Bicycling across country is noteworthy but hardly unique; hundreds of people do it every year. I’m striving for more. There are limits to the adventurer in me. Cycling from, say, Barrow, Alaska to Tierra del Fuego is beyond my capabilities. But trying to pedal through 48 states is a worthy goal: an improbable, though not impossible, accomplishment. There’s a fair chance that life’s circumstances or personal health will intervene and force me to return to Cambridge. But there’s also a fair chance I’ll complete the journey.
Rolling my wheels cross 48 states is the overarching parameter. Beyond that, there are thousands, millions of routes. How do I choose which roads to travel and which towns to visit?
First, I want to visit everyone I know. My family is strung out across the country. Besides four sibliings, I have lots of nieces and nephews who live their own. I plan to drop in on them all. Then there are my friends. Childhood friends, high school friends, college friends, adult friends. I don’t know how they wound up living in Boise, Idaho; Slaton, Texas; and Sanibel, Florida; but I plan to see where life landed them. I’m particularly keen on visiting Sanibel, which is both flat and warm in winter.
Next, I want to see cool architecture. The new glass pavilion in Corning, New York; Calatrava’s museum in Milwaukee, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin, E. Fay Jones’ chapel in Arkansas, the Getty in L.A. But I also want to see my own architecture – the buildings I laid my hand upon during my career. How does my first hospital, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, hold up after 25 years? Is my very first project – 24 units of housing for folks with cerebral palsy – still standing in Norman, OK?
I want to visit places that reflect the pulse of America, past and present. I’ve always been enthralled with nineteenth century utopian ideals, so I hope to visit Oneida, New York and Amana, Iowa. I want to visit ‘enlightened’ company towns like Columbus, Indiana and Racine, Wisconsin. And I’m keen to visit places on the cutting edge of American life. That includes the usual glamour spots like Silicon Valley and Nashville, Tennessee, but also the places where change is challenging: Dearborn, Michigan; Williston, North Dakota; and Ferguson, Missouri.
What became interesting, as I spun blue ribbon around my destination pushpins, were those features of our country without immediate appeal. My initial route map doesn’t highlight any national parks. It’s also rather empty through the South. This reflects my prevailing interest in how we live and what we build, over nature, as well as knowing less about the South than other part of our country. I am anticipating that both of those predispositions will change. On the road, I may be so inspired by our natural beauty that I want to visit natural wonders. In the South, I hope to be captivated by its legendary hospitality and charm.
The only thing I know for sure is that the route I have mapped out will not be the one that I take. Who and what I want to see will change. It’s so easy to turn my bicycle in a new direction when something interesting beckons.