Guest Blog - What Bicycle Touring Taught Me
Guest blogger Olivia Round recounts her journey of biking across the U.S.
When I was twenty-one years old, I got the wild idea to ride my bike alone across the United States. At that point, the longest distance I’d ever pedaled was 16 miles. I’d never worn clip-in shoes or padded Lycra shorts, and had never carried anything more than groceries or laundry on my bike. But I’d always loved the freedom and adventure of cycling.
So I withdrew from college, bought a bike off Craigslist and some brand new Ortleib panniers from REI, and on August first, 2011, I made my first wobbly pedal strokes (in bike shoes I’d borrowed from my mom) towards destiny. I was leaving my university town of Forest Grove, Oregon, and headed for my sister’s house in Panama City Beach, Florida. It was so incredibly far away.
I doubted that I could do it. From day one, I doubted myself. I was unsure about everything: was I riding my bike properly? Did I have the right equipment? How cold would it be at 8,000 feet in the Rocky Mountains in September? One of my panniers was weighed down with repair tools that I didn’t even know how to use.
But four months and 5,000 miles later, I rolled into my sister’s neighborhood in Florida. She’d called a local news station, and so a reporter and cameraman were waiting for me. “How do you feel,” the reporter asked, “After biking across the entire country?” He moved the microphone to my mouth.
“Blessed,” I remember saying. “This is the greatest thing I’ve ever done.”
It brings to mind the quote from Mother Teresa: “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” Riding my bike alone across the nation was a great accomplishment, but it was made up of small acts like pedaling my bike, setting up my tent, sleeping, and waking up to do it all over again. My day-to-day actions were small and, to be honest, painfully unimpressive. I never managed to pull a “century,” or amaze anyone with my speed. I was slow, and methodical, and the only reason I made it to Florida wasn’t because I was super-human or special, it was because I didn’t give up.
I’ve done five more bike tours since 2011. But the most important lesson that touring has taught me was one I learned on that very first trip: I learned that we can do the impossible with patience and determination. We just have to be brave enough to try.
BIO: Olivia Round is passionate about empowering people, especially women, to go the distance by bicycle. If you’d like to learn more about her interviews with cycling women, check out her blog: https://www.oliviaround.org/the-blog . Olivia will also be speaking at Seattle-area REI stores this March and April, and she’d love to meet you there! For more information about these “Bicycle Touring Your Own Way” events, visit her website: https://www.oliviaround.org/the-blog/2019/2/26/rei-bicycle-touring-your-own-way