It’s late in the afternoon on a perfectly beautiful September day. We’re cycling down a rails-to-trails path in south central Pennsylvania, enjoying the shade from the trees around us, tired yet exhilarated from a long day that included stumbling onto a small community festival. A fellow cyclist appears on the path ahead of us, and I notice a smile on her face and a glint of recognition in her eyes. “I know you,” she says, quietly, excitedly, and she pulls up alongside me. She is a reader of our web site (pathlesspedaled.com), a follower of our cycling journey, a kindred spirit.
In July 2009, after selling all of our stuff, my partner, Russ Roca, and I left our steady lives to bicycle around the world. By that September day, we had been on the road for almost 14 months, covering nearly 9,000 miles of coastline, desert, forest, swamp and plains. I have woken up to the sunrise over our tent, soared through fields of wildflowers, and fought off hungry raccoons in the middle of the night. I have shared stories with complete strangers, continued working for myself as a metalsmith, and learned how truly capable I am. Being visibly recognizable in the middle of nowhere, however, is still a surreal experience.
We’re often asked why we decided to go on this journey. Did something drastic happen? Are we riding for charity? Did we win the lottery and now get to thumb our noses at everyone else? Nope. We made this bold decision—to take the focus off the stuff in our lives, to explore hidden corners of the world, to connect with new people—because life is short, and we have always wanted to travel the back roads and experience what lies beyond the guidebook recommendations.
While I was a student at Wheaton, a study abroad experience in Córdoba, Spain, introduced me to a new way of exploring a place. Instead of just hitting the highlights, I was able to sink into an area and learn about it as a local. It was an intoxicating way to travel. And I always knew that, one day, I would finally give in to the desire to leave everything behind and wander the world, slowly and deeply. When the opportunity came along last year, I jumped, and my partner jumped with me. We put up a web site and a Facebook page and headed down the road. Many months later, our travels have been more meaningful than we could have imagined, a rich experience full of lessons about ourselves and humanity.
One of the things that I learned very quickly was that I had to let go of any plans and expectations, and I had to relax into change and uncertainty. If I want to learn from folks I’ve just met, I have to be open to what they’ll tell me. If I want to find a hidden spot, I have to be willing to change direction. Because the more you’re able to drop your presumptions, the more you’re able to see someone the way they want to be seen, and experience a situation in a way that you will never forget.
On that September day in Pennsylvania, serendipity appeared in front of us, bringing with it the opportunity to connect with two amazing people. There was conversation about life and travel, a hearty meal, an offer of a place to stay the night, and new friendships. And this is what our journey has been about—seeing a place through the eyes of the people who live there, and finding ways to connect with folks we have never met and might not have known if not for this trip.
Laura Crawford, who double majored in American studies and Hispanic studies, worked in IT and development for several nonprofit organizations, as well as ran her own metalsmithing and art jewelry business, before hitting the road full time. She continues to create jewelry and metalworked objects on the road. She and her partner, Russ Roca (a freelance photographer and writer), will take a winter break in Portland, Ore., before returning to the road in the spring. Read about her bicycle journey and see her jewelry at pathlesspedaled.com and www.tangerinetreehouse.com.