I had been thinking about this trip for the longest time. It crossed my mind pretty much every day I was riding across America. I will always consider it the last leg of my tour, because of what waited for me at the end. Home.
Four days after I had paused my tour around the perimeter of America in late March 2020 for COVID, I found out I had been accepted into the Coastal Communities and Regional Development program at the University Centre of the Westfjords In Isafjordur, Iceland. Due to the COVID circumstances, I was living at my parents’ house in Victoria, Texas, when I got the news. After I was unsure whether I would even apply to the program or not, my decision was made after an inspiring night with my first Warm Showers host in Safford, Arizona, during the pre-COVID part of my tour.
I wasn’t sure what to expect going in to a strangers home to invade their personal space and eat as much food as they were willing to feed me, but I have to say that my first Warm Showers experience changed my life.
Hal, an 80-year-old retired individual living in a one-bedroom apartment in middle-of-nowhere Arizona, told me the stories of his life. He started with how, at age eighteen, he moved abroad on a last minute invite from a European he had met in America. He bought a one-way ticket and ended up staying for three years, after he had loosely planned for just a year. Later, Hal became well-educated and taught at university level at the University of California Santa Barbara. His stories of the 1960s on the Pacific Coast were of a simpler, yet way wilder time. Later, the conversation turned to me, where I told Hal of how I was on the fence of applying for this grad school program in Iceland. When I had quit my job in January, I had rough plans to apply, since I had been following the program for a few years and it aligned with where I wanted my career to go. One of the main goals of my tour was to figure out how best to continue to apply my hands and work to address climate change. As I started touring, however, I started to worry about money and whether or not I would have enough to pay for school as well as complete my trip. One of the earliest lessons I learned on my tour was to not worry about something if it was not prevalent now. Here I was, with a full enough bank account at the time, but I was worried about what it would look like in the future. Why should I waste my time now worrying about something that isn’t a problem now. I had a budget that would allow me to do both, so as long as I stuck to that, I would be okay. So after that inspirational evening with Hal, I decided to apply and the next day I called a few friends to get my letters of recommendation started. The deadline was just 10 days away, but I somehow managed to pull together the application while also riding 60+ miles a day through southwest America in February.
When I woke up that morning at my parents’ house to find an email that said I had been accepted, I didn’t know what to feel. While it gave me the next steps for my life, it also put an end date on my tour, if it would even start again, and I guess it was the first time that I had to start to try to accept that it would end at some point. You never really think about the end in that way while you’re on the road. There’s always the vision of the end location, but there’s little thought about reintegrating back into the regular world and what that even looks like.
As unfortunate as the situation was, the timing of the shutdown in America for COVID actually came at a good time for me. I was able to work on my residence permit application for Iceland, which proved to be harder than the grad school application itself. I had to sort through multiple requirements, including background checks, health insurance, and securing a place to live abroad. It all came together during my 10-week break from riding a bike while living at home.
When I was ready to get back on the bike, I had revised my route to a ride across America, finishing in Boston, to catch a flight to Iceland. I had coordinated shipping a box of all of the important things I would need for grad school ahead to Boston, just in case I somehow lost everything on my bike ride there (thanks Brian!). I also made a late decision to switch from a road bike to a mountain bike for Iceland, so that I could ride the numerous trails, gravel roads, and through the snow in the winter. I had bought the bike sight unseen from an awesome individual (hell yeah Matt!) in Bend, Oregon, and had it shipped to Boston. The bike would be waiting for me in a box that I would put on the plane with me to Iceland and assemble and ride it for the first time at the Keflavik Airport.
With the new plan in place, all I had to do was ride 3,000 miles from Texas to Boston to catch a flight to Iceland and then ride 300 more miles to my new home through one of the harshest and remotest countries in the world. Oh yeah, all while carrying everything I own, too.