A 2000 mile cycle across the USA

What can you do in a week?

On a quiet Monday evening cooking dinner, an idea popped into my head. I’m in the USA having just paddled 1001 miles down the Missouri river and on the lookout for another adventure, and it occurs to me “why don’t I just carry on my USA adventure?”. Thirty minutes later the idea of a 2000 mile solo had formed, and plans were already being drafted and put in place. As simple as that.

You don’t have to spend a year meticulously planning out an adventure. Within a just few days I had pulled together most of what I would need; a Cannondale touring bike, cycling gear, warm winter clothing and camping equipment. My shoes were borrowed men’s shoes and two sizes too big, my bike was second-hand, my camping equipment left over from the Missouri river paddle.

I built my website, organised route maps, press, photo shoots, filming, editing, collected gear, set up social media and planned my journey out from top to tail. It was hard work. Real hard work. Getting to the start line of any expedition is the toughest part. I sat at the steps of my start line and smiled as 2000 miles of epic cycling lay ahead.

Just keep on pedaling!

I hadn’t done any cycle training before the expedition, but after a week my legs were conditioning nicely. What I came to realise was that we are very adaptive creatures, and my body had happily slipped into endurance mode with barely a complaint. Granted, I cried my way to the top of a few steep inclines, but overall a steady, sensible pace won the battle.

Katy Trail, Missouri

The journey was, in part, about testing mind and body and, boy, am I impressed with just how capable both are when you truly flex them. I felt shattered but utterly, blissfully happy. The freedom of being on the road is phenomenal.

After 150 miles I left the wooded, Alice in Wonderland-like Katy Trail with its vibrant autumn colours and sea of leaves and continued onto the rather uninviting hard shoulder of an inter-state expressway, engulfed in car fumes, and surrounded by too many drivers who have a tendency to text on their phones whilst steering. The silver lining was that I flew along the smooth tarmac highways clocking in the miles at a cracking pace. The expressway was lined with some funky wooded spots and surprisingly alive at night with deer, small fluffy night animals and lots of glowing eyes crunching through the undergrowth.

Dogs, dust and dreaded winds.

A few hundred miles in. Thunder and lightning is brewing on the horizon. The last few days had been just epic in every way. I was now into the state of Oklahoma. She has a reputation as “the windy state”. Boy does she deliver on that! Unfortunately I was travelling in the wrong direction. The American flags streaming past me as I cycled through Oklahoma were facing east. I had a headwind. An unforgiving one.

I’ve never experienced the need for such patience, after 10 hours of cycling when it feels like someone is holding down your brakes hard with every pedal you take, it beats you down. I had been blown clean off the road over a dozen times in just one day, and buffeted around like a rag doll every time a truck passes. I suddenly found myself revelling in the conditions after a day or two. My mind played a great card by making me see the wind as a game. A bit like being in an old school arcade on one of those motorbike games, I would lean into the buffeting wind and see how straight a line I could hold. Minus 50 points for being blown off the road, plus 5 points for only a minor wobble, and plus 10 for holding steady when a truck passes. I won by 95 (not sure who I was beating exactly, but I won).

The scenery was mind blowing. For the most part it was made up of huge expanses of flat, dusty dry plains stretching as far as I could see. The old Route 66 highway cut right through the middle like lazy a snake. I’ve never seen skies and landscapes like this before and they made me feel very small and insignificant. What a pleasure to be cycling through them!

Welcome to Oklahoma, the windy state!

Then there were the dogs. Big dogs. Small dogs. Packs of dogs. And they like nothing more than to scare the living daylights out of me by chasing for a quarter of a mile along the road, biting at my tyres and at heels. Little vicious things some of them with wild eyes. It’s all great fun if you are on a downhill and can out cycle them, sniggering away contentedly as you do so. But then there are the steep uphill climbs and no chance of that…

Oklahoma dog chase

I am now thoroughly addicted to cycling. I love every aspect of it. The freedom, the challenge, the dirt, the sweat and the incredible perspective you get on a place when travelling through a country at a pace that allows to truly take it all in. I am not in a tin can with wings flying over the USA. Nor am I in a tin can on wheels powering it across the states. I am on my bicycle, out in the fresh air, taking in every bit of what this place has to show me and collecting brilliant memories. Everything I need to take me 2000+ miles fits on my bike. I just love that!

You should try it too sometime.

The kindness of strangers.

It was midway through my cycle when I found myself utterly gobsmacked one morning. It happened a fair few times on my cycle, and my jaw was starting to bruise from hitting the floor so often. 6.30am and I’m snoring away in my tent, camped out by an eery deserted ghost town.

I stirred awake to the sounds of twigs breaking outside my tent and immediately my heart rate doubled. Then a voice calls out “It’s Mitch here, hello?”. Phew! Mitch is a local cowboy, and a top notch chap. I scooted across to unzip my tent and ice broke off of the canvas. It was cold. Very cold.

