As she describes it, the timing was meant to be.

“I had been living in Montana, my seasonal job ended, my lease was up and my boyfriend left for a year abroad,” said Carolyn Hricko. “Why not go on an adventure with some girls I really like?”

The Minot native shoved off from Seaside, Ore., on Sept. 23 for a cross-country bike ride with two friends. They peddled into Portland, Maine, on Dec. 5, having encountered duck eggs, zombies, lots of cold and too many amazing strangers to count.

Name: Carolyn Hricko

Hometown: Minot

What had you been doing out in Montana? I spent the summer working with the Wilderness Institute, a nonprofit associated with the University of Montana. They have a citizen science program over the summer that involves taking groups of about five community volunteers of every age, background and experience level into the back country to help with restoration and monitoring work. I was one of the four field leaders that ran the weekly backpacking trips. We used some pretty high-tech GPS units to collect data ranging from wildlife and user sightings and interactions, trail conditions and developments, to weed and plant identification and monitoring. Our goal was to provide different user groups and the Forest Service with concrete data concerning the wilderness character of this unique area while at the same time engaging community members and getting them excited about the outdoors and interested in local land management. It was awesome!

End of Day 1: Were you still thinking ‘This was a good idea’? We had a hard time finding camping that first night. Actually, we ended up pitching our tent just off the road in what turned out to be a squatter community. Lying in the dark in our sleeping bags that night, I remember saying, “One down, 59 to go…”. We thought the trip was going to take us about 60 days. We groaned a bit, but it didn’t really sound too bad to me. There were a few times during the trip — typically when I couldn’t feel my feet, and my eyes were stinging with cold and rain — that a few sneaky doubts flitted through, but even if we weren’t sure if we’d make it to our destination, I don’t think I ever doubted that what we were doing was a good idea. It was more about being out there and trying something new and experiencing the unknown.

What was the average day like? Our mileage varied a lot. We didn’t train ahead of time at all, so we considered the first few weeks to be our training period. Our first day was about 20 miles, and after a couple weeks we were averaging somewhere around 60, and then later in the trip, 70 miles. I think our longest day was around 92 miles, and it didn’t take us long to realize that the wind was in control. Some days, with headwinds, we worked twice as hard to go half the distance. I’ve felt equally proud of both 90-mile and 30-mile days.

The journey was a series of chapters, and so a lot of our routines changed as we experienced different geography, local cultures, weather and changes in ourselves. We were totally self-supported, so we did a lot of camping and cooking during the first half of the trip when the weather was on the warmer side. We entertained ourselves in the evenings by taking turns reading Ursula Le Guin’s “The Wizard of Earthsea” aloud, and we finished our days by sharing our high, lows and thanks. During the second half of the trip, starting in Iowa, we stayed with people more and more frequently so our daily routines changed a lot. It’s hard to think of our days as an outside observer and to identify rituals, because I never thought of my actions or analyzed them in those terms. In retrospect, I think our days were really just a culmination of small rituals. For example, every night we had the same conversation about what painful time to set the alarm, and everything from the manner in which we woke, dressed, packed our bikes, decided on breaks and pedalled was in itself a kind of ritual. As we came to rely on these routine parts of our day, things began to flow more smoothly.

Most interesting cuisine along the way: This is another really hard question because of the sheer quantity of food we ate and therefore number of opportunities we had to try something different. Our days were dominated by our appetites — food was always on my mind. I’m tempted to say that, for me, it was the world of junk food. Unfortunately, for long stretches in the plains, variety meant another kind of candy bar (which seemed like really interesting cuisine at the time) or what kind of meal we could whip up with convenience store canned goods. Our only rule was that we couldn’t say no to free food of any kind, whether it was the free chili and hot dogs at customer appreciation day, apples from the trees we were passing, vegetables we found on the side of the road or samples in grocery stores. We stumbled upon the Annual Sausage Fest in Walla Walla (Wash.), rediscovered canned spinach in South Dakota, came across fresh duck eggs and I ate my first hamburger in years (I’m usually vegetarian). I now feel like an expert when it comes to small town diners and gas stations. I was also pretty psyched about our trip and Thanksgiving coinciding — talk about good timing and some pretty powerful motivation.

