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A New Year and a long-ride on the road to a better America

I am not overly inspired to write right now and I am not 100% sure why. It's not writer's block. I am not being lazy. And I do have things to share. I think it’s because I’m still exhausted from 37 days of accompanying a guy for more than half of his nine-week bike ride across the country. Mental exhaustion aside, I have some things to share.

I don't know about you, but as the year comes to a close, I can't help but think that 2021 felt like an escape from 2020. I’d needed to put some space between myself and all that first Covid year encompassed. And in some ways maybe that's what joining this bike ride across America was about for me. Physically moving away from the past and crossing the country to find a better future.

The bike trip I am talking about was one I shared in a previous blog (read Filming Across America). This trip was born out of an idea by CEO Zac Bookman to ride across the country on a bicycle to raise funds for the Sandra Day O'Connor Institute for Democracy and to evangelize how his company, OpenGov, was changing the face of government. Midway through the year, Zac invited me to support and film his bike ride across America. The concept was exciting, and I quickly signed on. Little did I realize what I was getting into.

Right to left: Riding the Extraterrestrial Hwy., filming in Nevada and the flash flood in Hanksville, UT.

The show must go on.

After several months of conversation and a couple of months of prep, the day of departure came, and on August 21, we set off to cross this country. The course was a combination of two bike routes that intersect in Pueblo, Colorado. The first was the Western Express, which starts in San Francisco and crosses California, Nevada, Utah and Colorado. The second is the Trans-America route, which was commemorated during the bicentennial of American independence and travels through Virginia to the coast via the beaches of the Chesapeake Bay. We picked up the Trans-America in Colorado and rode it through Kansas, Missouri, Illinois and Kentucky before the final state and finish (see our route here).

During the first half of the trip, from San Francisco to Colorado, we encountered forest fires in California and a flash flood in Utah that destroyed our support vehicle (news coverage of Zac's experience). This event greatly changed the course of the trip and shifted the morale of everyone. Processing the loss of the car and our forward momentum, I had thought this was the end of it all. However, Zac did not, and after a 10-day regroup he returned to the course with more resolve than he had started with. We pushed on, with a white U Haul rental van as our support vehicle for the rest of the trip.

By late September we found ourselves in western Kansas with a little more than half the country to cover before winter. The clock was ticking and Zac needed to stay on the bike even when he might have been better off recovering. It was in this section that more experienced bikers assured us we would at some point question why we were out here, and we did, after a near-death experience in Missouri.

Crossing the Great Divide, Kansas sunset, and the hills of Missouri.

The grim reaper himself...

On any given day, Zac would have cars, trucks or a semi ride up too close, but this time he wasn't on the bike. I was driving and he was riding shotgun as we rolled up on his starting point for the day. With a massive blind spot in a van that I was not accustomed to driving, I pulled out on what seemed to be an empty country road only to note seconds later that it wasn't. Adrenaline spiked and both our pulses shot up as a black Jeep with tinted windows passed mere inches from our front bumper. It was as if the grim reaper himself had come flying by just close enough to say hi on his way to visit some else. I hit the breaks and turned my head to watch the vehicle skip through the dirt of the ditch at 80 MPH, avoiding a full-on T-bone collision in the driver side door.

I pulled off the road to pace back and forth in the dirt, contemplating my mortality and thinking of aborting the ride altogether. In a unique moment of friendship, Zac rubbed me on the back to assure me it was going to be ok, and I started to calm down. An hour later down the road, I was stopped in my tracks again as a black hearse and a procession of cars turned left into a cemetery. It was clear to me then and now that I was lucky to be alive. Shortly afterward, I kissed the ground, thanked God, then pulled out the camera to start filming.