Saturday, September 8, 2012

Looking Out Across America - The Beginning

I’m not even sure how I stumbled upon the website, but I do owe my obsession with the TransAmerica Trail to it. It was probably mid 2009 when I found that site, and I spent weeks on end reading the journals of past TransAm riders. I was hooked. There were all kinds of people setting out on this trek – those fresh out of college, retired grandparents, people in the midst of a mid-life crisis taking a leave of absence from corporate America, people traveling in large groups, young women tackling it alone, families with young children – EVERYONE. At first, it was just entertainment, but eventually the pull of this trip had its claws in me, and I became obsessed with actually doing this myself one day.

The more I talked about this with my then-fiancee now wife, Mel, the more excited she got about it too. The TransAm had become something I felt compelled to do now, either alone or with my partner in crime - so Mel jumped on board and said she would go with me (though I think she was quite a bit more reluctant about it, since she hadn’t spent much time on a bike since she was a kid, and hadn’t ever had a bike with gears). Not that I had that much biking experience as an adult, other than spending some time riding around my neighborhood on a hand-me-down mountain bike during an unfortunate month that I spent unemployed years ago after being laid-off, but I did have experience on a 10-speed.

But, then reality started to set in…and the doubts started to appear in my periphery. How could we ever take 3 months off work? Could we actually pedal over 4,000 miles from the Atlantic all the way to the Pacific? Is this trip really as dangerous as some people would like us to think it is? Even if we could take 3 months off work, how will we pay for the normal life expenses (mortgage, student loans, etc.) AND afford the expenses we’ll have on the road? Oh, and this 3 month break from work would have to be UNPAID. Ouch. It seemed impossible.

So…we began speaking of this trip as though it would happen someday, but never gave it a definite date. This happens with a lot of goals in my life, I dream big, but have problems implementing the plans - I'm working on changing this as I get older though. I knew this one would be different somehow, so we did what any two rational people would do – started buying gear! Oh, gear…is there anything more exciting than buying the stuff that goes along with adopting a new hobby? The first purchases were, obviously, the bikes. We opted for the cheapest road bikes we could find, had them shipped to our house, and assembled them ourselves. Good to go, right? Well, not exactly. You see, Mel is short - really short. They don’t really make many adult bikes that fit her well. Bottom line is that her bike was too big, and she felt very insecure riding it, and I started doubting that she’d still want to make the trip with me.

Many people who ride the TransAm do so on a bike called the Surly Long Haul Trucker. Naturally, I started coveting this bike, so in the Spring of 2011, I decided to just go ahead and buy one. They’re fairly expensive, so this was a big commitment towards someday actually doing some bike touring. Mel got a smaller road bike around the time I got my Surly, and then decided she wanted a Surly too earlier this year, so now we’re both equipped for some heavy-duty bike touring. And of course, in between buying bikes, we bought bike shorts, jerseys, bike sandals, bike racks, panniers (bike bags), bike computers, gloves, and so on. R.E.I. loved us - so much so that they finally put a store in Indiana! (That was just a coincidence I’m sure, but we’ll take some of the credit!)

But alas, gear does not a trip make. It was still not much more than a dream somewhere out there on the horizon. Sometime in 2010, it clicked with me that many people ride for a cause – they raise money for diabetes, or cancer, or any number of other causes. We could do that, right? That’s when I had an epiphany – we’re big fans of Brandi Carlile’s music, she and the twins have a foundation - ding! We decided the Looking Out Foundation would be our cause of choice for fundraising efforts, but we still had no idea what that would actually look like in practice.

I started putting together a fundraising proposal in late 2010 with the intent of getting it to Brandi at a concert. I honestly cannot tell you how many times that we printed that thing out, brought it to a show with us, but for whatever reason the stars never aligned and it just never happened. It was really for the best though, because I think the timing was finally perfect when I nervously pushed “send” and sent the proposal we’d agonized over for about a year and a half off to the powers that be at the Looking Out Foundation. A few months later, here we are kicking off Looking Out Across America, and partnering with the Looking Out Foundation to make a difference with this ride.

We are extremely honored and humbled that Brandi, Catherine, Phil and Tim are as excited about this project as we are, and have agreed to partner with us on this to make it a resounding success for the Looking Out Foundation. We lead relatively low-key, average lives, so having the chance to actively do something to help the various organizations supported through the Looking Out Foundation is thrilling and a challenge that we couldn’t be more pleased to take on. Hopefully we can do this honor justice.

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