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Bicycling Across America

Biking coast to coast. It’s on a lot of bucket lists. Bruce Weber did it. He brings us his tale of 4000 miles.

Bruce Weber biked across the United States. His new book, "Life is a Wheel," narrates that journey. (Marcus Yam)

New York Times obituary writer Bruce Weber biked across the United States. His new book, “Life is a Wheel,” narrates that journey. (Marcus Yam)

If you’ve dreamed about bicycling across the United States, get in line.  It’s on a lot of wish lists, bucket lists, to-do lists.  Of course, most people don’t.  Coast to coast is a long way.  There are mountains and very wide prairies and wind and rain and eighteen wheelers out there.  But still, every summer, people do it.  Bruce Weber did it.  He’s an obituary writer.  And one day, all the writing about death and sitting around to do it just got to be too much.  He pulled out the bike.  And rode.  Four thousand miles.  Coast to coast.  Sweating.  Searching.  This hour On Point:  Life and death and bicycling across America.

– Tom Ashbrook


David Howard, executive editor at Bicycling magazine. (@davehoward99)

Bruce Weber, obituary writer for the New York Times. Author of the new book, “Life is a Wheel: Life, Death, Etc., and a Bike Ride Across America.” Also author of “As They See ‘Em: A Fan’s Travels in the Land of Umpires” and “Savion! My Life in Tap.” (@nytbruceweber)

Ellen Russell-Gage, dispacther in the Liberty County, MT Sheriff’s Department.

From Tom’s Reading List

New York Times: One Man, Two Wheels, 4,122 Miles — “A man in the grip of a midlife crisis often gets himself a new set of wheels: a Porsche or a Jaguar or a Mustang convertible. But at 57, Bruce Weber, the author of the memoir and travelogue ‘Life Is a Wheel,’ opted for a different vehicle, a shiny red custom-made titanium bicycle, which he resolved to ride from the Pacific Coast to the Atlantic.”

Charlotte Observer: Book review: ‘Life is a Wheel’ — “Unlike most of you, however, Weber has no spouse, no kids, no place of worship, no ball-and-chain cramping his style. A confirmed New York bachelor, he enjoys freedom to take an adventure most of us can only dream about: a four-month-long, coast-to-coast bike ride. Weber’s travel diary, ‘Life is a Wheel,’ originally appeared as a series of blog posts for the New York Times, where he has worked for more than 25 years. Not merely a chronicle of a 3,600-mile bike ride, it’s as much an exhibition of the cyclist’s emotional state, booby-trapped with lifelong anxieties.”

Minneapolis Star Tribune: REVIEW: ‘Life Is a Wheel: Love, Death, Etc., and a Bike Ride Across America,’ by Bruce Weber – “The title itself has kind of a rambling feel to it and aptly reflects the tone of the memoir. There are no revelatory scenes or great surprises along the way. There is equal space given to the cycling details of the ride, Weber’s reflections on his family and his life in journalism, and daily scenes of the United States, where he finds his sense of patriotism fired up. ”

Read An Excerpt Of “Life Is a Wheel” By Bruce Weber

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  • Joe KomaGawa

    Mega-kudos to Mr Weber,
    I haven’t read the book but I wonder if he has read “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”? I would imagine that during those long silences in the distances he peddled, he could ruminate about quality, etc.

  • Jim

    Just avoid new hampshire, you know? The live free or die crap allow a deadly tragedy where two women riders got killed.

  • DonM55

    I did a coast to coast from East to West back in 1981. The wind definitely is a factor. Most days I averaged 60 to 70 miles, but the worst was in flat old Kansas on a very windy day – It took 10 hours to go 30 miles (I was close to insane by the end of that day)

  • Renee Raymond

    Sounds like an EXCELLENT idea. However, first I need to learn how to ride a bike…(before you ask–I’ll be half a century early next year).

