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.