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Cross Country USA: Lynn Jennings’s Final Dispatch

The Final Dispatch

Now it is winter. From the kitchen table where I am writing, snow covers the perennial and vegetable gardens and the apple tree’s graceful limbs are sketched against the pale gray sky. I see fox tracks wandering down to the horse chestnut tree. Birds are busy at the sunflower feeders and the four-sided suet cage attracts downy woodpeckers and both red-breasted and white-breasted nuthatches. Cavorting chickadees are everywhere. The birds splotches of color are pleasing in the monochromatic wash of our habitat.

The notion of pedaling a bike amidst 97 degrees and punishing headwinds through Badlands NP seems so distantly foreign. But it really did happen!

21 cyclists plus 5 guides, have them move from place to place in concert every day and oh, by the way, ride a bike for 3800+ miles over hill and dale no matter the weather? It’s a social experiment bar none. Better than that it was the human condition showing itself in every kind of encounter. With eyes wide open I observed how my fellow P2P’ers and I handled fatigue, heat, rain, wind, 16 century/century+ days, a different bed every night, bicycle malfunctions, laundry obligations, gut grief, saddle sores, humdrum paltry breakfasts at too many Holiday Inn Express lodgings and muling luggage to a room every night only to lug it back to the luggage trailer every morning.

Some days smiles were harder to come by. Did we pedal anyway? Yup.

The collective nature of our task over-rode the daily setbacks or frustrations that stymied all of us at one point or another. Extending grace to another who was having a frustrating or tough day helped smoothed their road. I can remember Guide Blake matter of factly saying somewhere in the middle of Wyoming to someone who was complaining about the blasting heat and wind, “We signed up to ride across the country which means we are going to encounter all kinds of weather.”

It all worked out due to having 5 superlative humans as our guides and because 21 out of 21 of us were determined to rely on our persistence no matter what. The unsung virtue.The quiet ability to keep going when all around you events seem to conspire to create hardship just for you. The pressing daunting heat, the head winds, the hills, the hill that always came when I was sure I had no more to give. Somehow I always had something more to pull out of myself. Persistence. Belief.

To a cyclist we knew the ineluctable truth: we had to pedal those bikes for so many many miles to get where we wanted to go. The endlessness of South Dakota and her ferocious unrelenting heat sucked some joy out of each of us at some point. It became a game for Sandy and me to wonder how long it would be until we’d see a sliver of shade. Oh, there it was at lunch one day. Each day we woke up and oriented ourselves eastward. Each day Sandy would say to me as we rode along, “I could do this all day!” To which I would respond, “Lucky for you, let’s keep going!”

There’s an unexplainable thing inside me that is wired to find joy in the doing of a venture like this one. Each day I was eager to ride. Each day I was engaged. Each day was it’s own distinct experience with a new route to explore and to know that at the end of my effort a warm meal and a bed were waiting. Whether cycling alone or with others, I liked taking big gulps of what was all around me absorbing it all for more energy. I noted every grasshopper that leaped up and brushed my shins, each crumpled on the road butterfly, the creases in the rock formations, the osprey and eagles, the roadside chicory that I spied all the way in every state all the way until Vermont. I could never look away from the disfigured remnants of so many alluring creatures and my heart cracked each time. It still does as I remember the stilled wildlife.

To know that these strengths are still part of me is a pleasing comfort. For years and years I found joy in the training necessary to be an elite middle distance runner. I was able to conjure that same joy for the 8.5 months I trained for P2P and then, most importantly, find it again for the journeying days across the country.

My will? Iron strong. My heart? Powerful and honed. My mind? Always engaged in the doing in front of me.

Energy begets energy. Being around people who are faucets and not drains makes an endeavor sing. I gravitated towards those who were buoyant and could see the shade when there was none, who could bend into the biting winds and not say a word and see the sun when it rained (only 3 days of that, we were so very lucky). One of my favorite memories was seeing Ian one late afternoon as he barged into our hotel lobby in the middle of nowhere. He looked at me since I was the first person he encountered upon getting off his bike and he thundered, “Those last 20 miles were HORRIBLE.” I couldn’t help laughing.

Completing P2P has left me with a cornucopia of memories and experiences that will remain rich and real. So what’s ahead? The roads will find me in Solvang, Greenville and Mallorca on TT Ride Camp weeks. Vermont’s gravel roads will be on my docket in July. Autumn beckons with TT Ride Across Italy and the stunning Ride the Ridges 100K in Cabot, VT. Looking further ahead has me eyeing the TT Pyrenees Sea to Sea trip for 2024.

Training is my daily truth. It’s powered all the more by knowing I’ve got P2P quietly riding in my back pocket. A touchstone that abides. A reminder that I’ve got plenty to give. A reminder to say, “Why not?”

You’ve heard plenty from me by now. If you are considering joining this marvelously challenging and beautiful trip I’ll leave you with this: Believe, believe, believe.

Finally, I asked a few of my fellow P2P adventurers to share why they joined this audacious idea of a trip. If you find yourself nodding your head and thinking “I could do this” while reading their comments then you know what to do. Sign up!

