I will remember less of the hardships until finally only happy memories remain. Already I find myself forgetting the intense 111-degree heat of South Dakota, the steep hills of Pennsylvania, the headwinds, blisters and sore muscles.

The countless peanut butter sandwiches, discomforts of being away from home and being mixed with 30 strangers is gradually becoming more humorous than harrowing. Will I bike again? Sure, but give me some years and a new route.

This trip has been an amazing experience for me and one I highly encourage others to take. For more information on the Big Ride, go to alaw.org and follow the links. Can’t take 48 days off? The American Lung Association also sponsors a three-week trip from Seattle to San Francisco (Pacific Coast) and a three-day trip on the San Juans (Trek Tri Island). Details for both of these trips can be also be found on the alaw.org site.

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