This summer, a foursome of bikers were brought together by Cycles for Change, rode a distance of 2039 miles on a way-one trek from the Twin Cities to Seattle, and did so in only 23 days. That’s an average of nearly 90 miles a day. And in honor of C4C, they made this ride a fundraiser for the organization, which ultimately brought in over $1000 in support.
Jack McCarthy and Hannah Field, both Macalester College students, volunteered at the Youth Bike Summit, which was held on their campus and hosted by C4C in May 2016.
“We decided to do the ride and thought we could use this as a fundraising opportunity,” Hannah, a Mahtomedi, Minn. native, explained. “We picked [C4C] because of the good work [they] do, and we met Bastien Lauras and his friend Alexis Geslin, both here from France [for internships], through volunteering at the Youth Bike Summit. So we owe C4C for bringing us all together.”
Jack was the mastermind behind the ride and wanted other bike-tour-enthusiasts to join him. It was an easy sell to Hannah, Bastien, and Alexis. But what motivated him to want to do a ride like this was that he’d done one before, and was ready for another long haul.
“The one bike tour I did was from Macalester to my home in Evanston, Ill.,” he said. “I had no experience biking long distance; I didn’t have a road bike or touring bike. But I was in a new home and wanted to connect it my home near Chicago. In my head I could picture a route to Illinois. So, after doing that, I thought about other trips I could do. I just arbitrarily picked this one to Seattle: Mississippi River to Pacific Ocean.”
The four took the Adventure Cycling Association’s “Northern Tier” route. It followed the Amtrak, which they took back to Minnesota after their one-way bike trek. Though the trip had major cities as beginning and ending points, the journey and all the places in between were what really made this trip an adventure.
“What I enjoy about a bike is that I experience so much more about the journey than being in a car. Not only do I know the route from here to Seattle now, but I know the terrain. I know where the hardest hills are. I know it better than I would in a car when I zone out. I had to be vigilant all the time to get up and down the hills,” Hannah said. “It forced us to have opportunities we wouldn’t have had otherwise. We had to spend a lot of time looking at the landscape. We really got an appreciation for the scope of the land,” Jack added.
There’s a lot of land and people out there, and a lot of interested experiences to be had. They can be good, like getting shuttled across a pass when the asphalt is too hot to bike across or watching a woman pick up a rattlesnake with her bare hands. And bad, like RVs that don’t move over as they drive past or getting 13 flats. And because of that, these four came back with stories to tell.
“One guy called the cops on us on our way to Shelby, Mont.,” Jack recalled. “The shoulder was small and there were very few cars, but one car drove by, rolled down the window, and said ‘Get off the road!’ A few minutes later the sheriff pulled us over and said there were complaints about us. He commiserated with us about the shoulder but said the law is that you can’t ride in the lane. Sometimes, those people can ruin your ride.”
Luckily, the good outweighed the bad. The foursome had the opportunity to stay with Benedictine monks in North Dakota and on a farm in Washington where they had ice cream from milk from their cows. They even connected with someone who was blasting Fleetwood Mac, just like them.
“We were looking for water in the desert-y part of Washington and we couldn’t find any, but [someone driving past] said he had water in his truck,” Jack said. “He read us a poem he wrote for his dead wife and gave us his son’s phone number who lived in Seattle.”
These unexpected highs and lows of meeting people came after much planning to make sure everything else went smoothly, as expected.
“Everyday we’d look at the weather and see what the wind would be, but we didn’t actually have a lot of wind. When we did, it helped us,” Jack said. “Our route followed the Amtrak line so we’d see the train sometimes and wave and they’d honk. It was cool to do the route in reverse, but strange to feel like we knew that place,” Hannah added.
For Jack and Hannah, they got to see a new part of their own country. For Bastien and Alexis, a whole other country. After being out on the road for three weeks, seeing only these places, they enjoyed gaining that feeling of familiarity. But at summer’s end, Bastien and Alexis went back to school at École Polytechnique in Paris, and Jack and Hannah to Macalester. Back to comfortable familiarity, at least until their next adventure.