by Todd Miller
(I first wrote about Todd here)
Most people have dreams….some modest, some fanciful, some lingering.
For years I have had a particular aspiration to cycle across the United States. But I never imagined I would have the time and the energy for such a journey. For me, pedaling coast-to-coast was ‘just a dream,’ an aspiration with a similar likelihood as, say, winning the lottery,
When my employer agreed to a two month sabbatical from my day job in television, two things quickly resonated. I wanted to chase this dream, and to pedal with a purpose. Settling on a transcontinental bike trip was the easy part. It took me much longer to settle on the charity to support.
I spent months evaluating various causes, and happened upon A New Day Cambodia (ANDC) through a friend’s introduction. I visited Phnom Penh in January, met the kids and the founders, and observed the charity in action.
I immediately connected to the good work A New Day Cambodia does, and to the 100 very special kids in Cambodia that benefit from this work.
ANDC rescues children from scavenging the municipal dump and emphasizes education and English language learning to break the poverty cycle. What really impressed me about the kids at ANDC is their hopefulness, confidence, sense of future; many whom I spoke to aspire to professional careers. None of this would be possible without ANDC’s nurturing.
I got jazzed thinking how in chasing my particular dream, I was also enabling some deserving children in Cambodia the capacity to dream beyond a life in poverty. Sign me up. This is a cause I wanted to go the distance for. I dubbed the whole endeavour TransAmerica 2010.
So on a cold and grey morning in Astoria, Oregon on June 21, I set off — along with 46 other cyclists — on a 50-day cycling journey across America. It was a start without fanfare or fuss; sometimes the momentous events in life are like that. On that first day I felt like I was cycling across town, not across the country. I was part of a commercially organized, fully supported trip by America by Bike, a company specializing in ultra long distance cycling journeys. To my amazement I was not the only one with such a crazy dream and collectively we had one big goal: to safely get to the other side of the continent.
The route across North America was straightforward: Head East from the Oregon coast. Bear right in Boise. Go over Teton Pass in Wyoming. Cycle pass cornfields for thousands of miles. Cut through Canada, then climb over Vermont’s Green Mountains before coasting to the Atlantic. In total we cycled across all kinds of terrain in ten states and one Canadian province and through many weather conditions, good and bad.
3700 miles and 49 days later, I reached the Atlantic Ocean at Portsmouth, New Hampshire, at high noon. Ceremoniously escorted by police for the final stretch and fuelled by determination, my quads and plenty of delicious ice cream along the way, I crossed a continent and was greeted on the other side by family, friends and a huge banner that said, “Thank You Todd Miller Love ANDC.”
Upon reaching the ocean at Wallis Sands beach, I carried “Bubba,” my trusty Cannondale bike to water’s edge and dipped the front wheel into the cool Atlantic. I hugged my family and many of my fellow riders, and did what came naturally after actualizing a dream and crossing some of the continent’s biggest mountain ranges, largest rivers and lakes, and climbing cumulatively more than 100,000 feet: I got teary-eyed.
Let me put some perspective to these numbers. I cycled 6,000 km in total across the northern US. In comparison, Sydney to Perth is just 4,000 km and my home of Hong Kong is 6,000 km away from Dubai in a straight line. In elevation gain, I cycled the equivalent of about 3.5 times from sea level to the summit of Mt Everest.
When I embarked upon TransAmerica 2010 I intended to cycle Every Friggin’ Safe Inch of the country. I did. Amazingly I crossed the North American continent without either incurring a flat tire or falling. I set out to enjoy myself, and along the way made some friends and perhaps even some lasting friendships. I set out to find the tastiest ice cream in America, which I did at Beernsten’s in Manitowoc, Wisconsin. And I endeavored to find the prettiest barn in America, which I reckon to be this one outside Dayville, Oregon. This happened to be the first striking barn of the trip, and it stuck with me for all these miles.
After 16 years of living in Asia, I also aspired to immerse myself in America, reconnecting with my home country. I went native in the process, fully experiencing Americana at its best. Or, depending upon your perspective, worst.
I watched the Legend of the Rawhide parade in Lusk, Wyoming. I visited the Corn Palace and stampede rodeo in Mitchell, South Dakota — it was a revelation that a corn palace exists! I chatted up the 1993 Bologna Queen in Yale, Michigan, and enjoyed the vibes of Brattstock in Vermont. I visited Bliss, Idaho. It’s hard to top Bliss. An American flag that flew on the back of my bike survived the journey to the Atlantic.
I think of this moment not as an ending, but as a beginning. My new dream, eventually, is to pedal around-the-world, and there are many more momentous experiences in life I look forward to tackling. When you spend about 300 hours on a bike you have some time for thinking and planning.
What I didn’t quite succeeded in doing is to raise US$30,000 on behalf of A New Day Cambodia. I am still a few thousand dollars short. Any contribution, small or large, will have an impact on these kid’s lives. You can also help by simply forwarding this fundraising appeal to spread the word about A New Day Cambodia.
Now, back in Hong Kong and back in the corporate world, I have resumed cycling and still have some unfinished business and other activities for A New Day Cambodia in Asia, including a fund-raiser in December and some potential speaking engagements.
I learned many things on this trip, including that America’s a big country with lots of corn fields.
While I’m still trying to process the full impact of this experience, three life lessons stand out.
First, this trip proves any big challenge can be accomplished through a series of doable, smaller tasks.
Second, life isn’t a race and there’s much to gain from living in the moment.
Finally, and absolutely, chase your dreams.
Albert Einstein said life is like riding a bicycle: to keep your balance you need to keep moving.
Keep pedaling, and chasing those dreams.
For more details about this bike ride, A New Day Cambodia, and how to donate: http://transamerica2010.wordpress.com/
Photos copyright Todd Miller