by Sara Dykman
Sara here, reporting from the Continental Divide Trail. I have abandoned my bike for five months (just over two months down) to walk from Mexico to Canada. I am having a blast discovering the country by foot; but more excited than ever to see the world on two wheels. With that I am sharing my version of how bike49 came to be, how we determined our tentative route, and an introduction to the first folks we had on board. I hope you enjoy my story of bike49 and Plan Bo0yeah! Until then: Hills yeah.
I have already heard the story of bike49s conception from Aaron on multiple occasions. It is a story I have grown to love. A story of three friends making a pact after a movie to go on a long bike journey. As I hear the story, it grows as time is added. As I hear the story I add my own memories. This is the story:
I had known Aaron and Tommy, best friends and brothers, for several years. By the time we sat down to watch a selection of short films on adventure sports we were good friends. Aaron, Tommy, and I knew each other around the bicycle. We learned about our families, our dreams, our ideas, and our mutual affinity for sweets while biking. The movie was only forty minutes long, but when it was over we knew a bike ride was in order. But not just any bike ride, a nice, long bike ride. We shook on it.
Aaron and I first fantasized about years on the road. Biking a summer then working all winter to gather the money needed to continue. And continue we would, talk of four year tours was nothing but ordinary. And as plans often do, ours fell off the radar. We graduated from college, took seasonal positions across the nation, and remained in contact with nothing more than an occasional email.
I was working in Glacier National Park when I got an email from Aaron. He mentioned a revolution and threw out the idea of bike49. His girlfriend, Laurel, had bought him a notebook to record his ideas. She told him that he was constantly dreaming, but until he started organizing, none of his plans would happen. He jotted down idea after idea in the notebook. Bike49 became more than an idea. It became a working plan, a manifestation of a pact and a dream to see the world. The moment I read the email I was in. I guess you could say I was in even before I read that email.
This is when Aaron usually tells people about the name bike49. He originally told me this story while we were planning the route, trying to figure out how to run from the winter cold of the north. Our problem always seemed to be Alaska: 1600 miles in Canada just to bike two miles in Alaska. “How about bike48?” People would ask us.
When Aaron first started planning bike49 he created a website with a long time friend, Brian. The first step was to figure out what to call the trip and what the domain name should be. Ideas were tossed around, and eventually tossed out. Aaron asked Brian what he thought of bike48. At this point Aaron didn’t even know if Alaska was going to be part of the trip. Brian liked it, but thought bike49 sounded better. That was that. They bought the website and never looked back. Now when asked why we don’t just call it bike48, we often say “because that would be too easy”, or “because it is called bike49”.
So our trip had a name. Now we just had to figure out everything else. We started sending emails out, full of our ideas, our goals, and our thoughts. Summer turned to winter, and I found myself done with another seasonal job and knowing I would probably have to wait out the winter for the next job.
Both Aaron and I have degrees in wildlife biology. Aaron is especially fond of birds. He works seasonal jobs studying birds, going where they go. I like to watch him catch a glimpse of a bird. He seems to love each bird for itself, like each bird is wonderful and unique and he is seeing it for the first time. He knows his birds. Not just by sight, but by song. Walking with Aaron is to be reminded of another world so often ignored.
I love birds, but my passion has always been with those creepy, crawly things most people shriek at. I think I love amphibians and reptiles, because they are the underdogs. Amphibians have suffered from our neglectful ways more than most other creatures on Earth. Because of their sensitivity to pollution, ozone depletion, climate change, habitat loss, and non native predators, the odds are stacked against them. I study amphibians not just because some one needs to, but because I admire their ability to keep on living as so many forces test their strength.
So for Aaron and I, studying animals is rather weather dependent. There are few winter jobs available, seeing as many birds migrate and frogs and snakes tackle the winter in seclusion. As winter set in, Aaron moved to Seattle with Laurel. We kept planning bike49 by email, but this project was seemingly bigger than cyberspace could handle. When my job in Utah ended, I emailed Aaron and Laurel, and told them I was coming to Seattle.
But before I got to Seattle we had a forth player on board. Matt, a friend and biker, I was happy to have him along. Matt has a solid head on his shoulders and a sense of humor I think few can match. He is on top of his stuff, and was emailing the group ideas and suggestions just days after he had joined in. Matt decided to take on the task of pampering the website. We all knew the website had to be awesome if we wanted to make an impression, but none of us knew the first thing about pampering on the world wide web. This didn’t stop Matt. His way of learning seems to be: spend hours online reading tutorials and forums, and then strike out on your own. I knew we would have a website, and that it would be great.
