Sunday, March 16, 2014

Looking Back on Looking Out Across America

We had an absolutely amazing journey last summer, and it is extremely difficult to put words to all that we experienced over our 3 months bicycling across this beautiful and crazy country that we’re lucky enough to call home.  Our language just isn’t sufficient for summing up a life-changing summer spent chasing down a crazy dream together, but we’ll give it a shot.

We wish there was some way to capture the entire trip on video, so we could relive all the experiences we had – good and bad, major and minor – along the way.  Hell, I wish we had even thought or had the time to take really one meaningful video, but life on a bicycle isn’t all dandelions and rainbows – who knew?  Even now, less than 6 months out from our last day on the bikes, we’re starting to forget things, glossing over the worst of our experiences while letting the best of them shine through.

One of the major things we’ll take with us throughout our lives from Looking Out Across America is that (the huge majority of) people are kind, generous, and genuinely good.  This lesson transcends geographic locations, economic conditions, and any other demographic qualifier you can come up with that we generally think divides people.  We had people offer to pay for meals for us, put us up for the night, give us rides, but shirts to support our personal expenses, purchase gear we needed, donate to the Looking Out Foundation, and even on the smallest of levels, wish us the best of luck.  Though the majority of our interactions with strangers on this trip lasted less than a few minutes, those wishes of good luck meant so much to us along the way.

Along those same lines, we’ve learned that bicycles are the ultimate conversation starter.  How often do you end up talking to every stranger walking into the gas station when you’re there?  Probably never.  How often did we do this?  Almost each and every time we stopped at a store for a Gatorade or another greasy pizza that had been warming under the lamps all day.  People cannot resist asking questions of people who arrive at destinations sometimes out in the middle of nowhere under their own power on bikes that are loaded down like pack animals with brightly-colored bags.  This phenomenon also transcends all of those demographic qualifiers mentioned above.  Cyclists aren’t threatening to anyone, even though we may look like wayward vagabonds who haven’t showered in a couple of days.  This is opposite of what we observed with motorcyclists matching our description – people almost go out of their way to avoid them, thinking they must be rough in some way.  While this isn’t true most of the time, the perception is clearly planted in people’s subconscious.  Just showing up somewhere became our best impetus to get to know the “locals”, tell them about our journey, and promote the Looking Out Foundation.

Another important takeaway from this trip is that America is painfully beautiful.  Even the places that you don’t expect to be beautiful because of their starkness, or sameness, are striking precisely because of those things.  Case in point: Kansas.  We both have driven through Kansas on a few occasions, and never enjoyed it.  If you have made that long drive across Interstate 70, you probably feel our pain.  Cities and towns are few and far between, and, let’s face it; you’re usually just flying through Kansas to get to something more exciting, right?  Honestly, Kansas was its own pain in our asses during this trip (i.e. high winds, high temps, and long stretches between service stops), but one day, I clearly remember stopping on the side of the road to take a panoramic photo of our surroundings – nothing but recently harvested wheat fields for miles and miles in every direction.  But it was stunning.  That landscape was accentuated by some of the bluest skies you’ll ever see, with gorgeous puffy clouds somehow arranged in rows, mirroring the rows of wheat.

This journey was difficult.  Way more difficult physically, emotionally, and mentally than we anticipated.  But, that’s to be expected when we try to take on the Goliath of all bicycle touring adventures while never having ever done a bicycle overnight.  The best thing we did to ensure that we didn’t give up was to partner with the Looking Out Foundation, and do our best to promote the hell out of this thing before we left.  We had accountability to something greater than ourselves, and we had a huge cheering section behind us when things got rough!  It doesn’t hurt that we believe in the causes we chose to support, and thinking of those who will be helped by our adventure is humbling.  Our advice – if you plan on taking on an adventure like this, find your own cause to support to make it all the more meaningful to you, and bigger than you.  Sometimes just checking an item off your personal bucket list isn’t enough motivation to push through when things really get rough.

Looking Out Across America also opened our eyes to some of the major issues facing people in rural communities, even in this “advanced” 21st century.  We were often cycling through some of the most rural areas in America, and found it to be constantly difficult to find nutritious food options in these cities and towns.  You are probably 100 times more likely to find a gas station selling “fresh” fried cheese curds than you are to find a single vegetable that isn’t battered and fried in a good portion of the towns we rolled through.  Grocery stores are very limited in their selection (if the town can even support one), and most of the people in the community don’t have the time or access to a car required to drive 30 minutes or more to a larger town with more choices.  Therefore, there’s a constant stream of people, morning, noon, and night hitting up the local convenience store for their meals.  This is the main source of sustenance for these communities, and the lack of options leads to fatty, non-nutritious diets, which then leads to things like obesity and diabetes.  There really should be a push to get fresh produce to people in these rural communities.

Anyway, off of that soapbox.  Our summer was full of highs and lows, but it all came together to make up the experience of a lifetime for us – one we couldn’t have had without all of you reading this blog.  You made it about more than just us, and for that we thank you.  You donated to the Looking Out Foundation, shared our blog posts, bought our t-shirts, helped outfit us with the gear we needed to take on America by bicycle, and offered up your encouragement.  Thanks to you, we raised over $6,300 for the Looking Out Foundation!!!  Great job guys!!!

Don’t stop following this space yet – we’ve actually begun writing a book about our experiences with Looking Out Across America.  And if you’re interested in knowing what we’re up to now, follow our latest blog at

And since we shared this on Facebook, but not on the blog, here’s the little video we recorded on the very last pedaling day of our journey, where we dipped our front wheels into the mighty Pacific Ocean.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Our Welcome Home from Louie and Rudy

One question we've been asked a lot since arriving home is "How did the dogs react when they saw you?" Mel's mom picked us up from the airport when we got home, and we had her walk in the house first and capture their reaction on here it is!

