Biking Cross Country: A Conversation with Lorraine Lambert
This month, we’re interviewing women from all over the world and asking them about their experiences biking cross country. We had the privilege of speaking with Lorraine Lambert about her experience biking through the United States. Here’s a glimpse into our conversation.
Tell us about yourself! What do you do when you’re not traveling the world? Where do you live? What made you decide to go to the USA?
I’m a thirty-something woman with an insatiable curiosity about the world. I probably should know better but I just seem to get more irresponsible as I ‘grow up.’
I’m fortunate to have traveled widely and done a lot of that traveling by myself. Over the years I’ve lived, worked and journeyed in over 40 countries across 6 continents, including ones, which have made my friends and family go pale! In recent years, I’ve moved from running my own successful consultancy business to ditching the endless hours in front of a computer, the interminable meetings and cashing in the pension plan to figure out life from a different angle.
I’m never going to look back on life, wishing I’d spent more time in the office.
Personal experiences over the years have reinforced the unpredictability of life and the incredible gift that is good health. A combination of that and a natural, insatiable curiosity have given me one of my guiding principles… “I’m never going to look back on life, wishing I’d spent more time in the office”.
All of the above is supported by a sketchy grasp of geography and a penchant for the ridiculous, no common sense and a very understanding set of friends and family. Oh and cycling everywhere in a skirt!
How long did you go for? How did you spend your time?
Between 2013 – 2014 I decided to take ‘a year off from life.’ During that time I got on my bicycle and rode solo across Canada and the U.S. down the Pacific West coast, covering nearly 5000 miles in four months.
Just 12 weeks before this I’d never been on a bicycle for more than two days in a row. Embarking on my first ever bicycle tour on a borrowed bike and with a much more experienced friend, we set off on a sedate three-week trip cycling down through canal paths of France staying in hostels and sampling the local cheese and wine.
Due to a family emergency, my friend unexpectedly had to depart half way through, taking with her the map and ability to speak good French. At that point I had the choice to stop, or carry on. No contest! I headed away from the canal paths we’d been following and off into the snow peaked magnificence that is the Pyrenees. Emerging a week later near the Spanish border, my love affair with cycle touring had begun.
Fast forward two months and I was flying into Toronto, Canada for the second time in my entire life. In the cargo hold I had a second hand bike in a plastic bag, a tent and some panniers all courtesy of dedicated eBay and thrift shop hunting. My plan to see Canada in all its vast, beautiful glory started by cycling 3000 miles across it, westwards – to Vancouver. After buying a road map of Canada, tearing out the whole of the east coast and highlighting the roads I might take with a marker pen, I was ready to go.
At that point I had the choice to stop, or carry on. No contest! I headed away from the canal paths we’d been following and off into the snow peaked magnificence that is the Pyrenees.
Wobbling precariously out of Toronto on day one, my worldly possessions in 2 panniers (including 5 pairs of shoes and 2 dresses), crawling along the main 4-lane highway, reality struck full force – I was scared, alone with a long, long, long ride ahead, what had I been thinking?! Only the gut-clenching, ego-bruising idea of the embarrassment I’d feel by giving up kept me from turning around. At that point reaching Vancouver was unfathomable.
104 days later and I was writing my final travel blog entry from San Diego on the U.S/Mexican border. Five Canadian provinces, the prairies, the Rocky mountains, Vancouver had all come and gone. That was two months ago but I wasn’t ready to stop. The US Pacific West Coast followed–Seattle, Oregon, Washington, California, giant redwood forests, vast, windswept beaches and sunlit mountains. A coastline full of huge literal and metaphorical ups and downs, but I made it 5000 miles on a bicycle and I’m finally sated, for now at least.
What were your most memorable experiences? What were the biggest disappointments?
A plethora of memorable experiences are simply impossible to capture in just a few paragraphs. For me, cycling is one of the most simple of activities, and throughout the journey I found a growing sense of peace and calm. When the road stretches out before you, your legs find a rhythm and your mind can freewheel.