As I looked up Mitch was standing there with his cowboy hat holding a flask and two cups. He opened the flask and the welcome aroma of fresh coffee wafted into my tent. Pouring some into a cup for me while I squint at the bright light, he explains “I couldn’t go the day without knowing that you were OK, because that’s just the way. I like to know that people are OK”. Often in life we get caught up in things and forget how meaningful a simple gesture like this really is. How good people really are. Mitch’s thoughtfulness still makes me smile. It’s these little things, these bright and brilliant moments that made my cycle across the USA so rich.

Mitch brining an unexpected morning coffee on a sub-zero morning

Getting over the fear of losing stability.

Many people have told me that the reason they don’t take up an adventure of their own is because of their fears of giving up stability or of failing at it – they simply think it’s not possible. This, too, was my fear just 8 months ago. But what I have realised since quitting my tech job in the city and taking up my dreams to explore the world with endurance expeditions is that being out here on these adventures is what brings me real security and stability. Because it comes from the inside out.

1000 mile Missouri River SUP

My stability doesn’t come from money and owning material things any longer. When you are out here, especially on a solo journey, you have to make decisions and take action in very unusual, often suffering from exhaustion, and so you learn to respect and, vitally, trust yourself. Because you have to. There is no other option. This is what makes me stable, knowing myself and believing I can do whatever challenge it is that I set my mind to.

This cycle was by far and away the toughest thing I had done physically and mentally, yet I have never felt so alive as I did out here.

The weird and the wonderful.

One of the brilliant things about my cycle was learning to expect the unexpected. The element of surprise was everything from gleeful to baffling.

I had entered Arizona. I decided one morning to get an early start and clock in some decent miles that day. It was pre dawn, with just enough light to see, as I set off into a light blanket of mist, headphones in and staring at the tarmac sliding past meter by meter, mile upon mile. It was still grey about me when I looked up and promptly skidded to a juddering halt, staggered. My eyes bulged at what I saw in the distance. The distinct outline of T-rex bearing down on me. I stared at him and he stared back at me, little claw-like chicken hands protruding from his bulk of muscle which made him all the more terrifying. I checked myself – yes, I am indeed awake, and there is indeed the looming shadow of an enormous dinosaur straight ahead. And boy did he look fleshy and real. Being the dork I am, I stood there for a good two or three minutes, trying to make sense of this scene, before cycling closer. Yep, paper-mache and some astounding artistic paint work. Well that’ll wake you up better than any triple espresso!

This was one I found in the vibrant Route 66 town of Holbrook, Arizona

Then there was Meteor Crater. I would be cycling right by a one kilometre wide, 50,000 year old hole in the ground created by the immense impact of an object from out of space. Surreal. I felt entirely dwarfed standing on the edges of this beast gawping at it’s sheer magnitude. This giant crater was made by something the size of a small house. Fascinating. Part of my ridiculous excitement I suppose was that I’d figured this was the closest feeling an earthbound earthling like myself would get to feeling like you’re walking on the moon. Next up? A high elevation semi-desert with ice capped mountains for a backdrop. Heck, this cycle just got better and better by the day!

The final leg of a solo cycle across the USA

Day 41. I found myself pedalling across the arid Mojave Desert with its great sea of tumbleweed and strange looking Joshua trees. Sweat droplets steadily run off the tip of my nose. An unforgiving headwind blows clouds of sand up, caking my face. Fighter pilots train overhead with their almost impossible twists and precision manoeuvres. The rawness and power of these epic places on our planet really do make you feel alive.

Part of the greatness of journeying through a country at the pace of a bicycle is being able to see the terrain gradually change every couple of hundred miles. Cycling through remote trails mistaking cuddly big black dogs for ferocious bears, stealth camping in the tall grasses of the Texan wilderness, snaking and wheezing my way up mountains into pine forests and high altitude, being blown clean off the road and into rich red-stained sand ditches by the notorious Oklahoma winds, through vibrant cities where strangers stop you just to hold your hand for a minute and pray for your safety, into deserted ghost towns with the dull, disintegrating remains of what used to be bright communities, past deserts with strange gravity defying rock formations cut over centuries by howling winds. This is all a part of my bank of incredible memories now, and I feel I have gotten to know another small part of this phenomenal planet.

Mojave Desert, the final leg is nearing

I believe that as human beings one of the important things to us is feeling like we are progressing as a person, and that is just what happened for me taking on this challenge. When you are on a solo expedition there is no-one else to help you make the tough decisions, to get you up on sub-zero mornings, to push you when you just want to give up.

A friend once said to me “run with arms wide open”. So I tried it. You should too. You may just meet a few phenomenal people, change a few lives and have the most incredible adventure of your life.

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/NessKnightAdventure
Twitter: @Ness_Knight
Website: http://www.nessknight.com
YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/vanessaleighknight

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