My name is Daniel James and I’m from Canton, Ohio. When I graduated from high school I knew I wanted to travel. I wasn’t sure how I would afford it or where I would go. I ended up flying to Australia and working on tropical fruit farms for a year. I was taught that you can do anything you put your mind to. When I flew home I knew I needed to continue traveling. I hatched an idea to become the first person in history to pedal a bicycle across all seven continents. A bit too ambitious? Maybe.
I saved up some cash, packed my bags and a bicycle, and hitched a ride to Maine. From freezing Maine, I embarked on a 77 day bicycle trip, pedaling all the way to the west coast of the USA in Washington State. I managed to complete the whole trip without spending a dollar on accommodation. I stayed in the yards and homes of generous strangers across the whole country. The trip was over 5000 miles (8000 kilometers) long and was the hardest thing I have ever accomplished. I learned so much though and I got to witness the kindness and generosity of people across this amazing country. This trip gave me so much confidence. I feel like, “If I can ride my bicycle across the USA, I can do anything!”
Since then, I have ridden my bicycle across Australia and New Zealand and I will be crossing my third continent, South America soon. I still plan on becoming the world’s first to complete this epic challenge.
7 Lessons I Learned From Biking Across the USA
1. You’ve got to have a Dream
It is my belief that most of us have a deep-seaded longing for adventure and to see the world.
Since I was a teen I had always wanted to travel. I wasn’t sure why, or how I was going to accomplish this, but I knew I needed to go places. I needed to see the world with my own two eyes. I longed to experience real life not just homework and 9 to 5’s. I guess you could say that my “Travel Bug” was still a larva. When I was 19 I took the leap. I traveled to tropical Queensland, Australia with my brother and lived as an Aussie for a year. I worked on various fruit farms out on the countryside. I saved up enough money to do a few months of sightseeing “Down Under” after I finished work. It was during this time that the larva went into its cocoon. I loved this new way of life, and made a few great friends, but then my visa ended and I flew home.
When I got home I was almost instantly itching to get back out there, into the unknown. My travel bug had finally hatched in to a pesky horsefly that begged for attention. I decided I needed to do something epic, or at least something I thought was epic. What did I come up with? I would ride a bicycle across the USA! And why stop there, I might as well ride my bike across all seven continents! In the blink of an eye I suddenly had a dream.
2. You Don’t Need All the Answers
How was I going to accomplish this? I had never done any long bicycling trips. I had never even ridden my bike more than 40 miles in a day.
“Well I’ve got to figure out a way, I’ve got a dream now after all.”
I began brainstorming. I didn’t know of anyone that had ever done something like this and I had lots of questions. So I decided to go to my good friend for advice. Sometimes her advice is way off, and she can’t always be trusted, but if you’ve got a good filter she can be very helpful. Her name is Google. She helped me pick up some tips on traveling by bike. I also found out from Google that I wasn’t the first one to come up with this grand idea of riding a bicycle across continents. There were lots of people that had ridden across the USA on two wheels. Most had no bicycling experience and I quickly learned that there were about 1,000 different ways to skin this cat.
“If these random people can do it, I surely can.” I figured. I still didn’t know how, but I knew I could pull it off. The further I dug though; I found out that no person has ever pedaled a bicycle across all seven continents. Now I’m locked in. I’ve got a dream, and it’s something nobody has ever accomplished. This is too good to be true!
Then the questions started to creep in. How would I ride a bike day in and day out? Where would I stay each night? What If my bike breaks down? What if I get attacked by a psychopathic cyclist killer? These were all the thoughts that were bouncing around in my head. The answer was the same to all the questions. “I don’t know.”
I wish I knew then, what I know now. You don’t need all the answers! You can figure it out as you go. Just like when you’re three questions in to a chemistry exam and you realize you don’t know how to balance an equa….. okay maybe not the best example. It’s more like the age old saying: “When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade.” The lemons in my story were opportunities. We are all given lots of opportunities in life. It’s our job to seize these opportunities and start that lemonade stand. Opportunity is not a lengthy visitor, don’t wait to act on it. I wasn’t sure my body was fit enough. I had never traveled solo or ridden a bike with fully loaded gear. And I certainly had never gone door to door asking to camp in strangers’ backyards.
I definitely did not have all the answers, or even most of them. I wasn’t going to let that stop me though. I wasn’t going to miss this chance and wonder for the rest of my life if I could have done it or not.
