The internet is filled with hundreds of stories, books, and blog posts from people who have succeeded in biking across the U.S. of A. However, for every person who succeeds in accomplishing something so incredibly difficult, there are far more people who have failed. Too often these failures are kept hidden, whether due to embarrassment or a lack of attention. I myself am among the failures. Here is my story.
Last summer, I attempted the 4000+ mile trek with a group called the Fuller Center. If anyone is interested here is their link: http://www.fullercenterbikeadventure.org/ . The Fuller center is an organization created by the founders of habitat for humanity. Every year they raise money and lead a group of cyclists across the country stopping every 3-4 days to help construct housing for those in need. They are the cheapest group to do a cross country bike trip with, that I know of, and all of the money you spend goes to a great cause. Along with the cheap price, the Fuller Center has their own van that follows you, carrying your supplies and snacks for the group. Every night, you sleep free in heated/ air-conditioned churches, and those same churches provide breakfast and dinner to all participants.
While fundraising for the Fuller Center, I also ran my own fundraiser for a clinic near the University of Alabama. The clinic is called the Good Samaritan Clinic, and they provide free medical care for the uninsured. Here’s the link in case anyone reading this wishes ti donate: https://fundly.com/one-big-trip. The fundraiser itself was a pretty huge success, managing to raise over $4000.
Unfortunately, my bike adventure was not so successful. After only two weeks, I developed achilles tendonitis in both of my legs. I tried to push through the injury for a couple of days, but to no avail. It took me five months for my achilles to heal afterwards. Lesson learned: once you start to feel pain in those tendons, quit as soon as possible, because they take forever to heal.
The failure was completely my fault. Simply put, I did not train enough. While planning for my trip across the country, I read many blogs from people who claimed to get in shape as they were making their way across the country, with little to no training beforehand. Those people obviously did something I did not. My reasons for writing this post are to try and warn people to tune out the websites claiming you can just pedal out your door any day and cycle coast to coast. You can try, but there will be repercussions for your body.
So, I read about not needing to do much training, and I decided I would return from abroad in Madagascar, with just a few weeks before the start of the ride. I realize now I should have spent at least six weeks training.
The next mistake I made was to ride a bike that did not fit my body. For the two years prior to my bike trip, I had been riding and racing a Cervelo S2. The S2 flew down smooth roads and cut through the wind, but it also caused my knees to ache like crazy during long rides. I had been fitted on the bike multiple times, but nothing alleviated the problem. No amount of insoles, or cleat adjustments, or saddle height changes could make the pain go away. At the time, I assumed the problem was my body and not the bike. Later on, I switched to a trek. I haven’t had a single ache or pain since then.
Sure enough, on the first long day of riding, my knees began to hurt. The pain grew each day. Just as it started to get unbearable, the pain suddenly stopped, but some discomfort formed in my ankles. I assume this means I strained a tendon that runs past the knees to my achilles, but somebody more knowledgable than me will have to vouch for that .
The discomfort was subtle at first, but grew over time. A grating sound, similar to a decade old rubber band being stretched repeatedly would accompany every step. At that point, I decided to take 3 days off and ride in the van. I reasoned that I could always start again once I felt better.
The problem was, I never felt better. Not 3 days, not 5 days, not even 7 days later. After a week, the boredom got to me, and I decided to try and start again. Luckily, on that day the temperature was below freezing. The cold weather meant my achilles staid completely numb throughout the ride. I decided to end the day early once my face turned blue. Still, it was a beautiful.
Here’s a photo from that day:
Also, I saw a moose, so definitely worth the hypothermia:
After that ride I couldn’t walk. Slowly, I got better, but it wasn’t until December that I could run again without pain. Take achilles pain seriously! Don’t be like me.
So, what was it like to fail to bike across America? Was it terrible? No, it was amazing. It was one of the best times I’ve had in my life. If it wasn’t for the achilles injury, I would recommend that everyone go out and fail to bike across the country.
I got to see this:
Cycle past this:
And spend time with these amazing people:
All the while, making a difference in peoples’ lives.
Best of all, I found these pants:
In the end, I had the van leave me behind after stopping in Missoula. A couple very friendly ladies from the Adventure Cycling Association let me crash on their couch. I had a blast tubing down rivers and exploring Missoula with them and other employees from the organization. If anyone doesn’t know what the Adventure Cycling Association is, definitely check out their website: https://www.adventurecycling.org/ They map out bike routes, and plan trips all around the world.
In the end I flew back to Houston, with a smile of my face, and a grating in my ankles.
Recommendations for Others that wish to Bike Across America:
- Train often, ahead of time.
- Go with the Fuller Center
- Tell everyone you meet you’re biking across America. (You will get a ton of free beers purchased for you)
- Use Continental Gatorskin Tires. (2000 miles no flats. Those tires rule)
- Even if you don’t think you will finish, attempt it. You will see areas of the country few people ever get to experience. I did not realize how beautiful my country was until this trip.