Biologist on a Bike

My Story

Bicycle touring, while much more popular than it was even ten years ago, is not exactly a mainstream sport. Of all the people I told about my ride, I can only think of two who knew about bike touring by way of having friends who tour. It makes sense, therefore, that one of the most common questions I get is to ask my motivation for undertaking a coast-to-coast ride. After all, I have never done something of this magnitude before. A five-night backpacking trip to the Grand Canyon, yes, but not a two-month solo journey on a bike across the country.

So here are my answers to some of the more common questions I’ve been asked over the last year and a half as I’ve been preparing for this tour.

How did I learn about bike touring?

I don’t remember precisely what brought it to mind last autumn when I started researching the TransAmerica Trail. I do, however, remember the first time I spoke to a couple on a bicycle tour (although I hardly knew it was called that). It was shortly after I moved to Chicago, so some time around 2007. Despite being on the Chicago Lakefront path in the midst of a bustling city, both the man and the woman looked as though they they had been backpacking in the wilderness for a few weeks. I stopped my ride and we chatted for a few minutes.

Within a few weeks I had all but forgotten about the meeting. It certainly never struck me as something that I would do.

Why now?

For several years I worked as an adjunct professor, working at two or three campuses a semester to make ends meet. In January 2015, I was hired in a tenure-track position. The tenure process at my school was intense, and I promised myself early on that if I got tenure I would take the following summer off. Well, this is the summer after I got tenure.

Why this?

This question is more difficult to answer.

At first my summer off was to be just that, a summer off. Maybe living at my parents’ cabin in the Poconos. That morphed to wanting to undertake a challenge. I enjoy backpacking and already had some gear and some experience, so I researched the Appalachian Trail, thinking about attempting a thru-hike, or at least as long a section as I could manage between the Spring and Fall semesters.

One friend believes that she set the flea in my ear about bike touring, insisting that we had a conversation about it and I shot the idea down, saying that it required too much equipment that I didn’t have, such as a bike (R.B., that’s you). It’s entirely possible. It sounds like something I’d say, although I have no memory of the conversation.

The conversation might have been the subconscious motivation driving me when I typed in “bike across America” into Google on a whim. Down the rabbit hole I went. The average time for a cross country ride was definitely doable in the time frame available (more so than completing the Appalachian Trail in one go). And I like riding, having completed several triathlons.

Once an idea like that takes hold in my brain, it has a tendency to take over. Soon I was researching bikes, reading blogs, and generally finding out all I could about bike touring and planning a coast to coast ride.

Are you doing this to raise money for charity?

No, this is simply a challenge that I wanted to undertake. However, if reading about this trip has inspired you to want to give, here are a few charities and 501(c)(3) organizations you might consider donating to.

Global Fund for Women: This organization has a large network of partners who work together to fund and support women-organized groups supporting women’s rights around the world.

Brain & Behavior Research Foundation: This organization awards research grants to fund scientific research into mental illness.

Kenneth J. Washington Memorial Scholarship: A scholarship fund created in memory of Master Washington, a wonderful man with whom I trained at Fitzgerald’s Martial Arts for several years. This scholarship fund is in its infancy, but will award 4-year scholarships to students who train at Fitzgerald’s Martial Arts.

Meryton Literary Society: the Meryton Literary Society maintains A Happy Assembly, a website (requires login) devoted to Jane Austen: discussion of the regency times, Austen’s stories, and the writing and reading of Jane Austen fanfiction. The site is kept free for all members through donations, either direct or through the Amazon Smile program.


If you have any other questions you’d like to ask me, feel free do so in the comments below.