“Riding your bicycle fifty miles a day is not difficult. The trick is to do it every day. Discipline and organization are the only real skills I have.” Paul Fallon got on his bicycle in May of 2015 with the objective of pedaling through the 48 contiguous states, asking people he met along the way, ‘How will we live tomorrow?’ He took one planned break over the winter holidays, an unplanned one to heal from an accident, and completed his journey in December 2016. He pedaled 20,733 miles, stayed with 269 different host families over 397 days, profiled 436 individuals and organizations, and documented over a thousand other responses to his question.
“Every day I got to do three things I love: ride my bike, meet new people, and write.” The three activities nurtured each other. Paul meditated on his conversations while he rode, which shaped his writing. “By the time I arrived at a new place, I was refreshed to meet new people.”
Prior to bicycling all over the place, Paul was a healthcare architect. He volunteered to design a clinic in Haiti in 2007, an endeavor that, after the 2010 earthquake there, consumed more of his time and energy. By 2013 he had designed and supervised construction of two earthquake resistant buildings in Grand Goave. The following year, Architecture by Moonlight chronicled his projects as well as his evolving views on philanthropy and development. “Everything you hear about Haiti is true, but it is only part of the story. Haiti is culturally and socially rich in ways that our country is impoverished – no one there believes they can make it on their own. But Americans are not particularly reflective; we don’t think we have anything to learn from others.”
Paul decided to explore his own country in a visceral way, traveling slow, asking a question that has no correct answer. “Everyone I met was equally expert on the subject of tomorrow.” He ducked responding to his own question, “I didn’t want people to think my insight was any more valuable.” But now that the journey is over, he can’t put it off any more.
During his adventure, Paul saw little wildlife. “I never saw a deer, a big horned sheep, or even a moose.” However, he observed a fantastic array of birds. “A bald eagle swooped down on me in New York State. Three condors glided on thermals along Big Sur. I know that was rare, so I verified it.”
What entranced him time and again were the ordinary black birds, lined up near landfills, pastures and processing plants. They framed his response to his own question, with a little help from Leonard Cohen.
How will we live tomorrow?
“We will live like birds on a wire, tethered to the technology that holds us above and apart from the rest of our world. We will balance our tenuous perch scanning a horizon that appears ours alone, despite sitting shoulder to shoulder with our brothers.
“Thermal delights will lift us in joyous dance. Harsh winds will drive us to sheltering roots. We will move in concert with one another, some leading, others lagging, clumped tight, more afraid than we ever admit.
“When the sun returns and the breeze grows calm we will return to our wire. Precarious balance is the price of dominion. We will stare out on the vast expense and imagine that we are free.”