Here are the questions I get asked most often about this project. By the way, all of these (except the duck one) are the same ones people asked (and the same one they didn’t ask) re: my Peace Corps scheduled departure (derailed due to COVID). This trip, projected to be five months, will be 22 months shorter than my time in Uganda would have been, and yet . . .
What does your husband think? (hands-down the number 1 and often-only question I get asked, which is . . . interesting in the year 2023.) He’s obviously in support, as he is with anything I’ve ever wanted to do (as I am with him — 33 years and counting, team). He’s also clearly the star of this other book of mine, if you are interested in meeting him. If this question is less about me (which is what I now suspect) and more about how you can fulfill your own personal callings within your own marriage, or life in general, then I think you may really enjoy following this journey! Here are ways to be involved. Warning: you may get inspired to shake your tail feather in a whole new way 🙂
What about bathrooms? (easily the second-most-asked question, specifically about farm accommodations — fun fact: no one really wants the detailed answer, although I already have a cry-laughing story to tell! I may even kick off the book with a short version of it!) (Yep. Turns out I did. You can read it for free here.)
What’s with the duck? Believe me — I didn’t intend the duck thing to happen. First I fell in love with an old dirt road with a Slow Duck Crossing sign that I discovered while Traveling at the Speed of Bike, which then inspired me to write this middle-grade novel about a girl taking on city hall.
Then, I kept leaving little ducks all over the place and people liked them.
Then, I got a communications job in Alaska (remotely) and my team loved the ducks on the book shelf in back of me on Zoom (which I then shipped to them).
Then, I brought my friend Caryn to Slow Duck Crossing on our bikes.
Then, she brought me back a multicolored duck from Amsterdam, which I named Disco and Gorilla-glued onto a bike light strap and wrapped around my handlebars. He turned out to be so much fun (see I Like Your Duck) that I got to thinking we should go cross-country, that maybe he’d make other people happy, too.
And isn’t a little Disco Duck what we could use right about now?
How can you afford to do this? I can’t afford not to. Just as our country is at a crossroads, so am I. There’s a pomegranate tree I planted in my back yard that’s never been happy there. That’s me in suburbia. I have never fit in (I moved to Metro Atlanta from New York City 33 years ago), although lots of good has happened for us here and I am appreciative of that. But there are other ways to live a life, and I want us to make a truly conscientious decision moving forward, with regards to where and how I can be the most helpful.
If you want to talk pure dollars and cents: it’s important to me to model affordability so that what I do is replaceable for others. Between WWOOFing (for which I exchange 4-6 hours of labor a day for room and board), Couchsurfing, Workaway, and friends, I’m hoping to do this trip for less than it costs me at home. In fact, I’m hoping to do it for the same budget (an average of $20 a day) that I had when traipsing around 10 European countries in 1985.
As a seasoned freelance writer, I’m also hoping to snag some trip-related gigs at my same market rate since 1996 ($150 an hour copywriting; a buck a word editorial), in addition to potential eventual book sales.
I’m considering sponsor packages as well, specifically for transportation (which is the biggest cost on this trip). I’m looking at you, Amtrak and Greyhound! Need a writer-in-residence? (Don’t laugh — Amtrak hired 10 writers to do this a few years ago!) I’m considering featuring other sponsored products as well but I’m not sure about that — I need to really love things to use and promote them. Wanna cover a coffee? That, I love :). BuyMeACoffee makes it easy and secure to do so. Thanks!
What about your mother? This is from folks who know my mom is 87, is local, has had prior health challenges, and I see her every week. She’s never been anything but supportive of everything I’ve ever wanted to do — including last year when she joined my Atlanta Bike Challenge team for BikeTober! (Thanks, Mom.) I have other elders and people with health issues in my life, and I chose to limit this trip to domestic locations and a reasonable length of time with that in mind so that if I’m needed, I can get to them relatively easily. (Note: I see many women, in particular, put their lives on hold for years “in case” they are needed. I think COVID reminded us about our nonrenewable time here on earth — and the value of living out loud, authentically, each and every day.)
How does the mileage break down? Intercity mileage equals 6639.9 total miles (not as the duck flies but actual rubber-hits-the-road via buses and trains). Significant local transport to/from farms, friends, family puts the total well over 7,000 miles. Here’s the intercity breakdown. There are hundreds of stops along the way. Cities mentioned in parentheses are places I get to transfer buses and meet more nice people.
Atl to Durham 382.4
Durham to Philly 396.8
Philly to NYC 93.9
NYC to Joplin 1,2547 (Pittsburgh: 369.3; St. Louis: 601.7; final leg: 283.7)
Joplin to Denver: 910.3 (Amarillo: 476.5; final leg: 433.8)
Denver to Salt Lake City 518.7
Salt Lake City to Provo 45.3
Provo to Las Vegas 270.5
Las Vegas to Los Angeles 270.5
Los Angeles to New Orleans 1900.5
New Orleans to Atlanta 489.4
How old are you? I’m 59. I pedal into 60 at the tail end of this journey. I grew up in the 1970s and there’s a feral quality from that time that runs through my blood to this day. In fact, I feel more like the 10-year-old me than ever before. And damn, I loved that girl.
