Will is a 19-year-old finance and real estate student from Virginia, USA. He is passionate about biking, even though he doesn’t have much time to do it at university. After he graduates, he plans to repeat his incredible cross country trip
Dirty bathrooms and dead buffalo
Rain batters the metallic roof of the public bathroom that I am forced to call home for a night in central Alabama. The constant drumming on the roof is only bested by occasional blasts of thunder that shake the thin walls of my shelter, making rest impossible for even the most tired travelers.
Beads of water drip to my swampy resting place under the sink where I lay wide awake and dead tired at the same time. My ground pad and sleeping bag are the only two things separating me from the dirty tiles and puddles of water that have accumulated from public bathroom use. Some of the liquid is starting to seep into the fabric, transforming my mummy bag into a cold, damp sarcophagus.
To make matters worse, I have to urinate – and even in a bathroom, I cannot relieve myself because seven other boys occupy the entirety of the remaining floor space, including in front of the urinal and in the stall. Every second of the eight-hour night feels like an eternity.
Rewind four days. I am standing on a beach in South Carolina as I watch the sun rise over the Atlantic. Surrounded by thirteen strangers whom I met ten hours earlier, I feel alone. I am more anxious than I have ever been – and filled with a storm of self-doubt. Everything I will need for the next six weeks is crammed into two saddle bags and bungeed down. After ceremoniously baptising our front wheels in the Atlantic, we begin pedaling west.
Sleepless nights in public bathrooms are difficult as are the days after; it is not easy biking for eight hours straight without sleeping the night before. The hardest day was the first. After the first twenty miles of a meagre fifty-six, my lack of training catches up to me. I am not used to carrying forty pounds of gear and my legs begin to cramp to the point where I can no longer pedal.
I have to stop. I then learn that kicking out of pedal clips uses many of the same muscles as pedaling. As I come to a halt, I fall to the ground with both feet still locked in place, also known as “dead buffalo-ing.” Thankfully, I land in a wet ditch so a layer of mud masks the complete and total embarrassment I feel on my face. In my head, I am certain that my thirteen peers are questioning my ability to ride a bike – because I am too. After awkwardly laughing off the fall, we continue. For every mile left of the perpetual fifty-six, I do not believe that I will finish.
“The saltwater washes away everything. Salt residue on our front wheels from the Atlantic, bathroom floor water, grass stains from the plains, sands from the Mojave – 3,300 miles dissolved in the Pacific.” – Will
23rd Street, 22nd Street, 21st Street… today is a light, sixty miles so we sleep in, eat lunch at Fat Burger and still plan to finish our mileage before noon. 10th Street, 10th Court, 9th Street... there is a palpable energy in the air. Everyone is biking noticeably faster and all rules of safe riding seem to be forgotten. 2nd Street, First Court, Ocean Avenue… the waters of the Pacific are finally visible and I can see the finish line. I am overcome with joy and exuberance but can’t help feeling like I’m losing something.
After reuniting with our biological families on the pier, my biking family rejoices in the ocean. The saltwater washes away everything. Salt residue on our front wheels from the Atlantic, bathroom floor water, grass stains from the plains, sands from the Mojave – 3,300 miles dissolved in the Pacific.
Finally in the ocean, I float on my back and submit to the rolling waves. I physically feel the pain and hardships that were with me for every mile seeping out as I stare into the sky and reminisce. I can only think about struggles yet I feel very complete. I emerge from the ocean a different person, with the strength of the continent forever with me.