3. Open Mindedness is Followed by Happiness
I am a competitor at heart. I love being challenged and pushing myself. That is one of the reasons I love traveling so much. I get to test my limits and raise the bar. While traveling you are constantly thrown into new situations. It forces you to either adapt or give up. Every day is refreshing with a unique set of challenges. Most of them are small, but some are large. It just depends on how you perceive it. Take crossing the Rocky Mountains on a bike for example. You could consider it a large challenge if you look at it as a whole, or a small challenge if you look at it from the “One step at a time” perspective. Focus on the present, thinking too far down the road cultivates worrying. Remember that a journey of five thousand miles, begins with a single stroke of the pedal.
Ups & Downs
Finally, I was off, into an amazing new world. Okay it wasn’t as amazing as I had imagined. Not at the start anyway. “How could this be my dream? This isn’t very much fun, and its hard work.” I thought to myself. I started in Maine rather early in the spring and it was freezing. Mix that in with my aching legs and the saddle sores that began sprouting up like daisies. The first week was pretty rough to say the least. Oh, and don’t look up saddle sores, you’ll be sorry. Just know that they are not cool. I could have easily given up and headed home. I decided to push through the tough times though, to see where I would end up. Most things that are worth doing require hard work.
After this initiation period, things started looking up. It was just a mental adjustment more than anything though. I had a talk with myself, (this happens when you are on the road for long periods of time without company) “If I don’t start enjoying myself, I’m not going to enjoy this trip.” A simple adjustment in the way I looked at the situation made all the difference. From that moment on I began focusing on the positives and belittling the negatives. I looked at the continent as a complex obstacle course. It was full of hidden short cuts, and side quests. There were also plenty of characters to meet along the way.
Halfway across the country in the land flat as a pancake, I came across two of the most memorable characters on the trip. I met Dan and Tormod in Kansas on a very windy day. These two had ridden together for a few weeks already, and relished a new riding companion. We rode together for a day, which became two, then three, and then others joined. In a matter of days, I went from riding solo to being a part of a biker gang. There were now five of us, and we made a great team. We could share our stories of the road, and talk about the daily happenings when we set up camp for the night. Three of us were named Dan, and the other two were Norwegian. I don’t think the name Dan exists in Norway, so we gave them each a special exemption pass that allowed them to still be on the team. Now our dreams were intertwined and we were all headed to the coast.
4. You Don’t Need All the Bells and Whistles
To be honest you don’t need much to do a trip like this, to bike across the USA. I bought some cheap gear for the trip, but most of the things I used were old odds and ends from around the house. I was labeled the “Hobo” of our posse. Rightfully so. I had the perfect bike…. if we were on a mountain biking trail. It wasn’t designed for bicycle touring, but it got the job done. I used two backpacks leftover from my days in school, and I had a ten-foot security chain that was capable of towing a semi-truck. I had a cheapo 4-person tent that had sat in my parents’ garage for years. I bought a tarp and some bungie cords and I was nearly set. I figured I would never be too far from civilization so if I really needed something I would be able to barter it somehow.
Far more important than any of these tangible items are the internal ones. First and foremost, you’ve got to have the desire. This is the root to nearly everything in life. If you really want to succeed at something, it should be something you love. If you have a firm desire to do something, things will start to fall into place. Where there’s a will there’s a way.
Second to desire is determination. If you’re like most of us, motivation will fade in and out. Some days you’ve got it, some days you don’t. Determination is the constant in the equation. Being determined and having a will of steel is what will keep you going. Whether it’s in school, at work, raising a family, or bicycling across the united states, this is the thing that will keep you moving forward.
Desire and determination are ten times more important than having the best gear or the most expensive bike. Those things will eventually get worn out or break. Pure determination will last a lifetime.
5. You Can See the World on a Budget
Travelling can be compared to most things in life. The fruits are dependent upon the bearer. The experiences, friendships, and hardships you face in life will greatly depend on you, and the person you are. Cost is no exception to this rule. I thought you had to have rich parents or be well off in order to travel. I couldn’t have been more wrong. If you’re not swimming in money, that’s okay! You just need to be a bit more creative with your saving and spending. I am a simple, laid-back person, and I consider myself very low maintenance. I may be over stepping my bounds, but I would venture to say that I spent less money on my tour across the USA than 95% of others that accomplished the same feat. Not once did I spend a single penny on accommodation. I camped out almost every night, usually in a stranger’s yard, a town park, or hidden in a patch of woods. If I didn’t camp out I probably charmed my way into a stranger’s home, or slept someplace I probably wasn’t supposed to (example: abandoned log cabin, fire tower, vacant castle etc.). I never got into trouble once or came across one bad person. The point I’m trying to make is that if you want to “Rough It” and travel on the cheap, you certainly can.
