Finding Freedom on a Bicycle
On the verge of completing college, I had a deep desire to be as free as the wind and travel the western United States by bicycle. Upon graduation, I embarked on a 5000+ mile, 3 month-long mountain bike trip starting from my front door in Durango, CO. This journey took me down to the Mexico border on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route; west to the Arizona Trail; and along dirt roads through Utah and Nevada to intersect the Idaho Centennial Trail up to Montana. Upon reaching the Canadian border and after having toured through Glacier National Park, I rejoined the Great Divide route and ventured down it to Breckenridge, CO. Once there, I struck out on the famed Colorado Trail and rode its amazing single-track back to my front door. Along the way, I learned about the art of living simply.
I had no idea what to expect when I started this ride. I didn’t know if I was fit enough; if my well-used gear would hold up; what tricky situations I may encounter; or even if I had the mental will to complete this journey. There was only one way to find the answers to these questions, and that was to begin pedaling. It didn’t take me long to quickly fall in love with the freedom and simplicity of living on a bike. I settled into a euphoric rhythm where the hours slipped by like minutes. The scenery and freedom were overwhelming. I often found myself lost in thought while admiring the many stunning vistas. There was truly no place I would rather be.
I met a countless number of friendly people in every state. Interestingly, most people think it’s safe and friendly where they are, but were quick to warn me about traveling elsewhere. People in my home state of Colorado warned me about being around the seemingly “dangerous” activities of the Mexico border. When I got to the border, people warned me about traveling north where I would most likely encounter bears, mountain lions, etc. Despite these stated apprehensions, I found people to be very friendly wherever I rode. The distortions in the media can frequently create negative perceptions of other places.
People often asked where I was coming from and where I was heading. When I would say Durango, they would often respond with, “Oh, isn’t that the place that’s on fire?”—referring to the summer’s 416 wild fire. Before this disaster began, many had never heard of Durango. This situation resembles a larger trend in which one bad piece of news puts an otherwise excellent place on the map.
Some lessons that stuck with me were that there are great people everywhere and that it’s important to take the news with a grain of salt. I don’t think people come into the world to be good or bad or anything at all. While I met people who were rich, poor, of different ethnicities, political views, etc., the vast majority just enjoy living their lives; spending time with friends and family; and doing what they can to contribute to their community. Though there are many problems in the world, it was inspiring to meet so many happy people from all sorts of different backgrounds who are doing their best to create their ideal life.
While I was constantly in awe of the amazing landscapes I rode through and the friendly people I got to meet, the trip presented its fair share of challenges. This is to be expected, as I was more exposed to the “realness” of the world by travelling by bike than I would have been by speeding across the landscape in a car. It wasn’t always easy to remove myself from bad situations. Consequently, I spent two parched days in the desert with almost no water, because it took much longer than I thought to pedal to a town where I could refill. The situation was exasperated by an intense rainstorm that turned my trail into thick, clay-like, impassable mud forcing me to carry my bike for hours. Sometimes I got four or five flats in the span of an hour or dealt with extreme weather conditions ranging from daily 100+ degree highs in Arizona to waking up in snowstorms that produced inches of accumulation in Idaho. However, as the trip went on, I began to enjoy these challenges more and more, as problem solving and figuring things out when they didn’t go my way was an incredibly valuable part of the experience.
Some of my lasting memories from the trip originated from these unexpected events or encounters. As I faced each trial, I learned to just deal and let everything run its course. I didn’t resist. I couldn’t change the weather, the wear and tear on my gear, the ruggedness of the terrain, or how people perceived me. I could only control my reaction to a situation and respond in a manner that would set me up to successfully make the best of the situation. It was best to just keep pushing forward and accept things as they were.
Though life on the trail was teaching me many life lessons, my education was not limited to just the natural world. While in Missoula, MT my cell phone met its demise which led to an urban adventure of sorts. Under the artificial lights of the phone store, I watched a constant stream of people coming and going who were angry about their phones not working as they expected. Feeling myself detach from the scene, I began thinking about time and material goods. At that moment, we were all using our finite time to service an object that is not really necessary in order to experience the richness of life. It is a thing born out of technology that increasingly distracts us from truly connecting with others. Struggling to remain patient as my phone was repaired, I thought about being as conscientious as possible with material items and spending money. If a purchased good or service creates liberty in the form of a trip or a tool to do something one is passionate about, it will likely serve to create great memories that will last a lifetime. Conversely, in our consumer driven society, the highs from purchasing the latest and greatest material goods are typically short lived and can become burdens on our future time, money, and landfills.
Breathing in the stale air of the store and the consumer madness taking place around me, I longed to be back on the trail and living off of my bike. For me, living simply is the key to my happiness. Although I had to adapt daily to the environment and the unexpected, I never once wished for the modern conveniences of today’s society. With such amenities, I would not have experienced the rawness of the world and the utter freedom that comes with living simply.
*Please note that all photos are courtesy of the author except for those provided by the LC of the 416 Wild Fire.
Max loves to spend as much time as possible exploring the outdoors, and embraces a minimalist lifestyle in order to do so. When he's not on an outdoor adventure on his bike, skis, or feet, he loves to play his guitar, learn languages, travel, and read.