The one question I almost never get asked but to me is the most personally, professionally and societally interesting is:
Why do you want to do this? (Ahhhh, now we’re talkin’!) Short answer? I think I can make a difference — both during the journey and with what I learn as a result of it — at a time when I believe hands-on know-how is going to be increasingly important regarding all aspects of sustainability, mitigation, adaptation, resiliency — and maybe, most at risk, dignity. I also think this could be fun, and fun (including joy as an act of resistance) matters now more than ever. Join me! Follow this website. Follow the dedicated TikTok (and/or my more general one @SpeedOfBike). Take a peek at my other books, available all over the world. And stay tuned — lots of fun (and scary-to-me) things are planned, although the best parts of this trip will surely be unplanned.
As I’m getting closer to departure, here’s another question I’m getting pretty regularly:
Do you feel safe? What a complicated question. I thought about this yesterday as I got a mammogram. My mom has already survived two different breast cancers. We know that in addition to family history, so many environmental factors can cause cancer. Breathing, eating, being is dangerous. A healthy diet and regular exercise seems to help. So I do that. And then there’s COVID. I still mask in public indoors. I try to avoid crowds.
I had BikeNoodle with me yesterday. It serves as a traveling bike lane in places that are dangerous-by-design, such as where I live, and works miraculously. Except that one time. But it’s not coming with me. So that presents challenges.
My local police blotter is packed daily with motor vehicle driver charges, and I expect many communities around the USA are similar. I have dangerous encounters every single day just trying to get to the supermarket or park. A hero ain’t nothin’ but a sandwich. A hero ain’t nothin’ but a sandwich I chant to myself like a mantra, to remind me to make conservative choices with the only goal of making it home alive.
Whether in a parking lot or on mass transit, I do the twenty or more things every girl and woman learns to do when we walk out out the door. It’s so routine at this point it’s almost subconscious:
- The keys between the fingers
- The Birdie alarm dangling from our bags, which are worn cross-chest
- 911 at our fingertips ready to push
- Looking over our shoulders constantly
- Not reading a book on a park bench
- Memorizing license plates
- Locking our doors the very second we get in cars and while outside pumping gas
- Clipping up our ponytails so we can’t be yanked into alleyways or cars
- Sitting near the bus driver, another woman or family, or the call button or phone when riding trains
- Eye contact if face-to-face with someone who seems threatening so we can identify them in a lineup, but no eye contact with drivers because that’s when harassment is most likely to happen (despite what general biking classes tell you — this is why I created my own classes specifically for women and girls — you can access them for free globally here)
- Pretending to ignore people who seem “off” for some reason (while sizing up the situation and having five escape strategies in mind)
- Knowing our bikes can be used as getaway vehicles, barriers (including from dogs) and self-defense weapons
- Holding our u-lock in our hands
- Limiting time outside at night, even when it gets dark at 5:30 pm
- Choosing routes extremely carefully, including avoiding multiuse paths that are isolated and don’t have frequent escape routes
- Pivoting and making different choices based on a continual feedback loop of trusting our guts
- And, importantly, balancing these reality-based actions with reminders of our personal and collective power by connecting with other women, such as the astounding Nikki Vargas, who show traveling alone is not only possible and desirable but contagiously life-changing. Nikki is the co-founder of the most gorgeous magazine of all time, Unearth Women, and author — along with Unearth Women co-founder Elise Fitzsimmons — of the excellent solo-woman travel advice book Wanderess. She is the sole author of her soon-to-be-released memoir Call You When I Land. (My article titled Bicycle Safety Tips for Female Travelers was published in Unearth Women.)
Update: You may also find this excerpt about street harassment enlightening. It’s from my book Traveling at the Speed of Bike.
I additionally know it is statistically more dangerous for me to stay home and sit on the couch (obesity, heart disease, diabetes and depression are far bigger killers of women). I know that women are reclaiming our right to exist in public space all over the world, and that as a mother of two daughters, and now as a “woman of a certain age,” I want to help create, through my mere presence, a more-welcoming public sphere for them for generations to come. The future safety of all women and girls depends on our normalization of us alone in public now. You may appreciate this aspirational media release I wrote titled Teenage Girl Saves Herself from Attacker about a real incident that happened right here in my city.
As always, I know my Higher Power is my co-pilot, and that I feel a calling. And I’ve discovered, oddly, that oranges seem to help. Here’s how.
I’m also afraid of snakes and scorpions and horses that kick and goats with horns and the heat of the desert and tornadoes and guns and maybe even the possibility of joining a cult, and a whole bunch of other things that I expect I’ll encounter on this journey. So, there’s that.
In case you haven’t heard this story yet (I may tell it in the book — it’s another funny one — you can read Chapter 1: Tiny House, Big Idea for free here), you’re talkin’ to the person who was scared of Honey Bunny. I got a long way to go, team.