Biking Across America
One day, Aaron and Laura Beese had a thought. Let's go to the highest point in each state. Then they rethought their plan. If they visited only the highest points they would miss much of the state. They gave Oklahoma as an example. “If we visited only the highest point in Oklahoma, in the far western portion of the panhandle, we would miss the rolling hills of the southeast and the buffalo roaming in the Wichita Mountains,” Aaron said. They wondered how many other landmarks and highlights they would miss in other states if they focused only on the high points.
Then, in a sudden rush of ideas, it hit. The mid-point! The exact geographic center! “This way, we are forced to do more than tap our toe in the corner or bag a solitary peak, but to cross an entire state and to see its very heart,” said Laura.
So the couple contacted a geography professor at the University of Oklahoma and an employee with the U.S. Geological Survey. Together they created a formula of precise calculations for determining the exact center for each state. Armed with this information and their GPS unit, these two Okies, Aaron from Newcastle and Laura from Deer Creek, set out on a Monday morning in April 2007, for a two year trek that would cover every state in the union.
Their vehicle of choice—a Tandem bicycle. While packing necessary clothes, sleep sacks, small cooking equipment and toiletries, they purposely avoided one particular item.
“When you notice that a watch is not among the dozens of items we elected to carry, you can be certain that this omission was not a mere oversight,” said Aaron. “In fact, the watches we are not carrying may symbolize our trip better than any item we are carrying. You see, as of 10:00 a.m. that morning, Laura and I officially entered ‘the slow life.’” he said.
The first state center they reached was a small neighborhood in north Oklahoma City. The two crossed creeks to get to the center, which lay in a lovely, undeveloped field, teeming with purple coneflowers, Indian Blankets, and many other wildflowers. A snapshot for their online journal and the two were back on their bicycle to continue what promised to be an adventure of a lifetime.
Aaron and Laura then traveled north to Edmond and east out to Lake Arcadia, the destination for the first night’s camp. “We swam until we were hungry, ate until we were full, then slept until we were rested. It seems that the ‘profound lesson of reception’ that we hope to learn from bicycle travel applies not only to our surroundings but our own bodies as well,” Aaron said.
The journey continued the next day to Shawnee, then to Seminole and on eastward toward the Arkansas state line. Reflecting on the first state’s center and anticipating the next, the two refuse to lose sight of the most important reason for their exploration.
“Our journey is devoted to giving due honor to the ordinary, but our focus is not just on ordinary places, but ordinary people too,” said Aaron. “For what is a place apart from its people? So in the spirit of Lincoln, we endeavor to make this journey ‘for the people, of the people, and by the people!’”
Since the beginning of their trip, the two have traveled to 20 states and covered 5,940 miles. They have consumed 27 jars of Skippy peanut butter and enjoyed the thrill of adventure at an average cost of $24.60 per day.
“Bicycle travel is incredibly cheap,” said Laura. “With our decision to avoid hotels by camping and staying with people we meet, our costs are reduced to food, entrance fees for campsites and national parks, and various incidentals. This kind of bike touring is incredibly cheap once you get all the gear you need. In fact, it’s far cheaper than our
Rather than endure the harsh conditions of winter, the couple agreed that the best decision would be to find refuge in a nice warm place. Realizing they had to go to Hawaii anyway, the choice was between a week of “touring” or four to five months living in Hawaii. The choice was easy. As for winter work, a few emails arranged jobs picking macadamia nuts, coffee and vanilla beans at HuaHuaFarm.com.
The next leg of the tour will begin in March, in the southern tip of Florida. The two plan to cover 24 states and wind down for the 2008-'09 winter in Oregon. They look to complete their journey in May of 2009.
Before leaving, Aaron and Laura created an interactive website that allows the rest of the world to get involved with their travels. Log onto www.fiftybybike.com to follow their trip and to learn how you can get involved.
“We turn to you, our fellow citizens,” said Aaron and Laura. “The very philosophy of this trip is to glory in the ordinary and to give special attention to the overlooked middle. This trip is for all of you. We are the sojourners and all of you are our co-journers. So please, join with us on this journey; become both our partners and our patrons.”