Thanks for reading.

Lynn Jennings

Why did you decide to ride Cross Country USA?

Pat: “Why Not?!!!”
Having completed 25 marathons, 40 plus ½ marathons, 15 Half and 2 full Ironman, and canoed in the Boundary Waters, this was the next big adventure on my laundry list (aka Bucket List) of things I really wanted (and needed) to do… and what better time than now.
So, when I knew could wrangle 50 days away in the summer/fall of 2022 from work; and my hubby who was very willing to hold down the fort and take care of our 2 dogs and who was extremely supportive and encouraging me to go for it…
“Why Not!!!” I never looked back and I am so very glad I embraced my “Why Not” along with my 20 other P2P riders. And the best part of it all for me is that WE ALL MADE IT.

Mike: At my retirement party I announced to my colleagues that I would be riding across the country with Trek Travel. I joked that this trip was the most difficult physical challenge I could think of that didn’t involve a death zone and bottled oxygen. I was excited to place a capstone on my athletic career and as a non-directed kidney donor, I wanted to inspire potential donors and allay their concerns. But those weren’t the only reasons. Over the course of my career, I’ve flown millions of miles, crisscrossing the county, peering out the window and wondering what it’s like down there. I’ve been especially intrigued by the west – looking down at the irrigated crop circles, like emerald islands in a sea of brown connected by two lane roads leading from one grain silo to the next. I wanted to ride those roads, cruise through those small towns and do it in the most visceral way possible, from the seat of a bike.

Jacque: As I neared my 60th birthday I was feeling inspired to do something big and adventurous. The beauty of life is its fragility, so while I have it I want to use it. I had an idea that I wanted to stretch my boundaries and engage in a process that pushed beyond what I thought was possible. When I first started dreaming of cycling across the country I wasn’t even a serious rider, however an encouraging voice from a fellow female rider and Trek Travel guide was the inspiration I needed to take the leap and start training. The flow we can all experience when we dig into the well of power within us to keep pushing through long rides is the biggest reason why I stayed the course. I rode across the southern route of the US and was hooked on the feeling of fortitude and resilience to get up and go every morning again and again and again. This second ride across the northern US I was seeking a sense of solidarity with my fellow riders through the demanding terrain. My passion to keep pedaling was fueled by a belief in myself, appreciation for my body and its capacity to carry me, and connection with the riders around me.

Sandy: I was fascinated with the idea of powering myself across this continent on my own two wheels. I am always amazed by the beautiful diversity in our land, and seeing it from a bike is different than from a car. It is a totally different experience! The changes in the topography of the land each day, like from the Columbia River Gorge to the wheat fields of Oregon. From the plains of South Dakota to the lush cool cliffs of Deadwood South Dakota. On a bike, there is more interaction with the locals as you ride by, both are more likely to greet each other and have a brief conversation. Or as in Wisconsin the shy wave of the Amish children walking on the side of the road as we rode next to them. There is also the sound of water as you ride next to a stream, lake or river. I will never forget the smell of pine in the air as we rode along the Clearwater river all day, the wheat blowing in the air with fine bits of it all over the road in eastern Oregon and the constant chirping of the prairie dogs in the Badlands.

There is also the challenge mentally, not just physically to be able to face every daily challenge. I knew this would be part of the trip and the challenge, but I didn’t appreciate the full extent of it until it was over. It is one of the things I look back on and feel a sense of accomplishment. The constant heat in South Dakota, the threat of headwinds, rain, bad breakfasts, detours on the route, a bike malfunction, a lumpy bed or noisy room air conditioner. I’ll always remember knowing that we faced every challenge with a happy spirit with guides who helped us solve the daily puzzle.

Carlin: Riding my bike across the country was a notion that stemmed from a conversation with a young man in a Friday morning boot camp at the Gym. He is/was a member of the royal family of the UAE – they figured out that he was gay and was sent to Switzerland for high school and to the US for college with gentle hints not to return. He is now a successful business man and is married to a physician. In our conversation he told me that his husband rode cross country in his college-med school “gap year”. He did it the hard way with paniers and camping but I resolved that I too would do the crossing. I trained hard and attempted to sign up in 2021 to find out that the trip was full. Thus I signed up for 2022, trained like hell, and had the absolute time of my life.

I expected a major physical challenge and was hoping at 64 years of age that I could rise to the challenge. It turned out that I was rewarded with new friendships that have continued after the conclusion of the ride and I got a chance to see the country and the beauty that can never be understood by driving or a fly over with a plane.

At the completion of the ride – I wished that I could continue to ride a century daily but life – being what it is – has had other plans. That said – I was able to bring joy to others by sharing my trip with hundreds of followers and have memories that I will treasure for the rest of my life. It is said that when life ends – you regret the things that you DON’T do not the things you do. I am 100% sure that this axiom is correct.

Thank you for reading

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Road: 1-3 hours of riding. Up to 25 mi (40 km). Up to 1,000 ft (300 m).

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