By Joseph Robertia
Youth is squandered on the young, as the cliché goes. But is it frittering away your days if, after finishing school, you have an adventure unequivocal to anything you’ve yet experienced in life? Seeing vast and different parts of the country, far away from the part in which you grew up, and achieving something no one else you know has done? Tyler Peek, of Nikiski, doesn’t think so.
The 22-year-old recently returned from a bike tour of the U.S., in which he rode through all 50 states, following the shortest route — rather than more-popular, established paths — to cover 6,850 miles in 111 days, in just under four months, completely on his own.
“Going through every state would mean I’d be the first at something. Either I’d have the fastest time or the shortest distance for a self-supported cyclist, or I’d be the most amateur to do it, or I’d be the first person in 2014 to do it. These potentials are what sold me. I know it wasn’t a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but it felt like it,” Peek wrote in his blog.
Peek said he had long known he wanted to do something after graduating college on June 15, before the responsibilities of life snared him into a routine from which he couldn’t escape.
“I knew once I started a career I couldn’t just take off for months, or leave my wife or family, so this seemed like my only chance to do it,” he said.
Peek knew he wanted to challenge himself in some way, but hadn’t narrowed down exactly what. After his parents took him to Hawaii on June 17 for a postgraduation gift, he used the time to focus and begin his personal odyssey. He and his family went on a tour of a volcano in Maui and rode bicycles down the summit cone. It was an ah-ha moment for Peek.
He did some research and plotted his planned route, but coming from the age of technology, he bought a smartphone and relied on Google Maps, rather than atlases or printed road maps, to find his way.
“It told me where to go. I used driving maps, but with the bicycle option, and avoided freeways and high-traffic things like that,” he said.
He also knew he wanted to do the trip on a shoestring, so he didn’t waste a lot of money acquiring fancy gear.
“There was tons of info online about long-distance bike touring to help people determine what kind of bike and gear to use. One misconception is you need an expensive bike, but the cheap stuff is easier to find parts for along the way,” he said.
In the end he went with a Giant brand bike, and simply used a backpack and duffel bag bungeed to the bike to carry his minimal amount of gear — a small tent, a hand pump and lots of spare bike tubes. All of which he used, and some of the gear he swapped out along the way.
“I got tired of dealing with the bungees, so eventually got a bike pannier (saddlebag) from REI. I got a lot of flats along the way. I had five in the first week, but switched over to tire liners and thorn-resistant tubes and then went a month without a flat,” he said.
After returning from Hawaii, riding in Alaska was another easy notch off the list. Peek then flew down to a relative’s and began the trek in Montana on June 25.
“Every day I got on my bike and did at least 30 miles. My longest day was 95 miles,” he said.
Peek said the thing that most dictated his mileage wasn’t his own stamina but having to plan where he would rest for the night, since he didn’t want to spend money for lodging. Finding a secure place to rest for a few hours was often tough.
“There were coyotes again last night. Even though I could hear them in front of and behind me, I wasn’t too worried. Reading about them had eased my mind. I have had a few nights where I have been pretty sure animals have been outside my tent. As my number of nights grow in number, I begin to doubt all of them. The wind, both when it is soft or fast, can always sound like an animal pawing at my tent,” Peek wrote in his blog.
“I’d try to find a place in the woods to hide for the night. It was tough to balance when to stop versus getting in more miles, but then looking for a spot in the dark. I never used hotels or motels, but I would use warmshowers.org, which helped me find hosts who would put me up for a night to take a shower and charge up the batteries in my phone,” he said.
While he relied on his phone for directions, he didn’t immerse himself in music the whole way. He said not only did it take away from the experience, but it also made it unsafe to hear traffic moving around him.
“I only listened to spoken-word albums or nothing at all,” he said.
As with gear, he also tried to pinch pennies on his edible re-supplies and didn’t opt to mail packages to himself filled with high-energy or performance foods. Instead, he ate, well, like a 22-year-old.
“I went unaided and wanted to do it as cheap as possible, so I mostly ate gas station food — hot dogs, pretzels, cookies, donuts and trail mix,” he said.
One of the hardest parts of shopping along the way was finding a postcard from every state, a personal goal he set for himself.
“That took me to at least small cities in each state, rather than just crossing a border and then moving on to the next state,” he said.
Young people are social creatures as a norm, but Peek said he didn’t experience the lows one might expect from so much time riding solo.
“I didn’t get lonely. I’m not that kind of person. I’ve always been comfortable by myself and I got used to going all day. I paced myself so I never really got sore and tired,” he said, citing another perk of youth, since he said his only training for this athletic undertaking was riding the stationary bike at the gym near his college once or twice.
The weather, which can wreak havoc with long-distance adventures, also didn’t get Peek down, regardless of the forecast.
“On hot days I just focused on the breeze, and when there was rain I just rode until I got dry,” he said.
Peek said it was tough to ever get down off his bike, since the trip was so exhilarating and every day brought new views and often-breathtaking scenery.
“In Colorado I rode a summit that was 12,000 feet in elevation. In Utah I saw really neat rock formations and mountains, but without any snow on them like all the mountains here. I was in Tennessee during fall, so got to see all the leaves change colors. And I saw snakes, something I never saw in Alaska,” he said.
Peek finished his trip in Maine on Oct. 15, then peddled down to Boston to fly back home. The adventure left a lasting impression.
“I’ve always been impressed and a bit envious of people who would come back to school after summer break having grown 6 inches taller. Or the people who came back after college with 80 more pounds of muscle. Basically, going away and coming back as a changed person. I’ve been dreaming about this ever since I can remember. I planned on heading out to our remote cabin to read a bunch of textbooks, or to learn a new language, or to learn how to play the piano. I didn’t gain much academic knowledge from this trip, but I grew as a person. I know now more than ever who I am and who I want to be,” Peek wrote in his blog.
Peek said he’s not sure what he wants to do now, careerwise, but would like to find something putting his degrees to use — psychology with a minor in computer science. Until he finds something, he would like to write about his adventure to help others wanting to follow his path, or to inspire others to seize life along their own path.
“I’m contemplating writing a guide to share what I wish I knew before the trip, and tips and tricks for others,” he said.
To read more about Peek’s adventure, visit his blog at snakebiked.blogspot.com.