Marianne Worth Rudd realizes her dream of crossing the United States by bicycle with her husband
The following is an excerpt from ‘Pedal Pushers Coast-to-Coast’ by Marianne Worth Rudd
I thought I had Terry figured out. I thought our bike trip was about getting somewhere.
Was I ever mistaken.
I spent years imaging this trip, but I failed to imagine it wouldn’t actually be about getting somewhere. It never occurred to me that I didn’t have Terry figured out.
I was naïve about much that lay ahead. I didn’t realize the trip would actually be about people, not sights nor our ending point. I never considered that Terry’s and my quirks would become even quirkier, and that our relationship was destined for major challenges. I didn’t realize our trip would become largely defined by one element we repeatedly encountered across the continent: the kindness of strangers.
There was so much I didn’t know.
Marianne Worth Rudd
Bison and Geysers and Bears, Oh My! – Wyoming
In a world of warmth and sunshine, I wore cotton capris, a short sleeve shirt, and sunscreen—a trifecta not seen in over a week. I did keep my bike shoes unclipped, just in case of bears.
Established in 1872, Yellowstone is considered the world’s first national park. Half of the world’s geothermal features and two thirds of the world’s geysers are found within Yellowstone’s two million acres.
With cans of bear spray within arms’ reach, we pedaled out to explore.
Bison ate, grunted, and sloshed their way through swampy grassland paralleling the Firehole River, with mamas patiently standing as their calves nursed. Fascinated, we gawked for ten minutes.
“Let’s take a break,” Terry soon said after resuming our cycling.
We just had a break, but we pulled off near the river and Terry lay down on some rocks.
“I’m not feeling good. I’m hurting,” he groaned, pointing to his hernia.
It wasn’t a pretty picture with him laid out on the rocks looking ill. I fed him ibuprofen and nervously waited. Twenty minutes later, we were back on the bikes. That was sobering.
Anxiety nags, often relentlessly, and frequently it stems from forces beyond one’s control. Our bike trip started back in Oregon with an anxious thought: “What if something bad happens?” I was no stranger to death from bike accidents or car accidents; I lost a childhood friend from a car hitting her while she rode her bike, and lost an aunt to a car accident. It’s possible to die on a cross country bike trip, as many people pointed out before Terry and I started our trip. It’s also possible to die in your bathtub at home, as has happened in my family. There’s no guarantee to anything, except that a person is going to die sooner or later.
Most of my bike trip anxieties didn’t revolve around death. Most revolved around being wet and cold, or wondering where we would sleep—issues that were temporary, and generally far below the severity of death. Still, anxiety gnaws at one’s brain, sometimes with subtlety, sometimes with ferocity.
It was clear I had no control over many aspects of our trip, such as Terry’s new hernia diagnosis. While I lacked control about much, the pundits informed me I did have control over how I responded. The positive aspect of anxiety is that you can make plans. Have a lot of worries? Make a lot of plans. Anxious about where to sleep? We had tent and sleeping bags for that; we could “stealth camp” if needed. Anxious about being cold and wet? That’s why I had a lot of extra clothing with me. Have anxiety about Terry’s hernia? There’s medical care for that. Anxiety about the trip ending prematurely? I didn’t have an easy fix for that one.
Pedaling hour after hour gave me plenty of time to reflect. My brain alternated its management of my anxieties: sometimes it wrestled with them, sometimes it gently massaged, and sometimes it shoved them far from my consciousness.
Mulling over my anxieties, I continued pushing the pedals.
Marianne Worth Rudd
As we pedaled, four bison sauntered down the center of our two-lane road, slowly approaching us. Once again, Terry and I stuck close to a nearby car, keeping it between us and the bison. My heart pounded. The bison didn’t pay attention to us, but Terry and I sure paid attention to them. Bison stand five to six feet high, literally weighing a ton. They have big horns and are quick—I doubt it’s advisable to be close to them while on a bike.
Clouds of steam rose in the distance—the Lower Geyser Basin. We locked bikes and wandered the boardwalk, which keeps (most) people from falling into the hot springs, geysers, fumaroles, and mud pots along the half-mile boardwalk. My favorites were the mud pots, slurping and throwing mud several feet high, sometimes burping it onto the boardwalk.
Geysers lured me, too, and after a short stint back on the bikes, we pulled into Biscuit Basin for more geyser action. I left my helmet on for an anticipated quick stop. An older woman approached me.
“My husband and I saw you when you were biking up that steep hill back there. We said how spunky you must be, and then we passed you. I said, ‘She’s got white hair!’”
The woman seemed pretty enthusiastic about that. I wasn’t sure about the spunky part; I wasn’t feeling particularly spunky, but she did get the white hair part right.
Two other cyclists pulled into Biscuit Basin. Sarah and Lena were six weeks into their trip, cycling three thousand miles from Virginia on their way to Oregon. They did not have white hair. In their 20s, Sarah’s dreadlocks fell to her waist.
“Where are you spending the nights here in Yellowstone?” Terry asked them.
“We stayed last night in a campground that hadn’t opened yet,” Lena replied. “A ranger came at midnight and said we were illegal. At least he didn’t make us pack up right then and leave.”
And at least a bear didn’t visit them. They hadn’t hung their food from a tree, and they ate inside their tent. Terry and I were warned that bears will disturb tents that have had food in them, even if the food is no longer there. Because Terry and I had been eating while inside our tent during the last few weeks, we weren’t planning to camp in Yellowstone’s grizzly country.
We four swapped cycling stories, including information about what lay ahead in either direction. The camaraderie between us was short but high-spirited.
With a friendly wave, they headed off to find another illegal camp spot for the night.
A few miles later, we turned in to the community of Old Faithful. A Visitor Center sign indicated the geyser was to erupt in about fifteen minutes, so we high-tailed it over. Old Faithful erupts about every ninety minutes, give or take ten of them. It’s not the highest geyser in Yellowstone, but its claim to fame is its punctuality.
Crowds gathered at Old Faithful’s boardwalk, but Terry and I made a beeline for the wooden sign that read Old Faithful Geyser. With our loaded bikes to the side, we stood near and waited for Old Faithful to go. Old Faithful’s eruptions last from one to five minutes, so there’s plenty of time for photos. We accosted a passerby and asked him to snap pictures of us, our bikes, and the erupting Old Faithful in action.
Marianne Worth Rudd