Lawhorn’s Lawrence: A 3,000-mile bicycle trip and a different view of America
Don’t ever agree to help a Belgian move.
No, it is not that they are more prone to own one of those heavy, awkward hide-a-beds than the general population. Nor are they more likely to live on the third story of a building without an elevator.
But, based on the one Belgian I’ve talked to, they are much more likely to turn a moving trip into a 3,000-mile, cross-country bicycle trek.
At least, that’s what Robin Ligon did. He recently graduated with an MBA from the Haas School of Business at the University of California-Berkeley and took a job in New York City. So, he got in contact with a couple of his old roommates he lived with in Belgium to see if they wanted to come to America before he made the move. They did, and they were game for a crazy idea too.
“It seemed like a funny idea to do the move by bike,” Ligon said.
From the Golden Gate Bridge to the Brooklyn Bridge. All via bicycle. The trio of 28-year-olds — Ligon, Robin Achten and Teun Lambregs — started in mid-June, and by mid-July they were in Lawrence. They were sacking out on the couch of local doctor Scott Robinson. Ligon had met Robinson’s daughter, Erin Robinson, while at Berkeley, and she offered up her parents’ home as a place to recharge during the journey.
As far as I know, the trio isn’t pulling a U-Haul behind their bikes. The big stuff is still getting transported via moving truck. But Ligon is moving himself via bike. There’s no van or comfort car following the trio. There’s also no cause attached to this ride. The group is not trying to raise money or awareness about anything. They really are just trying to get from one bridge to another.
“It has given us a great chance to explore,” Ligon said.
Most days, they ride about 90 miles. There was one day they rode 140 miles. A normal day equates to about six to eight hours of pedaling during the course of a 10 or 12-hour day. The rest of the time is consumed by breaks, like the one they took in Aspen, Colo.
The three guys grew up big fans of cyclist Lance Armstrong. He lives in the mountain community, and the trio decided to take a break in his driveway. After about 10 minutes, Armstrong came out. They talked about Belgium a bit — where Armstrong raced many times — how much heavier these bikes are than the ones Armstrong rides, and they did it all over a beer or two.
That beverage was much appreciated, but the one liquid that controls the entire trip is water. The guys do most of their planning around how far they can travel before they run out of water and have to refill.
The distance varies, as does the terrain. There have been the Rocky Mountains, which topped out at 12,000 feet at the Continental Divide.
“That was a lot of climbing, but it was beautiful,” Ligon said.
Then there was western Kansas, which was a lot hillier than the group expected. “When you expect flat and you get rolling hills, it seems to hurt more,” he said.
The desert, though, perhaps topped it all. One portion was a 60-mile stretch without a single town or water station along the way. “It has been hot,” he said. “We’ve been riding from heat wave to heat wave.”
Sometimes their figuring fails them. Their water runs out before their time in the saddle. The solution, though, is simple enough: “We have had to stop cars at times to ask for more water,” Ligon said.
That actually worked. Plus, it fit in well with what the group really set out to do: meet more people.
“A lot of people in Europe know Americans in New York or the West Coast, but they don’t know people here in the Midwest,” Ligon said.
Well, meeting people hasn’t been their only goal. The trio grew up cycling fans in Belgium. They had thought about a long cycling trip together for quite awhile. Ligon listed it as one of his dreams, with another getting an education in the U.S. He has just completed that one, so why not the other one too?
“It really is not that big of a dream, you know,” Ligon said of the task that involves riding more than 600 miles a week. “Yes, it is a challenging trip, but you just take it day by day, or really one pedal stroke at a time.”
Come to find out, when you don’t let your dreams intimidate you, the world opens up. Ligon said the trip has been eye-opening, especially for his two friends who previously had not spent much time around Americans.
“They have been positively surprised by the hospitality,” Ligon said.
In case you hadn’t heard, Americans are not exactly the poster children for good manners in Europe these days. The news also may lead foreigners to believe walls, not welcome mats, are the primary greeting device for new arrivals.
Ligon, though, tried to tell his friends that it would not be that way. Everything would turn out OK.
“Sure, we have met some ‘funny’ people, but they are in the minority,” Ligon said. “The big majority are people who like to help out. I’m sure they have all different types of political views. But they have been friendly across the entire spectrum.”
The group relies on passers-by for water. The group sometimes stays in the homes of strangers they meet via a cycling app. They hang out in the driveway of Lance Armstrong expecting a friendly response.
Thus far, they’ve been right every time. Maybe a trip that goes from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Brooklyn Bridge is destined to say something about bridging divides.
“To Europeans, Americans still seem to have so much in common,” Ligon said. “It doesn’t look like a divided country from the outside.”
Lawhorn’s Lawrence is an occasional column from editor Chad Lawhorn about the people, places and past of the surrounding area.