Across the Country on My Bicycle Alone [Guest Post]

Across the Country on My Bicycle Alone [Guest Post]
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I once bicycled across the country, from San Francisco to New Hampshire. It had been one of the things I had always wanted to do.

I have always been a “lone wolf” in my adventures, but with the enormity of this venture, I decided to see if I could find someone to go with.

I advertised for a partner.

Fortunately, the only call I got was from a guy who had already done the same thing and told me that if I went with other people I would not have the same experience as if I went alone.

I decided then and there to make this my own adventure.

I wanted to be able to travel where and when I wanted. I had no particular itinerary except to take a Northern route from San Francisco.

The coast of California was beautiful, with horse farms and great state parks.

Many of the parks had hiker/biker campsites that were only $1-3. When I left the coast I headed inland and toured through Oregon and Idaho.

The Sawtooths were breathtaking with their jagged edges and snow covered peaks.

redfish lake

A Good Reason to Leave a Clean Campsite

When I got to Wyoming, I knew I had to see Yellowstone.

I spent 10 days camping and cycling around Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. One night I camped with a group of high schoolers in Grand Teton.

In the middle of the night, some sort of large sounding animal (I was too petrified to get out and look) was huffing and sniffing around my tent. I froze until I could no longer hear it moving around.

yellowstone national park

In the morning, as I was breaking down camp, I found an apple under my tent, apparently left by one of the high schoolers.

I felt like I had almost become a snack for some huge animal. Just reminded me how important it was to keep a clean campsite.

Although I camped in Yellowstone among lots of grizzly bear poop, I never saw a grizzly.

The large herds of buffalo were fascinating. I had never seen such large numbers of animals in the East (except insects, of course).

Back on Road

Out of Yellowstone, I rode through Cody, Wyoming, definitely a “Western” town.

The museums and other historical aspects of this town were uniquely interesting. I also attended my first rodeo there.

The campground I stayed at had a shuttle to the rodeo and it turned out to be one of the highlights of Cody, in addition to the Buffalo Bill museum.

It was very hot going through South Dakota.

I nearly ran out of water for a couple times. But, between all the hot, dry cycling, was Mount Rushmore, touring an air force base, Wall Drug store (a tourist trap, but worth seeing), and the Badlands.

bicycle in sun

Coming out from Mt. Rushmore, I stopped at Ellsworth Air Force base where you could tour the base (no pictures, though).

What struck me most was the fighter jets all lined up, with barracks nearby. We were told the pilots stayed in the barracks for their shifts, always ready to jump into action in a minutes notice.

Counting Road Signs

From Ellsworth, the route was long and hot.

The only things to see were the many road signs advertising the Wall Drug store, where you could get free ice water.

There must have been a hundred or more signs and by the time I actually got to Wall, I was definitely ready for some of that ice water.

Sure enough, they did serve you free ice water and I gulped a lot of it. The drug store itself was huge and mostly a big souvenir shop.

There was a restaurant also. It was very touristy, but it turned out to be a three day stop for me and several other bikers that had come in the same time I did.

hikers with bicycles

Meeting Someone Like Me

As I arrived in Wall, it started to rain, and it didn’t really stop raining for three more days. I met two groups of bicyclists there, one was two guys who were traveling long distance, another was a group of four guys who were also going cross country and had come by way of Las Vegas.

There was also another lone biker like me.

We all ended up staying in Wall for three more days, hanging out at the drug store by day and eating at an all you can eat restaurant at night. As we all talked about our experiences traveling.

Learning the Difference of Traveling Alone

I could really see the difference between my experience and that of the group of four guys.

It seemed like they had kept to themselves more, where I had met and talked with dozens of people along the way.

I think that is what the caller had been trying to tell me when he said I should go on my trip alone.

That by going with other people I would be more likely to just hang out with them and not experience all the people I might meet along the way.

Finding a Nice Place to Stay Before Heading Out

The owner of the drug store was very nice to us those days, and at one point we asked if we could stay in one of his dorms (he had dorms for all the summer help he hired) as we were tired of camping out in the rain.

He wouldn’t give us a dorm, but he did come out later with ice cream sundaes for all of us. It was a nice treat.

We were able to get some better accommodations for that final night. We had talked to some girls that were waitresses at the all-you-can-eat restaurant, and they offered us the floor in their trailer.

We couldn’t all fit there but I and a couple of the guys took them up on it. It was really not that comfortable, but it was dry.

And it gave us a dry night before packing up and moving out the next day. As we said goodbye, we all were going in different directions.

Focus on the Journey

And forget about the little things that don’t matter

I wanted to go through the Badlands. The other lone rider was also going that way, so we traveled for a day together.

I remember he had very expensive camera equipment and it had gotten rain soaked through the bad weather and was not functional.

bicyle on rad in dark

He seemed to be fixated on his broken camera, and very angry also, so we went our separate ways after a short time together.

I was glad because I wanted to experience the Badlands without the negativity. I probably used several rolls of the film going through there, even though most of the shots probably look the same.

But the beauty was, to me, very powerful.

Just thinking about how the Badlands formed was awe inspiring.

It Was an Adventure I will Never Forget

There were many more great moments during this trip.

I went to Chicago to visit a friend and then from there traveled up to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and then through Canada to Niagara Falls.

Sixteen weeks after flying into San Francisco airport, I made it to a buddy’s house, in New Hampshire.

My route was planned on the fly, mainly by talking to locals and asking what was interesting to see down the road.

I met several groups of people who were traveling a long distance, but I observed that they kept more to themselves and could see that what that caller had told me was true, that it would not have been the same experience if I had gone with others.

My buddy and I went backpacking that weekend in the White mountains, and that was a fun way to end my biggest adventure.

Steve Radke

Steve Radke

Steve Radke Bio: I’ve been a child protection social worker for over 30 years. I am also an adjunct at a local university. I have bicycled and backpacked throughout the Northeast. I was in the Peace Corps in the Eastern Caribbean back in the 80’s. I’d like to start visiting some of the great national parks.