Architect Bicycles Across America

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Cover image for blogpost about bicycling across america

Architect Bicycles Across America

 

I love architecture, but cycling kept me sane.

Architecture is amazing. It has changed the way I look and interact with the world and my environment. It has trained me to be hyper-sensitive to the built environment, to recognize problems and find solutions that an untrained eye would never notice.

I love how my relationship with architecture has evolved after all these years. I love the profession.  I love how it rewards hard work, hustling and weeding out the stragglers. I love looking at the world through the lens of an architect.

Architect Bicycles Across America

Don’t Abandon Your Hobbies for Architecture

As much as I love this profession, it is very easy to get lost in architecture. I am very guilty of this. I get so focused that I have forgotten about everything else. Luckily my passion for cycling kept me sane while I was becoming an architect. When I wasn’t obsessing over architecture I was out riding my bike somewhere, which was the best thing for me.

During architecture school I somehow came up with the crazy idea that I needed to take a bicycle ride across the United States. I faced a lot of obstacles and challenges making this happen. Looking back, cycling across the America was actually one of the smartest things I ever did and has made me a much better architect and person.

 

map of cross country bike tours

Bicycling Across America

I have actually bicycled across the continental USA twice; East to west. Atlantic Ocean to Pacific Ocean, both times.

I took my first trip in 2005 from Virginia Beach to the coast of Florence, Oregon. I rode solo on that first trip. In the end it was 4,547 miles over the course of 77 days. I had just finished the 3rd year of my BARCH program at NYIT. Immediately after the bike tour, I went home for 2 weeks and then off to Germany for a month for an architecture school design workshop.

I left for the second trip in 2007, a month after graduation. This time, I rode with my two best friends from Bar Harbor, Maine to Portland, Oregon, which was a 4,886 mile ride over 90 days. In the middle of my thesis, I fell in love with the idea of leaving the east coast behind, starting a whole new life and career in a new city. I decided before I left that the second trip was going to be one way for me. I ended up in Portland Oregon.  After arriving in town on a bike, I eventually found a job, a place to live, an amazing dog and made that happen. At this point I have lived in Portland for 7 years.

picture of michael Riscica riding bicycle into glacier park

How?!

Bicycling across America isn’t as hard as you think. Actually I take that back. It’s really hard and a lot of work, but it’s so much fun that it doesn’t seem like any work. Every day is pretty much the same and looks like this.

Wake up in a new place and pack up your stuff.

Eat a big breakfast.

Ride an average of 40-60 miles a day. In the mountains 20 miles is a lot if you’re climbing, but 100+ mile days can happen in the Great Plains with the wind at your back.

Ride through 2 or 3 new towns each day. Grab lunch. Meet and talk to a million people all day long.

Find dinner somewhere.

Hang out with locals and maybe have a beer.

Find a place to sleep. This is much easier than you think. I avoided paying to sleep in motels or expensive campgrounds by camping and staying in all types of places.

Not always in that order, but that’s pretty much what a typical day looks like.

I never rode on interstates and mostly used bicycle maps that always put me on some really awesome roads for cycling.

On both trips I carried all my own gear and was self-supported. The first trip I used a little trailer and the second trip I had cycling bags on my front and rear wheels.

picture of michael riscica and the grand tetons

All The Naysayers

On my first trip, when I announced I was cycling across the USA, I was met with an incredible amount of resistance and doubt. Many people thought it was physically impossible to ride a bicycle farther than they have ever driven their car.

Planning my first trip, many people around me had very little faith I could do this. In fact, one of the biggest challenges of my first trip was detouring around everyone who tried to prevent my cross country bike trip from actually happening.

Even, when you’re on the road bicycling cross country, you’re constantly told by locals that it’s impossible and you will never get there. Even after you have bicycled ¾ of the way across the US and have already successfully done this before, they still refuse to believe you.

One of my favorite bike trip moments was when a teenager in Montana once said to us:

“Wow, you guys came from Maine, you’re almost there!”

We celebrated this because we rode from Maine to Montana before someone actually acknowledged we would make it.

As frustrating as it was dealing with all the naysayers, claiming that what I was doing wasn’t possible, it reinforced my beliefs that only I truly know what’s best for me and I’m not crazy.

The big reason why many of these people tried to interfere with a 25 year old taking a life changing adventure, is because my reality was very very far from their reality and how they lived their lives. Yet, this was their way of showing their love, trying to protect me and meant with good intentions, which I acknowledge and appreciate.

I thank myself every day for not letting other people’s beliefs determine my decisions and how I have designed my life. I wouldn’t be sitting here if I did. I wouldn’t have become an architect if I did.

cycling across the great plains

The Takeaways

I think and talk about cycling across America almost every single day, even though many years have passed since it happened. It changed my life drastically. I could go on for hours, but here is an abridged list of things I have learned from cycling across the continent.