  • Julie Lisk

    A shout out to Massachusetts resident Dorian Anderson. He’s doing a big birding year by bicycle, and fundraising for bird conservation! He left Newburyport, ma on January 1. He’s been riding through frigid temps and snow and rain storms. He’s logged 1393 miles and tallied 260 bird species. He maintains a daily blog of the ups and downs of his adventure http://bikingforbirds.blogspot.com/

  • Daniel Mckee

    My son was 15 when we rode the tandem across the US. He suggested the ride, and we rode from Portland, OR to Beverly Farms, MA. Best time of our lives! He’s off on the Appalachian Trail next Friday, hiking solo. The bike trip was a great experience for him – and me!

  • gregorclark

    My greatest memory is the day I broke down outside a town in Wyoming, population 3, and had to patch my bike together again with Johnson & Johnson tape from my first aid kit to make it to the nearest town, Jeffrey City, 35 miles away. There’s absolutely nothing like the sense of freedom romance of cycling across America, hitting the road with everything you need packed into a pair of panniers: I got myself the smallest sleeping bag and tent I could find (each of
    them compressed down to the size of a large melon), strapped my travel
    guitar to the back and headed out solo
    at age 39 for a trip of about 1200 miles from Crested Butte, CO to Sun Valley, Idaho. I met so many nice people, both residents of the places I was passing through and other cyclists of all ages and nationalities.

  • Lynn Petrotte

    I rode across the country in 2000 as a way to jump start my life and challenge myself. I now co-direct the Big Ride Across America. What I enjoy the most is watching the transformation of the Riders. It is extremely rewarding to be a part of their process.

  • Tam Yi

    I love this idea but I rarely hear about people of color doing this sort of thing. Recent tragic news about white on black aggression definitely gives me pause to consider such a thing. How do you think these experiences would have differed for black cyclists rather than white?

    • Ray Carre

      I did consider race on my xc, I did bring a “shield” my matinee veteran roommate. I may not have been quite as successful and certainly would not have been as welcome in the many paces I was in that election year’s summer.

      Marines coast to coast glean a level of respect akin to a meandering knight when Europe was an uncivilized adolescent and the lands to their east boasted infrastructure and education. I suppose it is party of western civ’s cultural legacy, that blithe trust be placed on the mantle of the chivalrous, disciplined and noble soldier.

      Insofar as race presenting itself as an overt hindrance; day 36, mile 2455 the eve of our final push to burning man, a bar patron exclaimed her disdain for a n*****’s presence at the same bar, because she “had kids to go home to.” Alcohol certainly a factor here, as her comment made no sense in the most stressed of rationale, but I was never in any danger. Conversely Californians were the image of acquiescence.

  • nj_v2

    Enjoying the show. I’ve only done local biking/camping, but have done extensive automobile road trips, as well as hiking. While i’ve had vehicles burgled, and i’ve known people who’ve had packs stolen from at backcountry shelters, the vast majority of encounters on the road and trail have been characterized by openness, friendliness, and helpfulness.

  • pete

    My sister rode the northern route with Cycle America (http://www.cycleamerica.com/cc-tour.htm). They handle room and board (lunch is a under a tarp 1/2 along the ride, dinners often at a high school cafeteria) and schlep your gear for you so just pedal your bike. I did all of Wyoming and Fryeburg,ME to Gloucester to Westford at the end. It was a great experience and Cycle America is a very good organization

  • Dave Holzman

    I rode Seattle to Boston in July-august 1975. We spent a night in the town park in that town, Chester, Montana, where people were so nice to Bruce Weber. In the morning, a couple of kids drove up in a red Renault, said they were the town welcoming committee, and showed us the town.

    I read a few pages from Bruce Weber’s book on this site. As a fellow journalist, I will say that it’s extremely well written, and very interesting, and he expressed brilliantly a lot of what I felt on my trip.

  • Steve_the_Repoman

    My brother has ridden across the country multiple times North/South and East/West.

    In Wisconsin during one of his solo trips he ran into a fellow biker towing a kayak. This sole wayfarer claimed to have come from Alaska with the goal of reaching Tierra del Fuego (kayaking where biking was no longer possible).

  • Christa Moore Branigan

    Great opportunity for teens to do a cross country bike trip this summer is the Jett Ride. See wwww.jettfoundation.org. This ride is to raise money and awareness for Duchenne muscular Dystrophy.

