Through the wind-blasted Columbia River Gorge. Past Mount Hood and a cheap plastic chaise lounge in the middle of nowhere. Over mountains. Across vast northern plains and along Great Lakes. From Oregon's Pacific shores to Maine's Atlantic Coast, Madison's Alice Honeywell and Ohio's Bobbi Montgomery traversed the U.S. by bicycle, riding 3,600 miles over the course of a summer.
Soon, you can read along as the two cycling enthusiasts embark on their ambitious adventure to celebrate their respective retirements. Scheduled for publication next month by University of Wisconsin Press imprint Terrace Books, Across America by Bicycle details the duo's encounters with curious strangers, a plague of grasshoppers, big rigs and aggressive drivers as they averaged a little more than 50 miles per day. The book's day-by-day structure conveys the sense of riding along in one of the pedaling partners' panniers.
"Our goal," says Honeywell, "is to inspire people." The Bombay Bicycle Club veteran and retired editor notes that she was herself inspired by books like those of Dervla Murphy, the veteran Irish touring cyclist whose 1965 volume Full Tilt: Ireland to India with a Bicycle is a classic of the genre. She hopes the narrative she and Montgomery have written will "encourage other people to take risks, reach out a little bit and test themselves. It did wonderful things for us."
Honeywell and Montgomery are not the first to bike across the U.S. Indeed, some cyclists race from coast to coast, with top men completing the traverse in under nine days and the fastest women clocking under 10. And if more leisurely sea-to-shining-sea bike tours aren't commonplace, neither are they all that unusual.
The distinguishing characteristic of this one is that "we're both word nerds," says Honeywell. They kept painstaking journals, merged them, refined the resulting text - and found a publisher for their tale about pedaling into retirement with gusto.
"It's an adventure story. We went on the trip because we love to ride our bikes, we love beautiful scenery, and we love living outdoors," says Honeywell, who rides at least one weeklong bike tour every year. The prospect of an entire summer without daily obligations - three months of biking, eating, sleeping, writing in their journals, doing laundry, phoning home to their families - was irresistible.
They had no idea how significant the people they met along the way would turn out to be. "We didn't go on the trip to experience the generosity of Americans toward us," Honeywell says, "but that ended up being what was most remarkable."
Traveling by car renders you a commonplace tourist. By contrast, whenever Honeywell and Montgomery pulled up to a small-town café on their bikes, they found themselves magnets for curiosity among people eager to learn their story and share their own.
Honeywell chalks it up to the harmless appearance of two older women on bicycles. The people they met along the way "befriended us in ways we could never have imagined," she says. "It was really intense and in-depth."
The coauthors will do a series of solo and tandem readings for Across America by Bicycle, including an Oct. 3 appearance at the Wisconsin Book Festival. They have also launched a website, aliceandbobbi.com, focused on the book.
Completing the ambitious bike trip was never a foregone conclusion, Honeywell notes. "I feel very fortunate that we were able to reach the end."
Doing so has redoubled her gratitude for the roads she bikes closer to home. Out west, she notes, biking on debris-littered Interstate shoulders and enduring close calls with aggressive drivers is often the only legal option. There are abundant route alternatives out east, she adds, but greater population densities there yield a higher volume of traffic.
Paved for the dairy industry, our own vast network of secondary roads is a cycling paradise, Honeywell believes. "Wisconsin," she concludes in a tone suggesting there's no place like home, "has about the most beautiful roads in the country."
Alice Honeywell and Bobbi Montgomery
Wisconsin Book Festival: 12:30 pm, Sunday, Oct. 3, A Room of One's Own