I didn’t eat like a king. I ate lots of tuna, and tons of PB&J sandwiches. Once you acquire your gear you can bike across the USA for under $10 per day, if you go full on “Hobo” that is. If saving up a bit of cash is an issue for you, consider going on a shorter trip, or save up over a longer period of time. Spending under $1,000 dollars for the trip of a lifetime is very inexpensive. If roughing it isn’t your style don’t sweat it, there is no wrong way to bicycle tour, unless you’re not having a good time. If you stay in hotels regularly that will bump up the total price of the trip a good bit. Maybe you’ve got the budget for it, or maybe that’s something that is important to you. Some bicycle tourists stay in hotels most nights, and they love it. Don’t stay in hotels every night though! There is a very special feeling you get when you set up the tent that you carried across the country, through all the blood, sweat, and tears. It is a nomadic, almost primal feeling.
6. There are Plenty of Reasons to Go for It!
I’ve touched on it a little bit, but for those of you that have read this far and are still not sold on the whole “biker thing”, this is my last chance to sway your opinion.
Here are a few of the perks of biking across a country:
I met so many amazing people on this trip across the USA. They are by far the things I am most fond of when I recall memories of the journey. From mad potters, to hillbillies with flamethrowers, they made the trip what it was. Not to mention the awesome traveling buddies I serendipitously met while on the road: Dan 1, Tormod, Dan 3, and Sveinung. These guys were all great, I couldn’t have asked for a better crew. If you’re friendly and somewhat talkative you are bound to meet lots of interesting characters. You’re going to meet some even if you’re shy.
Before this trip, my westward travel in the US stopped at Michigan. There was a lot of this huge country that I had never seen. My eyes were forcefully opened. There are some long rivers and massive mountains out there. From the frozen shoreline in Maine, to the bubbling hot springs in Wyoming, this trip had tons of eye candy. Seeing these breathtaking places may not seem important to you if you haven’t done much exploring, but believe me they are. These amazing sites act as the mortar that helps to hold the trip’s memories together. Without them, the trip would seem very two dimensional in hindsight.
Get in Shape
I have always been in decent shape, but riding 70 miles for over 70 days upgraded my body to the next level. I was getting plenty of vitamin D and fresh mountain air. Mix that with my protein rich diet of peanut butter and tuna, and my legs were transformed into two rock hard limbs. Okay they weren’t rock hard, but there was a noticeable difference in size and strength. I also loved the tremendous appetite I would work up on the daily. It made munching on food so much more enjoyable.
I’ve got so many memories and stories from this ride. It is crazy thinking back, the whole trip was only two and a half months long. Two and a half months in the big scheme of things is nothing. That is less than ¼ of a year. Do me a favor, think back over the last two and a half months of your life. Try to come up with a short list of things that you experienced, that you will remember for the rest of your life. If you’re like me when I’m stuck at home, you can probably count all of them on one hand. In stark contrast, I can remember details about almost every single day on this trip. Your brain has a phenomenal memory if you’re feeding it worthwhile experiences.
7. There is More than One Moral to a Good Story
Needless to say, the five of us made it to the coast. We all accomplished our own goals and helped each other out along the way. I keep in touch with these guys regularly and I reckon I made some lifelong friends.
I could begin naming a thousand reasons why the trip was life changing, but that’s not what you want to hear. This article is for you guys after all. If I can inspire even one person to go out and start pursuing their dream, I have made an impact. I purposely didn’t break down the “How To Bike Across the USA” all that much. The truth is, an adventure like this can be whatever you make of it. It is a DIY trek, and there isn’t a set of rules or a handbook for this sort of thing. That’s the beauty of it. You get to experience absolute freedom. I feel freer out on the road with my fully loaded bike, cruising at a measly pace, than at any other time in my life. I don’t have any regrets from traveling. The only regrets I have in life spur from missed opportunities. It’s better to go and wish you hadn’t, then to not go and wish you had.
Biking Across Countries
I loved this trip so much that I am going to continue pursuing my dream to cycle across all seven continents. Most dreams can’t be accomplished alone, but luckily, they don’t have to be. There are billions of good people out there in the world that will gladly lend a helping hand. “Be good to others and they will be good to you.” That statement has always held true throughout my travels.
The hospitality I witnessed on this trip gave me a great outlook on the world and on my own life. I’ve been told I’m too trusting of strangers. I just try to look for the good in people. In my experience, a mix of optimism and hard work can get you through anything. Until I’m proven wrong I’m going to continue believing that.
Don’t just coast through life. The thing about coasting is, you can only coast downhill. Pedal to the top of as many mountains as you can. That makes the downhills much more enjoyable!
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