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Commentary: A Bike is a Life-Changing Vehicle for Adventure

Got a little voice in your head wondering just how far you can ride your bike? Listen to it. Triathlete-turned-adventure cyclist Erick Cedeño shares his tales from the road.

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My love for swimming and running long distances started at an early age. I joined a swimming club at the age of 6. Started running 10K around 8 years old. Riding my bicycle was my first taste of freedom. I went everywhere by bicycle and didn’t depend on my parents for a ride, visited my cousins, rode with my neighborhood friends to the pool and the local basketball court.

I discovered triathlon early in my 30’s and felt in love with it immediately, because it combined the three sports I grew up with. I was all-in. Wanted to join races and compete every time for a better PR. My favorite distances were Olympic and long-course triathlons. During training, I was motivated, excited, and energized for the event. Immediately after crossing the finish line, I was excited and proud at having accomplished my goal. Triathlon was fun up to that point. The feeling I didn’t like was a day or a week after the race when I would feel sad, and even down. Later I discovered it had a name: post-race depression. It was stressful!

I wanted more of the feeling I had as a child: the freedom, the adventure and the curiosity of seeing new places by bike. It was then when I decided to use my triathlon skills in a new way. Instead of riding 25 miles or 56 miles on race day, I decided to ride 75 miles from Miami to Palm Beach, spend the night, and return the following day. I did that ride several times, and realized I wanted to see more.

Then I decided to ride from Miami to Key West, a 320 miles round trip. On that solo trip to Key West, I was able to listen to myself for the first time in a long time. I was in the present moment, taking it all in as a child does, seeing and admiring the trees, the ocean, the wildlife and the strangers I would meet along the way.

I was in the flow, and wanted to see more. On a ride one day, I began to wonder: could I go from border to border by bicycle? I looked at a route from Vancouver to Tijuana – a 2,000-mile bicycle ride along the Pacific Coast Highway. I was excited, and I was all-in. Six months later, I flew to Vancouver to start the self-supported adventure that changed course of my life.

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My solo bicycle ride along the Pacific Coast Highway pushed me outside my comfort zone. I was riding on roads I did not know, camping in the outdoors with wildlife. I had decided to forego the GPS and travel with maps the way ancient travelers did. Everyday, I committed to having lunch by the beach, where I was joined by whales, sea lions, fishes, and dolphins. One time, as I was riding down a hill and looked to the left, I saw a cow giving birth on a farm.

All of these unforgettable experiences would never had happened I was traveling by car or plane. While traveling by bicycle, I am able to use all 5 senses: touch, sight, hearing, smell and taste. Traveling by bike teaches you to be comfortable outside your comfort zone and to stay in the present moment. The big climbs from yesterday and tomorrow don’t matter – only the mile ahead.

This experience affected me so much, that after completing my coast-to-coast journey, I rode the opposite coast, traversing 1,800 miles from Miami to New York City along the Atlantic coastline. Seeing new roads, scenery, wildlife, and people fed my soul.

When traveling by bicycle, you have to be open to the experience. Sometimes you’re in control, and sometimes you’re not. But you have to stay open to see it and appreciate it. On a whim, I decided to I add 115 miles to my established Atlantic route to go through the Outer Banks Island of the coast of North Carolina. It turned out to be the best decision of my trip – with less traffic and better scenery, I could immerse myself in the moment even more. I would find a quiet beach to have lunch, jump into the water for a swim, and nap on the shores. The memories of riding through history will stay with me forever: Little Africa, South Carolina; historic Jamestown, Virginia; Dorchester County, Maryland (the birthplace of Harriet Tubman); the  museums and federal buildings in Washington, D.C., and the bright lights of New York City.

In 2014, I decided to retrace the history of the Underground Railroad by bicycle. Many of my friends and family were against it, because as a person of color, they feared I would be harmed or encounter racism along the way. Still, I decided to go.

(Photo: Erick Cedeño)

On a lonely dirt road in Louisiana just outside New Orleans, I ran out of water. With no place to refill my water bottles for miles, I had no choice but to keep pushing. All of a sudden, a white pickup truck passed by, lifting dirt to my face. They stopped 100 feet from me, then reversed. My heart began beating like it wanted to come out of my chest.

“Where are you going, where are you coming from?” said the driver. I was hesitant to respond, but did nevertheless.

“I am coming from New Orleans, heading to Niagara Falls, Canada.”

“By bicycle?” asked the driver, his eyes wide. “Wow! Do you need any water?”

I did. My eyes began to well up with tears. I gratefully drank from the bottles in the bed of his truck, then refilled all of my bottles for the ride ahead. We hugged, and I thanked them.

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A few states north, in Ohio, I saw a Buddhist monk watering the garden at a temple. I approached him, and asked if I was able to fill my water bottles.

“Come inside the temple,” he responded. “We have cold water there.”

As I filled my bottles, another monk entered the room. “Have you eaten yet?” he asked. “We are about to serve dinner.”

I still had a few more miles to ride before reaching my planned campsite, but something inside me said to stay. After all, how many times have you eaten with seven monks? It ended up being one of the best vegetarian meals I have ever eaten, and the conversation will stay with me for the rest of my life. As we were doing dishes, one of my new monk friends approached me and said, “You are welcome to stay with us overnight.” It was the most peaceful night I have ever experienced when traveling by bicycle. As I was leaving the temple the next day, one monk said to me: “I hope you had a wonderful night, and now you have Buddha energy!” I did.

I still love the sport of triathlon, and hope to compete again one day. But one thing I do know for sure, is that adventure cycling has brought me the freedom and the joy I felt riding my bicycle as a child. The lessons I have learned traveling by bicycle have been useful in my everyday life: patience, kindness, learning how to stay in the present moment, and the importance of taking time for yourself to fill your own cup.

It has brought peace to my being that I needed and made me a better husband, father, friend, brother – in short, a better human being. For as long as my body will allow, I will travel by bicycle.

Erick Cedeño is a bicycling advocate, cyclo-tourist and the one-person-show behind Bicycle Nomad. In the past 12 years he has traveled over 50,000 miles across the U.S on several bicycle tours.