Eight weeks, two bikes and the fresh American trail were mostly what filled junior Holly Kandel and classmate Sarah Prieto’s summer. That and a lot of protein bars. The two set out to bike across America, from the Brooklyn Bridge in New York to the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, resting as necessary. With them they carried minimal clothing, a two-person tent, sleeping bags, bike maintenance tools and spare bike tires.
Kandel and Prieto biked through 11 states total; when they reached Utah, they faced a decision of continuing through what is called the Loneliest Road in America, or U.S. Route 50, or hopping on a bus that would take them straight to Los Angeles. With only two weeks left until they were scheduled to board a flight from San Francisco back to New York, the two decided to choose the latter.
“Nevada is all desert, very desolate and our maps told us there would be an 80-mile stretch without food or water,” Kandel said. “We were kind of done at that point.”
After biking for 60 miles every day this summer, Kandel said that she does “miss the freedom and spontaneity of the road, but I do appreciate the stability now and having my own bed.”
“Every day consisted of eating, sleeping, biking and writing in my journal; that was my whole summer and I was so happy,” Kandel said. “Things were simple.”
Things were simple but not always easy. After what Kandel called two “blissful” days through Pennsylvania, the two faced “massive hills and mountains” all the way. The first week was the most physically exhausting - she admitted that they did not train nearly hard enough - and after that, mental exhaustion ensued. Biking every day for 12 hours and waking up at 5 a.m. was emotionally draining, she said.
“Just knowing we had to wake up that early and knowing that even though each day we didn’t know exactly what we would be doing, we knew that we would just be biking all day,” she said. “It would get boring and it would be hard and tiring and we would get hot and dirty and uncomfortable and just really difficult living.”
She added that, honestly, “the best parts of the trip were when we weren’t biking. But I would never take it back.”
Exhaustion aside, throughout the journey, Kandel said that no matter where she went, the graciousness of people surprised her most. People bought them food, gave them lifts and asked questions about their journey. She said she was nervous about the trip and her safety, at first.
“We didn’t encounter one bad person, and as an individual, I feel more confident just going off anywhere,” she said. “As long as I’m careful and cautious, I feel confident enough that I can take care of myself and that people are generally good.”
Kandel said they especially grew accustomed to the generosity of the cycling community, noting that fellow cyclists would always stop to talk about cycling, traveling and life in general.
According to Kandel, the trip introduced her to a simple lifestyle that she aims to translate into her college life today: “I didn’t need anything except for food and shelter, so I realized that we create these unnecessary worries,” she said. “If everything is taken care of in terms of food and shelter, you’ll be OK.”
Kandel added that the trip pushed her to not overwork herself or spread herself too thin, only “doing things that I’m truly passionate about and maintaining that time to self-reflect and keeping that minimalist lifestyle.”u