Most interesting stranger(s): We met an unbelievable number of interesting strangers. We were a total oddity in most places. I don’t think anyone expected to see: 1) people biking this time of year; 2) a couple of women biking “alone” or; 3) women biking this time of year alone with wild intentions of crossing the country. Never mind our crazy spandex and loaded bikes. We began to feel like celebrities — everyone wanted to know what we were doing, where we were going, why and for how long. More and more people began to invite us into their homes, offering food and places to sleep, or just their general conversation. It was astonishing, and heart warming. I think the thing that I’ll remember the most about this trip is the people. We experienced so many different lifestyles between Seaside and Portland, whether it was while sipping hot chocolate at the local hangout, biking through (Indian) reservations, enjoying a beer at the bar, camping in a small town’s park or recreation center, or being invited into a generous family’s home. I learned that our country is full of interesting and kind strangers.

Best sight: The “Steep Grade” sign with a truck going downhill — they don’t put those up unless it’s really worth it! We also had some pretty spectacular sunsets and crossed some beautiful country. And, of course, the Atlantic was a pretty welcome sight!

Highlight of the trip: Besides the people that we met, I’d have to say that a major highlight was discovering that I really love cycling. I think you might wonder, why else would someone sign up for something like this, but it actually never occurred to me that the actual biking would be, well, fun. That could have something to do with the fact that I’d never biked more than 20 miles at a time before. I was just really looking forward to everything else that a human-powered trip with friends across the continent would encompass. The truth of the matter is, we did spend the majority of every day on our bikes, pedaling like fools, and I really enjoyed it. I also loved getting to know my companions better than I thought was possible and how much they taught me. And I have to say, it is really satisfying to have made it to our original destination, especially when I think of just how many people told us it was impossible, that we couldn’t do it. Trying a high-wheeler and a recumbent bike was pretty great, too. There are so many, it’s too hard to decide!

We hear you encountered a zombie walk and a ghost town? The zombie walk was another highlight! Our hosts in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, introduced us to this phenomenon, where over 1,000 people dress up in elaborate zombie costumes and parade and party up and down the streets downtown. It was the best Halloween I’ve had in years. I hope I can put on my “living dead” face and limp and moan around town next year, too. We encountered only one real ghost town, I guess, though there were plenty that seemed like they were on their way. One of the best sunsets of the trip was in what appeared to be a ghost town in South Dakota. It was appropriately named Scenic, and we didn’t have any trouble finding camping.

How cold did it get? Too cold! Our blog name was a joke, or so we thought. (It’s “Last One There Gets Frostbite” at http://lastonetheregetsfrostbite.blogspot.com/2011/12/day-74-december-5-2011-3551-miles-later.html) I’m not sure if my feet will ever be the same again. The hypothermia dance made a regular appearance, and there were days when we couldn’t take breaks because stopping for just a few minutes would cause us to get a deep chill. Maintaining the proper body temperature without becoming too hot from exertion or too cold from the temperature outside became an art. We were pretty well prepared, though, and for the most part it was a very mild and warm fall. And we were incredibly lucky with the weather — it was our big unknown. We stopped feeling committed to any particular destination and left it up to the weather. In a sense, I guess that means that we were meant to finish in Portland. Somehow we avoided all the major storms and only ended up biking in the snow a handful of times. I have a photo of myself under a temperature reading of 57 degrees on our last day — just plain lucky.

Advice to anyone considering a fall cross-country ride: Go for it, with a lot of flexibility and without expectations. And make sure you have a very warm sleeping bag and some really powerful front and rear lights, ’cause the days are never long enough and the nights are pretty chilly. We kept saying, wouldn’t we be bummed if we had decided that, even though we had no idea what the weather would be like, we shouldn’t do the trip because of the timing? There were so many beautiful fall days this year, and I’m sure I would have been kicking myself for not trying. We were ready to bag it if the weather necessitated it, but we didn’t have to. There are some serious benefits to cycling in the fall, and my only qualm was that it seemed more like winter than fall toward the end. Priorities for the reunion trip? Warm, sunny weather. Thinking about doing this trip at another time of year seems, well, easy now! And as for a supported trip . . . now that would just be vacation.

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