  • I was welcomed every day, all the way across. When bicycling across the country, you are greeted with open arms everywhere you go.  All the amazing people I met, other cyclists, animals, sunrises, sunsets, the weather, the mountains and thousands of miles of farmland welcomed and greeted me every single day. Sometimes arriving in these small towns was the most exciting thing that had happened in weeks.
  • Reality check. At 25 years old, I needed to get away from the New York City lifestyle and explore, much more then I needed another summer spent working in an architecture office. I spent a lot of time with people who had very different lives than I did. I needed to see how the rest of the country lived. I never traveled west and had never seen big mountains before, let alone rode my bike across them. America is not the microcosm of New York, LA, Boston or even Portland, Oregon. I needed to experience this first hand.
  • It has changed how I look and interact with strangers. I directly credit cycling across the country for making me much more patient, non-judgmental, friendlier and less aggressive when dealing with others that are on a different level then I am.
  • Planning ruins it. Going with the flow, having a good attitude and just being open to accept whatever happens, is the formula to having an amazing experience. Worrying and planning too much immediately negates any synchronistic experience from ever taking place. This is a hard lesson to learn.
  • My sense of time and space is now skewed or maybe it’s not. The map of the USA doesn’t look so big to me, because it really isn’t that big. It used to feel big to me because I wasn’t travelled. I now have great memories all the way across America.
  • Addicted to movement and the unfamiliar. What I love more than anything is waking up in a place, eating 3 meals a day in different places and then going to sleep in a different place. Nothing is familiar. Nothing is routine except getting on the bike everyday. In fact, on a long trip I became completely familiar with embracing the unfamiliar.
  • Sometimes it really sucks. I’ve been stung by bees, chased by swarms of mosquitos and giant biting black flies, gotten lost, climbed never ending mountains, changed a million flat tires, been trapped in hail storms, gotten sick, fallen off my bike, had some weird encounters with country folk, dodged drunk and meth drivers, crashed my bike, been blown off my bike in a windstorm, had serious mechanical problems in the middle of nowhere and even once had a smart ass kid dressed up as ninja jump out and scare the crap out of me after I just rode 80 hard miles. Sure it sucks, but all of these rough times are exactly what I signed up for. Living through all this stuff definitely made me stronger. I actually knew all these things would happen before I ever left. Without these experiences I would have been cheated.
  • It’s not really about the bike. Cycling cross country is more about the adventure, meeting great people, seeing the landscape, partying and having a lot of fun. It’s really easy to forget about the work. In fact the party is so addictive, which is why I did it twice.
  • It wasn’t really about me either. I blogged about both trips. It was a big chore and I constantly complained, calling it homework. However the blogs received a bigger response then I ever imagined they would. Everyone was reading them and continue to years later. Everyone I met on the road started reading, Peaople back home were reading, the bike touring community was reading. By sharing my adventure, I opened a lot of doors for others who weren’t as far down this path as I was. My blogs inspired many others to take a long bike tour and I still regularly get emails from people I have never met who somehow found them. Here is a link to Mike Riscica Coast to Coast (2005) and the Team Northern Tier (2007).

 

Don’t let others make your decisions or let the architecture completely take over.

I share all this not to convince anyone to go biking across America, but only to share how doing this has changed my life. Architecture has given me a wonderful life and career but it isn’t everything. Thankfully I have also been very passionate about: my friends, traveling, bicycles, punk rock, technology, the internet, my dog, and even yoga.  My architecture background has definitely sweetened my relationship with all those things.

Becoming an architect is a noble pursuit, but keep pursuing everything else that you are passionate about. It will enhance your architecture career and ultimately make you a more interesting person.  Which in my opinion is really more important than being another silly architect.

Summer 2016 Coast2Coast Bike Ride.

During the summer of 2016 I am taking my 3rd bicycle ride across america. The blog for that journey is being kept at Coast2CoastBikeRide.com

Check out some of these other blog posts. 

 

About the author

Michael Riscica

Michael Riscica is a Licensed Architect who lives in beautiful Portland, Oregon, with his Labrador Retriever. He is passionate about helping Young Architects change the world. In his free time, Michael likes to take very long bicycle rides across America. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Linked In.

Sarah G - April 15, 2015

I’m SO EXCITED that you’re doing this again (and blogging it?). Reading the blogs the last two times were such a great part of my day each of those two summers. Also, it will be nice to have you back on the East Coast for a minute! :)

Steve Ramos - April 16, 2015

Wow. That is amazing. I have always been interested in driving across country. But riding a bike is incredible. Well done.

The part about not giving up your hobbies is a great point. I feel like I am in need of some non-architecture hobbies.

Keep it up!
-Steve

Maria V. - May 18, 2015

This is an amazing article, Michael! I completely agree with you that architects should always find a hobby or interest that is not architecture related, something that challenges the mind (and perhaps body) and gets us out into the real world with real circumstances and real people who aren’t in design-related fields.

I’ve also discovered a love for cycling within the last few years. My boyfriend was an avid cyclist and has gotten me hooked once we graduated college. It is such a great activity to mellow out the brain! Although I don’t think I could ever bike cross-country, I’ve recently found it to be a good way into triathlon training (which I highly recommend!).

Thank you for posting personal stories about determination, planning and perseverance in things outside of architecture. I think it’s so important for others, especially young interns, to understand that being an architect and the path to licensure does not mean architecture on the brain 24/7/365. It’s nice to know that we can be normal too :)

    Michael Riscica - May 18, 2015

    Hey Maria,
    Thanks for the beautiful comment. There’s a lot more to life then architecture!
    Im starting to get ready to bicycle cross country summer of 2016. Watch Out!

Lloyd Alter - September 24, 2015

When I was 18 I cycled from Toronto to Vancouver ( only 2800 miles, not nearly as far but still significant). This was (I am getting sick doing the subtraction) 45 years ago, before I went into architecture school. Nobody cycled then, there was nobody to tell me how to do it, and there was only one road, the Trans Canada Highway. In first year I had energy to burn, to do all nighters forever. But more importantly it exposed me to things, opened me up to ideas that have affected the way I have thought about architecture and design ever since. I am still riding my bike, still obsessed about the weight and size of everything, still looking up at stars in the night sky and still hoping to do it again.

    Michael Riscica - September 24, 2015

    Its such a beautiful experience. You should definitely do it again. I’m planning on cycling cross country again next summer right after the AIA convention in Philadelphia.
    Thanks for sharing Lloyd! Your the best!

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