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3,000 Miles Across America: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

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As a cross country cyclist, you become a purveyor of pavement, a connoisseur of wind, and you meet all sorts of people.

REI Packing It Out
Abby taking a pause on a seemingly never ending climb

When you make a point to pick up trash, you see some pretty strange things. And that goes double when you’re biking across the United States in the process.

There aren’t many feelings worse than false summits or gusty headwinds that bring you to a halt. But few moments are more uplifting than cresting a pass, seeing the road down below, and then tucking into your handlebars, laughing gleefully as you watch your speedometer climb.

In the past 3,000 miles across the country, we’ve had all sorts of experiences that run the gamut from incredible to miserable. Here, we’ll delve into a few of the good, the bad, and the downright ugly of the past three months.

The Good

One of the biggest things this trip has done for us so far is restore our faith in humanity.

Despite the media coverage of America divided and at one another’s throats, we found that most people are delightful to talk to and itching to help.

We recently met up with a motorcyclist named Cowpuck and his wife, who racked up nearly 300,000 miles on their Yamaha. What started with a simple question of “Where y’all traveling to?” turned into an exchange of stories, contact information, and tight hugs.

They even offered to drive out of the way so they could drop water off for us.

REI Packing It Out Cowpuck
Cowpuck and his wife on their trusty Yamaha

We’ve had strangers buy us lunch, try to pay for our groceries, and give us rides. They’ve given us places to sleep and shower, and offered fly fishing lessons if we ever make it out to the Umpqua River.

No one asked us who we voted for or what God we pray to. Knowing that we are travelers was enough to extend a friendly hand.

The Bad

Cross-country cycling is different from many long-distance endeavors in that you are mostly in front-country (AKA not backcountry) environments. This country is filled with amazing views, but much of it would be called “middle of nowhere” by most travelers.

REI Packing It Out Gas Station
Not the most glamorous of campsites, but it made do

Our latest campsite in Muddy Gap, Wyoming, was just that.

With our mileage done for the day and the next closest town another 40 miles away, we were stumped where to camp. Google maps showed what looked like rivers, but we’ve learned not to trust it in the dusty, dry north.

We paid a gas station attendant $10 to pitch our tent in the grass outside the convenience store. Motorcycles and RVs rolled through the 24-hour pumps all night long and we maxed out our junk food consumption. Needless to say, it wasn’t a very inspiring place to wake up.

But if every campsite was awe-inspiring, I am sure we would start to take the beautiful views for granted.

The Ugly

While forging our own bike route across the country, we had some rough days of biking. Strong headwinds, freezing sleet, relentless sun, sloppy roads, and tire-eating potholes all made appearances.

Despite it all, each night found us safe and sound somewhere with water and a moderately flat place to pop a tent.

All kinds of people have given us warnings, telling us about the cyclists that died on the roads around here, telling us to “ride safe” with a stern look in their eyes.

We have been very fortunate on this trip, staying whole and healthy. But we have had some close calls. 

REI Packing It Out Tunnel
The infamous tunnel

Back on the Blue Ridge Parkway we had a bad collision. While descending into Asheville, the road weaves in and out of the mountains through a series of overlooks and tunnels. Heading into Pine Mountain tunnel, we were excited to get into the city and foolishly opted not to grab head lamps.

Once the tunnel started getting dark, I panicked and yelled “I don’t like this, I’m putting on the brakes!”  Unfortunately, my biking partner shouted at the same time “keep coasting through, don’t brake!”

Our echoes drowned each other out and ended with a terrifying CRASH in the pitch black. Seth slammed into the back of my bike and tumbled over his handlebars.

I heard gravel spraying and strange, skittering noises as his bar bag exploded and his phone, camera, and other possessions slid across the pavement. I grabbed my headlamp and helped Seth gather his things and get out of the tunnel, thankful that no cars were coming.

We sat on the side of the road, Seth trimmed the bits of skin hanging off his knees and we shook hands, making sure that never happened again.

We now have Seth’s scars to remind us just what can happen when you aren’t too careful on a bike.

Onwards and Upwards

It’s been more than three months on the road. Already we have enough stories to endlessly entertain our future grandchildren. With more than a month to go and three states left to explore, we know we’ll have some bad… maybe even ugly days, but we keep pedaling knowing the good is out there.

– Our 2017 ‘Packing It Out’ coverage is sponsored by REI.

– Check out the crew’s 2015 and 2016 efforts on our ‘Packing It Out’ page. Connect with Abby and Seth on InstagramTwitter, and their blog.

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