I looked on in wonder and open-mouthed awe at some of the spectacular scenery that is everywhere in Canada. Sunrises over Lake Superior, fields of golden sunflowers glowing in Manitoba, oceans of wheat and corn melting into the bluest, clearest horizon in Saskatchewan, the dramatic, dinosaur filled canyons of Drumheller and oil-fuelled prosperity of Alberta and finally, fittingly dramatic, the Rocky mountains, the wild, arresting, heart-pumping, lung breaking gatekeepers to British Columbia…
And then I was on the west coast of the USA seeing Seattle in sunshine, the beauty of Washington in full Autumn colors, Oregon’s wild coastline and deserted beaches, California, home to the Redwood giants, San-Francisco on Halloween, the eclectic inhabitants of the LA beaches and the Spanish influenced, artistic, multicultural city of San Diego. Wow, what a ride!
When the road stretches out before you, your legs find a rhythm and your mind can freewheel.
For me though, the highlights of the journey were less in the scenery and more with the many wonderful people whom I met along the way. People shared time, food and often their homes with a complete stranger and welcomed me into their lives without a second thought.
My overwhelming emotion is gratitude for the huge number kind words of encouragement, be it by email, phone or face to face, from friends, acquaintances or strangers. It made an untold difference receiving kind and encouraging words and I’m truly humbled by the wonderful people who scooped up a tired, disheveled cyclist from the side of the road and helped me to keep going.
As for disappointments – absolutely none. I tend to have few expectations when I travel, so nothing disappoints, only amazes. There are difficult times and uncomfortable times, especially physically. There are challenges on all levels, psychologically and practically. Disappointments, I’m happy to say, never happen.
What do you wish you knew before you went?
I wish I’d realized that every country has an ambient wind direction….and that I was riding against it. Honestly, the thought never even occurred to me before I left! I was maybe expecting mild English breezes but I learned when hardly a day went past without being dogged by ferociously strong headwinds.
In the prairies, there were often days when I would find myself pedaling furiously just to remain still, the wind so strong that stopping meant being blown backwards. These were the days also when I would be reduced to crawling along at 3 or 4 mph, glaring at the asphalt and cursing the weather gods. I will also admit to the occasional, completely childish tantrum, when, worn down by the wind I would leap off the bike, stomp into a field and yell obscenities.
The wind remained but I felt much better. On second thought, I’m glad I didn’t realize before I went – it may have been a bit off putting!
Any favorite restaurants/hotels/hostels/
sites you’d like to recommend?
Since I was camping and on a budget I mostly prepared my own food. Prepared, however in the loosest sense of the word.
After cycling 75+ miles every day, anything that was quick and easy to consume worked well. After an 8-10 hour day in the saddle battling hills and headwinds, any food is appealing and it’s amazing then what combinations of simple staples can seem like a Michelin star dining experience. Over the course of the trip I perfected the art of the ‘surprise’ sandwich – basically anything I could find lurking in my food pannier, put between 2 slices of bread. My favorite combos included tuna, banana, seaweed nori and granola or cookies, or marmalade and tortilla chips. The same approach worked well substituting bread with instant noodles – just for variety.
Along the way I was lucky to meet and stay with a number of kind souls who plied me with wonderful homemade meals, the heavenly smell and taste of hot, homemade dishes an indescribable luxury. I have always found that the most sublime food is in the simplest places with tired body and content mind, sitting watching a sunset, listening to the ocean or around a fire with good company.
What’s next on your travel list?
There’s still an awful lot of world out there to visit and of course every time I discover a blog or a book or a website such as Pink Pangea, I read about such different and amazing places that I immediately want to travel there.
I enjoy coming home just as much, though. I love the familiarity of being in a place I know intimately, surrounded by people who know me well. I’ve been writing about my past and present experiences of traveling and changing careers on my blog, Cycling in a Skirt. I’ve also been involved in motivational speaking. I talk about the trip, setting personal challenges, and following the road less traveled.
I’m content to immerse myself in this for a while longer. However, twitchy feet have begun and I do have an idea in mind…
Biking Cross Country: A Conversation with Lorraine Lambert