I want to ride my bicycle to all 48 contiguous United States. I don’t know why. The idea lodged in my head a few years ago and the itch just keeps growing.
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.
You are such an inspiration. I just love the way you are living Right Now and the way I’ve experienced your passions lived out through your work and activities (Haiti and now this…)!
Your map shows a path through southern Alabama on your bicycle tour but I’d love it if you’d detour through Birmingham. The Civil Rights Museum here and the vestiges of the former “steel capital of the South” (Vulcan statue, museum, and the Sloss Furnaces) are here as are genuine, creative, welcoming, and interesting people.
Now, for your question – How Will We Live Tomorrow?
In my humble opinion, our tomorrow will be determined, in large part, by how well we teach our children to embrace other races, cultures, and even each other in our own backyards.
In our recent experience, my daughter, Ellie, had worked hard to make the volleyball team for the next school year. For months, Ellie labored, perfecting her overhand serve and spike. She played in a couple of recreation leagues, took clinics, and had a couple of private lessons. She has diverse interests, but volleyball has been her favorite and most competitive sport. On the first day of a three-day “look” by the coaches, she was ready. We were early and she felt good about her chances. After the workout, she came bounding out to the car, nervous, but excited. We were to check the school’s website for the list at 6pm. If a girl’s name was not there, she didn’t make the first cut and was not invited back for Day 2.
You guessed it: Ellie didn’t make the team. This was the first real disappointment my sweet, hard-working, optimistic daughter had ever experienced. And, with my second and third pouring over the list, on which her name was not listed, my own heart sank. That night, we cried a little and talked more. Ellie confided that she would hate her friends’ questions at school the next day and having to reveal her failure to make the team. She would hate not playing on the team next year but even more, would be embarrassed and would have a hard time concentrating on her school work for the long school day. All seemed bleak.
But my story is not as much about this experience and what Ellie has done with it as much as the story beyond the story. What happened next was refreshing and inspiring. After that dreaded day at school, we went on our evening walk with the dog. She reported that several friends had sympathized with her and she did feel a little better. She was still stung by the coaches’ rejection, having known that she had done her best, but knew she’d need to get over it. We stopped to open the mailbox, and what we found there was not just the mail, and not just one treat from a friend for Ellie, but three! Friends from different walks of their activities together had thought to console her in a tangible way through her 12-year-old heartbrokenness and disappointment. These were friends who had, days earlier, just made cheerleading or the dance squad for the 7th grade year, girls who could otherwise have been celebrating their own successes rather than attending to one of their own who’d not tasted their same success.
This experience revealed more to me about the future than all the stock market reports and political stories regarding our future! Real caring is being taught and is being demonstrated by the next generation. That’s something about which to feel really good and something about which to look forward to for tomorrow! It doesn’t make up for the school team camaraderie and gamesmanship Ellie will miss next season, but it does something else: it shows her that she’s part of a caring community and she is valued there.
Ellie and I will pay it forward at every chance, from now on!
Cleo Kathryn Gorman
Thank you for this beautiful story, which I will not only leave here as a comment, but lift into a full post. My route is less defined the further it gets into the future. I am very inspired to find my way to Birmingham, and will be in touch next winter when I get to that part of our country.