My Experience Biking Across the United States
At 24 years old, I found myself embarking on one of the most unique and formative experiences of my life. Almost five years later, I still recount the adventure of biking across the country with disbelief--harmonized with newfound confidence and a strong sense of accomplishment and purpose.
The process of “becoming a cyclist” as an adult happened gradually for me. As a novice, I began riding haphazardly throughout my native Miami with no real sense for rules, etiquette, or safety. Still, I was overjoyed with the newly revealed freedom and the meditative trance I fell into every time I got on my bike. After a short time biking in Miami, I impulsively moved to Denver in the summer of 2014. Denver offered a more deeply embedded cycling culture and the infrastructure to match (comparatively). I also met my now fiancé, Austin, that summer and he had been cycling for years and even opted to sell his car to bike year-round. It was then that I started pushing myself to ride further and more often.
As much as I was enjoying the sport, I was still new to it when Austin sprung on me that he was considering biking across the country after we finished school. We were both in grad school and slated to graduate in June of 2016. At that point, I had only been cycling for two years. But he had learned about the TransAmerica Trail, a 4,200-mile trail spanning from Oregon to Virginia, years prior to us meeting and he felt that the timing was finally right for him to embark on that adventure. After months of delicate but periodic nudging, I took a chance on myself and agreed to join him.
There was so much for me to learn, so many logistics and fears, and so little time. I needed a new bike, racks, bike bags, camping and rain gear--and I knew nothing about any of it. I had to unearth the confidence that I could bike at least 50 miles a day, had to ignore all the stories I read about the threat of drivers and stray dogs on the trail, and I had to somehow fight off the sense of trepidation that I felt when reviewing the route maps and elevation profiles. Was I really about to do this? I had no reason to, it wasn’t a dream of mine, I had no training, my family was concerned, and my anxiety was overwhelming. But still, it felt like I was called to do it. Something in me decided it was something I needed to take a chance on--and off we went.
We started in Yorktown, Virginia on June 13th, 2016, and made it to the endpoint in Astoria, Oregon 101 days and 4,468 miles later. The experience was sometimes brutal and testing, but the legitimate fears I had were eclipsed by the fire that was ignited in me throughout the journey. It turns out that the physical challenge of the ride was the least to be concerned with. The real trial was in tapping into and further developing resilience and fortitude to overcome setbacks (and there were plenty!). Beyond the challenges, we were able to meet so many people that treated us with unmerited hospitality, we were able to traverse and marvel at beautiful vistas, and we were able to learn so much about ourselves and each other. The ride was a liberating, vulnerable, exhausting, and glorious experience.
Bike touring across the United States sparked a major breakthrough in my life. It was an achievement in and of itself, but it also helped me deconstruct the narratives I had internalized about my inherent capacity and deservingness. This feeling is magnified by the likelihood that I am the first Black woman to complete the TransAmerica Trail on an unsupported ride. I hope that sharing my story helps instill the confidence others may need to choose their own adventure and take a chance on themselves. You never know if you’ll make history.
Written by: Stephanie Puello