I distinctly remember when I first realized I could ride my bicycle to the Speedy’s gas station and convenience store about a mile from my house in Greensburg, Pennsylvania.
I was somewhere around eight years old. I was elated when it occurred to me that I could go there and buy a slurpee on a hot summer day all by myself. “Freedom!” I thought. Growing up in rural southwestern Pennsylvania, I was pretty dependent on a vehicle, so realizing I could get myself anywhere on my own felt liberating. (Little did I know that many years later, I would sometimes even more eagerly anticipate a convenience store and maybe even a slurpee after miles of empty road.)
Fast forward a couple decades and I moved to Venice in Los Angeles, California. The setting looked quite different, but I had a similar revelation. Most people I know hate Los Angeles because of the traffic, but I discovered a clever workaround. I would just live by the beach in a trendy neighborhood and bicycle the seven miles inland to my office tower in Westwood. I loved speeding by the traffic in the perfect 70 degree weather, and I loved Los Angeles. My bicycle gave me a better Los Angeles. A few years later and back in San Francisco, one of my favorite things to do on a Saturday was to bike a 90-mile loop out to Point Reyes and back. On my way back across the Golden Gate Bridge, I would pass all the other city residents on their way home from the same day trip waiting in an endless line of cars to cross the bridge. Meanwhile, I was still fully enjoying the marine breeze, the perfect light of the setting sun, and the iconic bridge view.
In the last two months, I have biked over 4,700 miles across Alaska, Canada, Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, and a little bit of Utah. At first, we were hesitant to take detours from our route. Thirty miles in the wrong direction to see a world famous glacier in Stewart, Alaska felt like too far on a bicycle. But a month into our year-long adventure, we woke up in a bed (on a rare night inside) in Canmore, Alberta, Canada realizing we had biked 2,500 miles without a single day fully off the bike. At that rate, we’d be in Argentina in seven months. While we already had a pretty indirect path to Argentina, it felt great to realize we had banked so much extra time for detours and days off. That meant more time in scenic mountain towns, at friends’ homes, and in places we can experience new cultures. This was similarly liberating and at least as exciting as realizing I could get a Slurpee at Speedy’s on my own. I could get anywhere on my own.
This was the point at which we decided to take a few hundred mile detour to Stanley, Idaho to visit the Cassidys, some dear friends who have a beautiful home on the bank of the Salmon River with a spectacular view of the Sawtooth Mountains. The Sawtooth Mountains present one of my favorite views in the United States, a picture perfect craggy mountain ridge with pockets of snow with the backdrop of a deep blue sky. This spot where we witnessed totality during the 2017 solar eclipse, and the 360 degree sunset/ sunrise had me spinning in circles trying to take in the pastel paradise around me. Two days in a row, we crawled up 5,000 foot gravel climbs through the wild and remote Bitterroot Forest to get there. But arriving by bike on a long journey to a special and familiar place is a unique treat. We took our longest break yet and recovered with a daily routine of taking stand-up-paddle boards or duckies down the river to the hot springs where we’d soak and sip beer.
While in Stanley, I spent some time at the library planning our route through the rest of the United States. Desktop computers make this task much easier than the iPad we are carrying, so public libraries are a great resource. We already knew we would venture back towards the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route from our Idaho detour, but we wanted to cut off from there somewhere to head west towards San Diego and then Baja California, Mexico. Looking at a map with the knowledge that I could cross a state in under a week, I truly felt like I could travel anywhere. Most would think that non-motorized travel would hold you back, but I had never before felt like traveling somewhere I wanted to go was this simple. The magic was a combination of an excess of time and a little effort (okay, sometimes a big effort). This made route planning a joyous task, aside from the painfully slow WiFi connection. Just think how you would feel if you could check off many items on your travel bucket list in the very near future. I looked at a map of Colorado and started pinning mountains towns that I have loved in the past or had wanted to check out: Steamboat Springs, Frisco, Leadville, Aspen, Carbondale, Crested Butte, Ouray, Telluride. Then I dragged around GPX tracks in my route planning tools (Ride with GPS and Google Maps) in search of little back roads that would connect these places and hopefully avoid cars. That’s how we found ourselves on some big, rough mountain passes including Pearl and Imogene.
It’s not just the miles we cover but really the way that we cover those miles that makes bike traveling such a rich and memorable experience. I was delighted when I discovered Imogene Pass Road while messing around with my route planning tools. It presented a straight shot—okay squiggly straight—between Ouray and Telluride. I had remembered hearing that there was only one way into the box canyon that contains Telluride. “Aha!” I thought. It was a secret back way accessible only to jeeps and adventurous cyclists who don’t mind a bit of hike-a-bike. Imogene Pass is the second highest “road” in Colorado and pretty high on the list for North America too. It’s a rugged Jeep trail, with grades in excess of 30%, that climbs up to 13,114 feet. The trail gains 4,350 feet in about eight miles. For our loaded bike rigs, this meant quite a bit of hopping off our bikes and pushing. There were several times when I would shove my bike forward with great effort, hold the brakes so the bike wouldn’t slide back down the hill, step my feet forward, and then start the multi-step routine again.
