Bicycle wheel against the sun and it's shadow

“We don’t take a trip. A trip takes us.”

John Steinbeck

If you’d ask me why I took this trip – or why I let this trip take me – I am not sure I’ll find a straight simple answer.

Until shortly before, I had worked as Chief Technology Officer of SAP, a leading vendor of Enterprise Software and Software-as-a-Service solutions, and – whatever that means outside SAP’s corporate walls – President of the SAP Cloud Platform product and organization. I had been with the company for the last 24 years, but decided in October the year before the trip after a number of changes at SAP “to call it a day” and leave SAP. Having been heads-down drowned into my job over the past years, I perhaps suddenly realized that there has been something waiting out there for me. And now there was the opportunity. So this idea popped up over Christmas Holidays in 2018 to ride across the United States by bicycle. I’m a runner but had gotten myself into road biking recently and a recent bike tour from San Francisco to Santa Barbara had made appetite for more.

I’ve had the privilege to work in the software industry for SAP and to live in Palo Alto, California, for some time – a surreal bubble created by and for people in the high tech industry – residing in another surreal bubble called “Silicon Valley” which is contained in another bubble called “California”. None of this represents reality to the majority of people living in the US that was generous enough to allow me to move there with my family. So how about finding out what the rest of the US looks like and how people think and feel in the rest of the country, I wondered?

The trip was a self-sustained bicycle trip spanning roughly 4300 miles (6900 kilometers) across the United States from the Pacific Ocean in the West by starting in San Francisco to New York City at the Atlantic Ocean in the East. It passed deserts and forests, vast regions of “nothingness”, got me to cities and small towns alike, led across the Rocky Mountains through the vast planes of the states in the mid of the US and the crowded urban areas on the East coast, had me climb more than 210.000 feet (64.000 meters) in elevation overall – and gave me the pleasure to roll them down again.

The route followed to the largest part the official cross-country bike routes of the Adventure Cycling Route Network which provides a large number of detailed bike-accessible trails, put together by bicycling clubs and enthusiasts across the US. In particular, I’ve followed the Western Express, Trans America and Atlantic Coast trails plus some “filler” routes that Google spit out to connect what didn’t fit together by default.

By “self-sustained bicycle trip” I mean a trip that does not involve any service cars or support people. It means riding by yourself with all your luggage dragged along – in our case in a one-wheeled bike trailer.

My son Tim – brave him !! – joined me in Lexington, Kentucky, with his own bike so we were able to do the remaining part of the trip together and finished jointly in New York end of June 2019. We stayed in motels or “the like” for the entire trip — but had tents and sleeping bags with us for emergencies (never needed them actually). Tim had finished school the year before and had luckily decided to join me for this trip before he started University later that year.

I started the trip on April 28th, 2019 in San Francisco and my son and I arrived in New York on June 26th, roughly 60 days later. We covered an average of 70-80 miles per day and threw in a few sightseeing and rest days, sometimes enforced by bad weather. The timing was of essence, since going through the Rocky Mountains in May with a very wet winter season in 2019 and passes at about 10.000 feet or 3000 meters elevation bearing quite some risk of unpleasant weather conditions, as well as getting into the eastern parts of the US in summer with hot and humid weather.

In retrospect, I would recommend anyone taking the same trip to do it the other way around: start in New York and finish in San Francisco. You can start in spring in New York, avoid the heat and humidity on the East Coast and ride towards the Rockies and High Sierra when the weather gets warmer already. Also, and even more important, the West Coast makes for a nicer finish of the trip: California, Nevada, Utah and Colorado are for sure the highlight states of the trip with their monumental scenery. And while the East Coast is pretty too, it’s much less spectacular and one gets probably less receptacle after 2 months sightseeing for 8-10 hours each day. The West will make sure to get your attention with many “wow!” views after each corner.

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