Biking as Becoming by Luke Galloway

As a child, I remember being infatuated with the feeling of going fast. Flying down hills on my bike with the wind in my face, making my too big, hand-me-down T-shirts flap uncontrollably about my chubby body. I would crank on the pedals as hard as I possibly could and then coast down the hill. In my small-town Iowa neighborhood, the hills were never longer than a quarter of a mile so the glorious descents were rather short-lived. But I didn’t care. I would get to the bottom, turn around, ride back up and over the crest to once again build up my momentum and fly down the hill. My early 2000’s Trek was the first “big purchase” I ever made in my life and I was stoked. I had saved up my money from mowing the lawn ($5 each time), birthday and Christmas money from my grandparents, and other allowances from my parents to pay over $200 for something that was truly mine. Being homeschooled at the time meant that my free time and recess was unconventional to say the least. A lot of times I was either playing G.I. Joes in the yard or making up fake characters to “play” full games of basketball on our slanted driveway. Luckily we had a hoop that could be lowered all the way down to 7 feet, that way when I pretended to play real games, I could be a total badass and dunk at 9 years old. 

When I wasn’t lost in my imagination with toys and basketball, I would cruise around the neighborhood on my trusty Trek. It gave me an incredible sense of freedom that I desperately needed as a pre-teen trapped at my house all the time, homeschooled, with few to no friends my age. I almost never wore a helmet because I believed helmets clearly aren’t cool; despite the fact that at 1:00PM on a weekday there was literally no one around who would see how cool I looked taking the risk of riding without a helmet. Despite my lack of safety, I eventually earned the parental permission to ride out of our immediate neighborhood and go across the highway into the mysterious north side of Walford as well as go onto some of the surrounding county roads. With my expanded territory came an expanded mindset. As the youngest of six boys, I constantly compared myself to my older brothers and I never believed I was good enough. I fought hard my entire life to become somebody but I was never satisfied. There was always someone better, smarter, older, and I was stuck being me. Yet even in those early days, I felt different when I could get out for a ride. Somehow I felt that if I could go fast enough, the claws of comparison would lose their grip and fall away. I could just ride.

Over the next several years, the time I spent riding a bicycle dwindled as I got caught up in high school and college drama of friends, academics, and athletics. I found confidence and freedom in who I was, but I never truly lost the feeling that I was a nobody. Everything I did was somehow part of the game of becoming something I wasn’t. I couldn’t quite get over my obsession with comparing myself to others - it was no longer always my brothers, but there was always someone better. In the years after graduating college, I moved to Boulder, Colorado and rediscovered my trusty Trek. I rode the very same bicycle I bought at 9 years old to commute to work, the grocery store, the movie theater, etc. I believe it was destiny that my first bike survived those 13 years to remind and reinspire me of the freedom and fun biking provides. 

A year and half of being a bike-commuting, Boulder environmentalist, I was struck with an idea in the place where most dreams are born: sitting on the toilet. One day while taking a shit I decided to ride a bicycle across the United States. Thinking this idea was a bit insane, I told myself if I was still dreaming of it in a month, I’d seriously consider it. Rather than fade away as other toilet dreams do, the cross country bike tour idea grew and grew. It’s not an uncommon feat - hundreds of people do bike tours every year, but I had a deep feeling this one would be special.

Planning and preparing for a bike tour can be an odd thing as the unknown nature of weather, road conditions, physical tiredness or other maladies are exactly what make them so enticing. So I planned where I could, prepared for emergencies where I could not, and mindlessly decided not to train. A month before the date I was set to start my tour from the Pacific coast of Oregon, I developed severe patellar tendinitis (runner’s knee) from jumping into long, intense rides with no build-up. As the pain set in, my mind went back throughout my life of striving to prove myself worthy and always coming up short. This injury was just another roadblock in what I believed was a life full of failure. I had almost completely given up hope of being able to bike a mile, let alone 4,500 but my girlfriend and I drove out to Astoria, Oregon anyway. Though it felt like my journey began months or even years prior, riding my heavy-laden bicycle out of the sight of my girlfriend marked the beginning of my cross country journey. 

With the intentions to “Be present and observant,” and “Experience and express gratitude for everything in my life,” I rode away from Astoria and (though I didn’t know it at the time) away from my lifelong limiting mindset. In the first week I experienced a lot of emotional and physical ups and downs over the beautiful rolling mountains and coastline of Oregon, all to the backdrop of patellar tendinitis. On day 7 I wrote in my journal, “My knee felt the worst it has yet but I’m going to get through this motherfucker one way or another.” Miraculously, by day 21, the pain was gone. I felt limitless. I still don’t know what the exact fix was, but I knew that my time was now. Each day became a new adventure with ever-changing scenery and circumstances. I no longer felt like I had anything to prove. Powered by my own body, I rode anywhere from 25 to 125 miles each day. I stopped when I wanted and rode on when I felt like it. The same sense of freedom I had when going fast on the neighborhood hills when I was nine years old became my every moment. Out on the road, I was nobody. But this time, being nobody was exactly what I wanted to be. In losing the pursuit to become somebody, I experienced peace, joy, and a self-confidence I had never thought possible. 

Overall, the days of my cross country bike trip blend together in a kaleidoscope of roadways, countryside, small talk with strangers, sleeping in tents and on strangers’ floors, podcasts, playlists, and peanut butter. When I’m asked about my favorite sights or memories from the trip, it’s increasingly difficult to pull specifics from the 94 days and nearly 4,500 miles. However, when I think about it (as I often do), the same carefree smile of knowing my life has no limit, which I would experience daily while on the open road, will slowly creep over my face.

Many people say that this trip was “an experience of a lifetime,” and to them I say, “it was the FIRST experience of a lifetime of countless wonderful experiences.” I continue to ride, to bike tour, and I’m even planning to race the Trans Am Bike Race next year. My desire for travel and adventure (most likely by bicycle) has just begun to blossom with my cross country tour and I see a future filled with thousands more miles of riding.

My passion is biking. It gives me freedom. It sets me apart. It connects me to the very basic core of human experience. It allows me to push myself to new limits. And it keeps me grounded, reminding me to not take myself too seriously and to not take any day for granted.

To anyone wanting to start a passion project: the right time is always now. The longer you wait for the right circumstances, vacation days, money saved, or whatever is keeping you from diving into your passion, the longer you will go without knowing what is on the other side and the more difficult it will be to start the journey. As Juliana Buhring put it, “‘One day’ is just another way of saying ‘never’.” 

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