Sometimes the Cause Finds You
When we first set off on the road almost 2 years ago, we did so for all the normal reasons. We wanted to lose and find ourselves, discover meaning, simplify, test ourselves physically, mentally, and emotionally. We also had a strong desire to get away from it all. We desired nothing more than to bolt outside into the big wide world like a 3rd grader to recess.
We were seeking the bicycle version of escaping to the Bahamas – sitting in a folding canvas beach chair and drinking little Coronas out of a steel bucket filled with ice. There were no folding chairs and Coronitas (much to our dismay), but we did manage to reach escape velocity and break free from the gravity of cubicle land and florescent lighting and it was all perfect. Almost.
We are social creatures. The cruel irony of travel is that, even though you meet new people all the time, at the end of the day, when you are in the stillness of your tent, you are reminded that it is a largely solitary act. It is usually then that you realize that you have deliberately uprooted yourself from your tribe. Of course, everything is just dandy at first. During those early months of a trip, you are in a state of constant amazement and distraction. Colors are more vibrant on the road than at home, and the mundane is elevated to the poetic. It is this honeymoon period of travel that most people visualize when they think of unplugging and running away.
It sounds ungrateful to admit this, but over time those colors on the road dull just a little. That eccentric chatterbox at your campsite who, at the beginning of your trip, you would have gladly entertained and filed mentally as a “colorful character,” just becomes another obstacle in your way to sleep, quiet and privacy. The small sad dusty towns that once took on emblematic meaning as the State of America are revealed as just small sad dusty towns. Even the most profoundly beautiful landscape begins to cloy after pedaling through it, uphill, for days.
In our previous lives, before PathLessPedaled.com, both Laura and I were advocates by nature. Laura worked at several non-profits that did good work around the world. I was heavily involved in bike advocacy in Long Beach. Helping others and making some sort of positive change in our communities was a large part of our identities. We gave that up to go bike touring. You would think that the promise of constant TravelVacationFunTime! would make it easy to forget about the frustrations of advocacy. But amazingly, it’s not.
What we’ve discovered is that, not only are we social creatures, but we also really like to build things. Perhaps this explains the near universal popularity of Legos and the existence of that big wall in China. Beyond just physical structures we can see from space, we also build our careful circles of friends, communities, and institutions that reflect our values. Sadly, when you are on the road all the time, one does not bring along Legos, literal or otherwise.
When we started to dream up our next trip, we knew we wanted to do it on Bromptons and we knew we wanted to do it on trains. Although excited about it, I think for both of us, to go out again for just TravelVacationFunTime! rang a little hollow this time around. We would have no doubt enjoyed it, but it would have been the enjoyment you’d get out of eating that second piece of chocolate cake. A little less enjoyable than the first and filled with empty calories.
We have enjoyed being sailors, moving nimbly where the wind would blow us, but we also missed being builders – creating something meaningful that was larger than ourselves. So this is how we now find ourselves in the strange predicament of wanting to ride for something.
Our first time around was largely for us, but even then there was an innate calling to reach out. After a few months of travel, we decided to try giving presentations. If for nothing else, it gave us another internal challenge and fulfilled that part of our natures that liked doing good. Surprisingly, we found that we really enjoyed it. There was a great joy in answering someone’s question about bike touring in person, or getting an email from someone weeks after a presentation telling us that they were so moved about our talk that they went on an S24O themselves. For us, it felt as if we weren’t just moving through the landscape, but, in our own small way, making it a little bit better as we passed.
Our advocacy goal, the cause that found us and won’t let go is to “redefine the All-American road trip.” To inspire others to not only travel their country by bike, but also to travel by train, which we feel is important in our transportation future. The combination of the bike and train, like one of our readers so eloquently put it, is the “peanut butter and chocolate of transportation.”
But aren’t there already plenty of bike advocates and train advocates? Yes, there are oodles of them. The problem isn’t the lack of bike and train advocates, it is that there doesn’t yet seem to be a shared vision between the two. Bikes and trains seem to be an either/or proposition. Our goal, as we see it, is to help create that shared vision. To show how they could work seamlessly together in modern life and make it look like something other people would want to do. The tangible product of the vision will be our writings, our photographs, our presentations and the videos we will produce. Advocacy through adventure.
So that, Dear Readers, is the raison d’etre of this next trip. Sometimes you ride just because and sometimes you ride for a cause. This time around, we find ourselves inexplicably drawn to the latter. We hope you continue to read and follow our journey. If you feel like it is worthwhile, please help us with our fundraising campaign on IndieGoGo. If you are supportive, but can’t assist financially, you can help us out by spreading the word or emailing us and telling us what you think.
Russ April 6, 2011 at 12:37 am
We stumbled upon biketrain.ca and were really intrigued. If we get up there in time then we’ll definitely try to connect with them.
Ellen June 20, 2011 at 8:01 pm
I just wanted to chime in and tell you how much I admire what you and Laura have done and plan to do. You are consistently insightful and honest and it’s a pleasure to follow along on your adventures!
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If you get up to our part of North America (Ontario). You may be interested in these bike/train initiatives and the people who started them: