Life List: Across the Country
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Life List: Across the Country

Write it down. Make it happen. Live your dream. Theresa Russell's life list.

Theresa Russell

Round Lake, New York
Age 55
Married, four kids, travel agent

My Goals
Ride a bike across the USA
Learn Spanish

The Essentials
Trek 520 touring bike with clipless pedals
Broken-in Brooks
Leather saddle
Liquid Sunshine Paley energy bars

My Plan
I'd dreamed of bicycling across the United States ever since my husband, Robert, introduced me to biking in college. But a cross-country tour takes months and the time was never right. We have a special-needs son, Jeff, and we always wanted to be there for him.

Four years ago Jeff moved into a group home. Two weeks later I was diagnosed with severe spinal cord compression and doctors said I would never walk properly again. I had surgery and was lucky. I can walk. And I can bike. But because my problem might come back, I didn't want to delay my dream another second.

Robert and I started in Astoria, Oregon, on May 1, 2007. We took it easy at first, doing 30 to 40 miles a day, then moved up to 55 to 60 miles. We weren't bike Nazis; we just wanted to take in the sights and have a good time. We went kayaking. We went hiking. Our kids joined us for the week it took to bike from Niagara Falls to Albany. Whenever we turned a curve there was a new vista to enjoy, and from start to finish it just kept getting better and better.

Sure, there were tough times. We got hailed on every day for the first week and had headwinds for most of the way. I guess I could have stopped and cried or quit, but I didn't. Considering the fact that I didn't even train for the trip, I'm living proof that the mind can convince the body of anything. We dipped our wheels in the Atlantic Ocean in Portland, Maine, on July 12, 2007, 73 days after we set out.

What I Learned

The trip was freedom for me -- our son was being taken care of and I wasn't in pain anymore. And we really didn't have to rough it: We took tents but camped out only one night the entire time. We stayed in motels and with hosts we met via Warmshowers.org, an informal group of cyclists whose members let people stay with them. We called one woman in Wisconsin with hardly any notice and she said, "I'd love to have you. Please come!" You often hear negative things about the world, but everyone we met was so kind and generous that they restored my faith in humanity. Seeing the U.S.A. this way was such an amazing experience -- every citizen should do it!

 

Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, February 2009.

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