So how do you plan a year long bike trip? Not just a bike ride, but education on wheels; seeking schools, libraries, and bike co-ops willing to open their doors to us and let us share our journey, our love for the Earth, and our ideas to help rescue it from destruction. Aaron and I started in on planning the route. We took to the public libraries, making the route planning a full time winter job. We had a tentative route one month later.
We decided to leave from Arcata, California. We had all met in Arcata, all were or were going to be graduating from the college there, Humboldt State University. It seemed like a good of place as any to start an epic bike ride.
Planning a route though 49 states is hard. There were major hang ups. For one, the summer is short, but there are a lot of states that would be more enjoyable if not biked through during the winter. This is not to say, you can’t commute in just about any state, at any time, but even we are not crazy enough to want to bike all day through the windy cold of a Midwest winter and sleep all night under a blanket of snow and ice. No thanks.
The second hang up was trying to figure out how far we could get. We all have done short tours, but none of us had been on the road longer than two months. Also, none of us had tried to plan stops where we made presentations. In order to schedule presentations we would need to know where we were going to be. The best we could do at the moment was guess. We guessed we could bike 250 miles a week. This would give us time to rest, enjoy the scenery, deal with hang ups like weather and bike problems, and give us enough room to keep with an educational touring schedule.
Planning the route west of the Rockies was easy. Together Aaron and I had a pretty good feel for the west. We knew what we wanted to see and there were not a lot of choices when it came to roads that connected them. Aaron and Laurel had already biked from Alaska to Oregon a few summers previous, and knew the roads they wanted to tackle a second time around. It was after those western states that things became frustrating. For starters the East has a lot more roads to choose from, and a lot less public land and undeveloped terrain to aim for. Secondly, the East gets cold, and thanks to a few states, we were doing some serious detouring to cross borders. It seemed like a race to get to the south, and while we had not even begun to bike I was already getting stressed out. Any route we chose, it seemed like we were going to be hitting the northeast in the middle of winter. This is when we developed our first route mantra: “no one said it was going to be easy”.
Yes, that is right. When we discovered that New York would be covered in snow, we looked at each other, shrugged our shoulders and said “no one said it was going to be easy”. When it looked like we were going to be crossing the Appalachian Mountains for a second time, still in the dead of winter, we shrugged our shoulders and said “no one said it was going to be easy”. Plotting our way, through unknown territory (to us of course) using our mantra, a second- even more overused- mantra came to be. “We’ll just wing it”.
How do you decide this road or that road when you have never biked on either road, never even been to that state, and according to the map they are both skinny, red, and go through private land? Our answer was to simply guess or let Google decide for us. Using Google Maps, we would start in one town then go to another and let Google choose the cross roads, the hills, and the towns in between. Sure we did research online, but there are plenty of roads with little information, let alone information for bike tourists.
A great road for car trips is not always a great road for bike touring. The best bike roads are usually the worst car roads. They are usually not direct, they have steeper climbs, they are less maintained, and thankfully, have lower speeds. We can usually guess these roads by the curves on the map, the thickness of the line, and the symbol labeled to it. But sometimes you just don’t know. We figured we would ask locals and other bike tourists we meet on the way which road was the best. And thus we let Google lead the way and declared “We’ll wing it!”
Sometimes we had to decide if we wanted to head through a town or avoid it with a route that skirted the edge. Of the group Tommy was the one most comfortable and happy in big cities. We would often call Tommy with questions: “Tommy, do you want to bike through or around Chicago?” Tommy would usually reply with a “Chicago would be cool, but what ever works”. Tommy, and the rest of the group were ready to bike wherever, they were easy to please.
Tommy is a crowd pleaser. He knows how to put on a show, and often does. Leave it to Tommy to brighten a room with a laugh, a dance, or some beat boxing. We joke that it will be thanks to Tommy that bike49 makes it on Oprah. His outgoingness doesn’t make him cocky, but rather friendly and kind. He is modest about his accomplishments and skills, even as he studies green building and is a campus leader.
So with the help of a road atlas, Google maps, various web pages, and our two mantras we hammered out a route. It took a lot of work. We had various plans, all with various names. Our final plan was coined Plan Bo0yeah. Plan Bo0yeah was 14,621 miles long, covered 49 states, and would take around 14 months to complete. On to the next step.