By Greta Lapp Klassen

‘Going through the world together’

Lincoln, Nebraska, July 1

Twenty three days ago, when we were still getting to know each other and developing our rhythm, we met with Geoff McMillion from Adventure Cycling Association in Missoula. We had crossed the entire state of Washington, but our journey was still getting started, and bike touring was very new to most of us. I’m sure that I wasn’t alone in wondering whether I would really be able to make it the rest of the way across the country. How could our bodies and minds ever adapt to this new lifestyle? Would we really be able to remain fully functional and healthy for so long? 

While sharing about his work at Adventure Cycling, Geoff painted a picture of what it meant to participate on a bike tour. Not only is it environmentally friendly and good for you, but it lets you see the world around you at a slower pace, experiencing the country and meeting new people in a new way. Bike touring, he promised, would restore our faith in the American people and humanity in general. According to Geoff, while bike touring is about self-sufficiency and resilience, most cyclists discover that the random strangers who help them along the way are the most impactful part of their experience.Would we – a hefty, well-supported team of 20 – come to the same conclusion? I wondered.  

We carry all of our camping gear, bike repair equipment and food with us in our well-stocked support vehicle. Sometimes we pass through entire towns without speaking to locals. We are a well-oiled machine and we always have the comfort of knowing what our daily routine will look like, (more or less). After all, we have a constant supply of avocados, chocolate milk and granola bars to fuel us, no matter where in the country we are. But life has a way of always throwing you for a loop, especially when you try to stick to a careful plan. Thanks to a series of curveballs, freak occurrences, and happy accidents, our well-oiled machine has cracked more than once. And when our system falls apart and we are left completely vulnerable and exposed, strangers have come to the rescue. 

First, there was the kind family from California who picked us up and drove us three miles up a mountain so that we didn’t have to hike to go on a cave tour. Then there was the man from Michigan who carried my group 12 miles on the busy roads of Yellowstone when we were slightly dehydrated and had a flat tire, even though it meant rearranging his entire car to make room. There were also the two men who greeted us in Gillette, Wyoming, made us coffee, and then paid for our breakfast at a local dinner. 

A week ago, when we entered Nebraska, most of the group got lost and found themselves dehydrated and with multiple flat tires due to goatheads. Later that day, our campsite was nailed by a massive dust and rain storm, and the support vehicle got a flat tire. As we tried to protect our belongings from water damage at our primitive campground 15 miles from any sort of town, the only other people at our campsite, a couple who lived in their RV, generously let us sleep in their home for the night. Without Jane and Charlie, our group would have spent an extremely miserable night in the storm. 

Now that we have crossed Nebraska, passed the halfway point and gotten a little more comfortable with the less appealing aspects of bike touring, its safe to say that nobody – not even the most brave and independent ones of us – can make it on our own. We are fragile and interdependent, just like our earth and the ecosystems that support us. We are told that we should be able to make it through life alone, yet on this trip, I am learning just the opposite. 

Without this group, and without the people we have met along the way, I have no doubt that I would have given up by Missoula. Yet here I am, almost a full month later, still peddling along, albeit slowly and creakily. I might not bike every single mile, but I am still making it, one small interaction at a time. Grace and empathy aren’t as scarce as we think they are, and together we can fill the world with abundance and beauty, if we only stop to ask for help.