  • Bob Harrison

    My cross country bicycle trip was in 1979 when I was 20 … from the GW Bridge in NYC to Vancouver, B.C. Could I do it again at 55 ? Nice to relive a bit of it through Bruce’s story. Kept a log, by a mailing 3×5 index card each day from each night’s destination … along with photos taking with a mini 110-film camera. Now posted on my blog at http://ccbt1979.blogspot.com/

  • John Hartmire

    I rode 3600 miles from San Francisco to New York City during the summer of 1979, averaging about 100 miles a day with some grateful and glorious stops along the way…. Anyone have any guess how many people make the ride annually???

  • Tom Fortmann

    What a great story! I dreamed about the cyclists’ holy grail for years and finally did it in 2010 with 19 other riders in 58 glorious days. Our web journal is at http://crazyguyonabike.com/doc/seatoshiningsea2010. Thousands of other inspiring long-distance cycling journals can be found at http://crazyguyonabike.com. Anyone who’s interested in this sort of touring can find maps and other resources at http://adventurecycling.org.

  • Bob Clawson

    My daughter-in-law, Judy Clawson, leads bicycling groups from the West Coast to Portsmouth, N.H. as much as three times per summer.

  • Bob Clawson

    Dear Tom,

    Quietly, the Robert Creeley Award has grown from a modest gathering of 150 fans to today’s average of 900 fannies in the seats…not your faithful forty, as poets describe their normal audiences.

    As you know, those are huge numbers for poetry.

    Because they come not only from Acton and the Boston area, but also from New Hampshire, Vermont, and Rhode Island, this wonderful following makes the Robert Creeley Award the premier event of April, National Poetry Month in New England, if not nationally. No regional event, even the Massachusetts Poetry Festival, can make this claim for a reading by a single poet.

    Mary Ruefle, a masterful and beloved poet, from Bennington, Vermont, has won the 2014 Robert Creeley Award.* She’s a wonderful, honest, witty woman, with radio-interview experience who’ll surely bring joy to your listeners.

    She reads in Acton on April 16, 7:30 PM, at the R.J. Grey Jr. High, 16 Charter Road.

    I’m Bob Clawson, a director of the Robert
    Creeley Foundation, and I can connect you with Mary.

    Thanks for your attention, Tom

    *Some previous winners: Gary Snyder, John Ashbery, Grace Paley, Martin Espada, Carolyn Forche’, Yusef Komunyakaa, Naomi Shihab
    Nye, and Bruce Weigl.

  • Born in Akron

    Bike and Build (bikeandbuild.org) has 9 routes with about 30 riders each, East to West, every summer. To participate, riders raise money, half for affordable housing and half for the food and other expenses of the trip. Every sixth day they work with Habitat for Humanity or a similar building or cleanup project instead of riding. Each participant is responsible for learning and presenting about particular towns where they stop. Their route is prearranged, with overnight accommodations in church basements and the like. Our son has done it twice, once as a participant (Providence to Seattle), and another time as a leader (Portsmouth to Vancouver). He highly recommends it.

    • Bob Immler

      What you do is admirable.

      One time I was riding the length of Vermont and took a break where a group raising money in their coach’s name was also taking a break.

      “Who are you riding for?” they asked.

      “The Bob Fund!” I answered. “It’s 100% deductible, unless you’re audited!”

  • Bob Immler

    I rode the Trans-Am trail from Astoria to DC in 76. Rode part of the way with two friends. Forwarded the link to one of them. I lived in Los Angeles in those days but was looking for something different. Didn’t find it on that trip, but now live in Brattleboro, VT.

    It was 4250 miles and I aimed for 100 miles per day, carrying all my own gear, mostly camping. The Rockies were nothing. But the hill up to the Blue Ridge was a killer.

    My wife and I have cycled in Cuba, Thailand, along the Danube and done the Camino de Santiago. A few summers ago we did the C&O canal and then the Erie Canal.

    I’ve always wanted to cycle the perimeter of the U.S. But I don’t know if that will happen.

    I want to do a group tour of southern India. That may be a hard sell for my wife.

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