A Cross-Country Bicycle Pilgrimage Leads To Personal Growth — And Saddle-Sores

Listen Now
Photo: Bicycling Book
Neil Hanson of Centennial wrote about his experience pedaling from California to Maryland.

Colorado offers many outlets for cyclists looking for a long-distance excursion, among them the annual Ride The Rockies and Pedal The Plains events. But Neil Hanson of Centennial took the idea a bit further -- like about 3,400 miles further.

He cranked his pedals more than a million times over climbs that totaled 125,000 feet, and made it across the country. Hanson also produced a pair of books, "Pilgrim Wheels Reflections Of A Cyclist Cross America," and "Pilgrim Spokes, The Journey Continues... Cycling East Across America." While cycling clearly plays a large role, the books also include Hanson's reflections on his life, his relationships and the people he meets along the way as he pedals from California to Maryland.

Hanson spoke with Colorado Matters host Nathan Heffel.

Read an excerpt:

We make our way to our room and call the local pizza parlor to order delivery of the biggest pizza they make, covered in every form of meat they can find. Dave’s still in the shower when our pizza debauchery arrives, and I don’t wait for him before tearing into it like a hyena over a gazelle on the plains of Africa. I don’t think I even wait for the door to close on the pizza delivery guy. 

My Garmin tells me I burned 8400 calories today. To put that into perspective, I think the average male my age needs to try to take in something like 2000 calories a day to be healthy. Less than that and most of us will lose weight. Back in my “olden days,” when I would backpack a lot, I would pack my food to give me 3000 to 3500 calories a day, which was the recommended intake for a very active male. I suppose it’s possible to take in 8400 calories in a day, but it would involve a lot of eating. 

Which helps to explain the whole hyena over a gazelle on the plains of Africa behavior, as well as the unnaturally good taste the pizza seems to have. 

A long hot shower later, with a belly stuffed with meat and pizza, I drift off to sleep. I’m struck by the joy I feel at tiny comforts. This cheap little hotel room, smelling of pizza, with the heat turned way up, feels like a little slice of heaven. 

Once again, it comes into focus. Our lives are so easy, comfortable, and consistent. We live in the middle of comfort, the lap of luxury by global standards. We’re only able to appreciate the comfort and luxury that surrounds us each day if we allow ourselves to ride along the edge of discomfort for a while. 

Gandhi’s observation that some folks are so hungry that they can only see God in the form of bread comes to mind, reminding me again that hunger can sometimes help bring life into better focus. Darkness, indeed, helps us see the glory of light. 

Hereafter, Dave and I will refer to this day as our day from hell on our trip across the nation. I suppose with all the heaven we’ve been treated to on this journey, a little taste of hell now and then isn’t such a bad thing.

Reprinted from Pilgrim Spokes by Neil Hanson. Copyright @2016. By permission from the author.