Despite the many hours it took us to get up to the top of this pass, I didn’t regret selecting such an impossibly hard route. I had time to spare, and this is just how I wanted to spend it. The views were spectacular, the crisp mountain air was invigorating, and I received tons of encouragement from the incredulous Jeep drivers who had never before seen bicycles on that road. I felt the most accomplished I have on this trip when I arrived at the worn-down wooden sign that marked the top of that pass. Tired from the effort and oxygen deprivation, I still climbed on top of a little post to take a photo in a victory pose with a big grin on my swollen face. That’s the only time on this trip I’ve felt the need to commemorate and celebrate an effort quite like that. When you ride as much as we have been, it becomes hard to replicate the feeling I used to get from a really challenging ride. It’s a feeling of totally destroying your body where you somehow feel weak from the effort in a good way. If you’ve never experienced this, I have no hope of describing it in writing. I used to get this feeling from my Point Reyes loop or riding a century in a day. Maybe it’s endorphins, maybe it’s the relief of completing the struggle, or maybe it’s just feeling like I earned my beer and tacos in Telluride. I didn’t know until completing Imogene Pass, but I had missed that feeling.
About an hour before reaching the top of Imogene pass, I spotted a mountain lion about 50 meters from me. I have always wanted to see this elusive animal, and it was bound to happen given all the hours I’m spending outside in their territory on my quiet bicycle. This was a perfect sighting. The animal trotted mostly away from me—tail raised high to give me an unmistakable signal that this was indeed a lion. At the same time, I thankfully noticed a Jeep a couple switchbacks beneath me that presented some amount of safety for me. But at that very moment, I was on my own to appreciate the adrenaline and beauty of a rare wildlife encounter. Had I been climbing in a Jeep, that lion would have heard me coming long before and run off without giving me the slightest clue of its presence.
At so many stages of my life, my bicycle has given me a different—and I think fuller—perspective of the world including showing me the best side of people. We have received so much help and encouragement of all sorts from people we have met along the way. If you are following our live location, you probably noticed we were stuck in Bland(ing), Utah (parenthesis added) for a few days. Devon caught some sort of bug that he can’t seem to kick. We needed to be considerably more cautious than normal in departing Blanding because the next 90 miles of riding were through a desert with no services, no water sources, and no shade. Then we’d find a convenience store and Lake Powell and go another 80 miles with no services, no water sources, and no shade. It was not the most appealing prospect to someone feeling awful even in an air conditioned room with a bathroom.
There’s not much in Blanding, and it’s not exactly where I would have chosen to spend a few days. (I’ve been kicking myself for not making Devon rest in Telluride when he was starting to feel sick.) The best thing I found in Blanding was a cute little roadside place called Pop’s Burritos, and Pop was extremely generous in trying to help us out. He treated us to burritos and insisted that we take his phone number and call him for a rescue by truck if Devon felt ill again once we hit the road. While Devon was resting and I was making friends with every single person in and passing through Blanding, I met some hippies traveling by antique motorcycle who insisted I take the last of their liquid colloidal minerals to help Devon recover. As I said, we receive generous help of all sorts. (Devon may or may not have refused the colloidal minerals when I brought them back to him.) Our final and extremely generous help in Blanding came from a friend who frequently flies around the southwest with his own bikes in his Cessna. After learning of Devon’s illness and the predicament it put us in for keeping plans to celebrate Devon’s birthday with friends in a favorite spot outside Zion, he offered a quick plane hop across Utah. This put Devon in a much better spot for recovery and rescued me from Blanding boredom. (We plan to return to Blanding and pick up where we left off early next week. You can’t bike from Alaska to Argentina without Utah!)
I expect we have only had the teeniest taste so far of how richly we can experience the world by choosing human-power over gasoline, and I can’t wait to get to Central and South America where there will be more potential for new cultural experiences. I can’t come up with a better way to sum up how I feel about this than what I read on a sticker at The Adventure Cycling Association  headquarters in Missoula, Montana. Bike travel takes you farther.
 If you’d like to follow our live location, just shoot us a message via the contact form, and we can give you the password. We just have this filter, so we don’t get spam messages over our satellite device because we are charged by the message.
 The Adventure Cycling Association is a non-profit that maps long distance U.S. bike routes including the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route.