I think it's safe to say they were happy to see us :) We missed them like crazy!!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Post Ride Day 9 - September 6, 2013

Ahh, the day we've been waiting for - Raise the Roof day!  For those of you who aren't familiar with Raise the Roof, it is the annual fundraiser for Brandi Carlile's Looking Out Foundation.  The foundation we were raising money for on our trip!  Our awesome pals at Again Today coordinate the event each year in Seattle, and it brings in a ton of money for the foundation, not to mention the fact that it's a really fun evening of entertainment and education.

We picked up Erica's parents from the airport in the early afternoon, grabbed lunch at Mel's favorite place (you surely know what that is by now!), and headed to The Triple Door...we hadn't had time yet to prepare any visual aids to go with our short talk about the trip, so we needed at least something for people to look at instead of just us standing awkwardly on stage!

We threw together a short slide show with some photos from the trip (huge thanks to Susan for letting us use her laptop and flash drive!), then in no time, people were filing in and the event was about to begin.  It was so good to see so many friends in one place at one time!  It was also satisfying to bring Looking Out Across America full-circle - we had first introduced the trip publicly at the 2012 Raise the Roof, and a year later, we had finally completed the adventure of a lifetime, and got to announce to everyone that we raised over $6,000 for the Looking Out Foundation!  Through the generosity of tons of amazing people, we also raised over $2,000 to cover our personal expenses during the journey through t-shirt sales, and had tons of gear purchased for us through Amazon.  Thank you all for donating, buying shirts, and helping out with gear and encouragement!!!

We survived our on-stage time (mostly because I (Erica) made Mel do most of the talking) - then enjoyed the musical entertainment of The Flumps, Jen Hopper and Khaled Tabbara, and Pretty Enemy.  There was also time for a Q&A with Brandi Carlile and band, raffle drawings, and then a 90 minute set by Brandi, Tim, Phil and Josh.  We had a great night with our families, got to see so many friends that are typically spread across the country, and had a great night celebrating the end of Looking Out Across America!  I know there is video of Raise the Roof floating around, and if I can get my hands on a video of our portion I'll post it here.

We'll stop our daily updates here...we stayed in Seattle until September 15th, spent more time with family and great friends, and fell more in love with the Seattle area.  We didn't have much down time - there was sightseeing to be done, tattoos to get (ooh, maybe I'll blog about our LOAA tour memento tattoos...), dinners, breakfasts, and lunches to attend, people to drop off at the airport, and a wedding to attend.  We had a blast, and such a great time unwinding from 3 months on bikes!  Thanks to everyone who made our stay in Seattle so fantastic!

Here are a few photos from the remainder of our stay:

Monday, September 23, 2013

Post Ride Day 8 - September 5, 2013

We decided to make today a touristy day, since Mel's parents haven't ever been to Seattle.  I ran to the grocery store early before everyone was ready, so we had some staples for breakfast.

We took off for downtown Seattle, and did the most touristy thing we could think of right off the bat - a Duck tour!  In case you don't know what these are, they take these amphibious vehicles from WW2, and created land and water tours around that concept.  They are cheesy, of course, but it's a great way to get a good overview of the city without having to drive or walk yourself, and you get a little boat ride on Lake Union.

After that, we grabbed a bite to eat at MOD Pizza at the City Center, then headed up to the top of the Space Needle.  We had a great time taking in the sweeping views of the city!

After stopping by Target for a few essentials, we enjoyed a lazy evening back at the condo.  We had such a good day showing John and Jane one of our favorite cities, and are so glad they could come out and spend time with us here!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Post Ride Day 7 - September 4, 2013

We were pretty lazy again today!  We packed our stuff up - Mel's parents are flying in to Seattle tonight, so we are (reluctantly) moving out of Susan and Cathy's guest room and into a rental condo for the next week.

I took one photo today, of this frog I spotted on the deck:

We enjoyed an delicious dinner at a Chinese place with Susan and Cathy, then they were awesome enough to give us a ride to the airport to pick up our rental car and Mel's parents.  We will see them a ton of other times while we are out here, but we were still sad to go!

We selected only the most awesome of minivans (leather seats and a DVD player, though we don't have any DVDs with us - a formality), then awaited Mel's parents arrival in the cell phone lot.  We picked them up, and headed about 15 min north of Seattle to the condo.  It's tough to find a rental place to sleep 6 people!

Everyone was tired, so we hit the hay.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Post Ride Day 6 - September 3, 2013

This will be a short one - we didn't leave the company of the couch and tv all day, except to pick up lunch.  Susan made some delicious tacos for dinner, and we spoiled this guy a little more:

Poor guy had to have his toenail removed  all the way to the knuckle.  So naturally, he milked it for all it was worth!  We were so in need of a rest day, and this one was perfect!

Post Ride Day 5 - September 2, 2013

Another lovely morning complete with sleeping in and enjoying coffee!  We could get used to this!

Since its Labor Day, Susan and Cathy both had the day off.  We ran more errands with them, and then had conveyor belt sushi for dinner!  We love conveyor belt sushi, and have only found it in Chicago so far.  Wish Indy had one!

Other than that, all we did was hang out with these guys:

It's so nice to be around dogs again - we are missing our boys so much!!!  Susan and Cathy's French Bulldog had a toenail injury, so we babied him to the extreme, and he loved it!