Why you should care
Because Dave Gill found inspiration from talking to total strangers, and you might too.
Cyclists like to crisscross the country for all sorts of reasons: for adventure, a sense of accomplishment, to set some sort of record or because they’re semi-insane, like those Race Across America racers who do 3,000 miles in less than 10 days. Or just because they’re cute and carefree and host a fun Web series called America ByCycle, now in its third season.
More people than ever are cycling across the country. While there are no hard stats, the number is “in the thousands and growing,” says Winona Bateman of the Adventure Cycling Association, a 40-year-old nonprofit that aims to inspire people to travel by bicycle. It’s obviously working: 2012 was Adventure Cycling’s best year in membership and map sales since its inception in 1973.
Maybe, he thought, if he talked with enough folks living their lives — he just might figure out what the hell to do with his.
A 24-year-old Brit named Dave Gill, a scruffy 6’5” filmmaker, caught the bug. So what if he’d never biked more than three miles before? Last November, he set off solo from New York City to cycle a 12,500-mile loop around North America for arguably the most popular reason of all: to, you know, find himself.
What sets him apart from every other aimless 20-something Christopher McCandless-esque soul? Gill wasn’t sick of civilization or technology; he wasn’t searching for solitude. He just wanted to get out of his cubicle and into the world — and meet people. The more the merrier. Because maybe, he thought, if he talked with enough folks living their lives — he just might figure out what the hell to do with his.
After 368 days on the road, he’s back home in Manchester, England. He cycled solo from New York to Florida, west through the Southern states out to California, then up the coast to the Pacific Northwest, to Alaska, then east through Canada, averaging 70 miles a day. On November 13, he reunited with his parents — somewhat anticlimactically — on the George Washington Bridge. Along the way, he shot videos and images for his ”bicycle-powered documentary publishing project,” a.k.a. the Vague Direction website, with plans to turn them into a book.
How does it feel to be done? “Funny, I was just staring at the map,” he says by Skype call. “It had been this epic goal, something that seemed totally unrealistic … and I did it. I’ll have that forever.”
He initially chose the U.S. for his journey because England wasn’t big enough, he says. But ultimately because “America is epic and grand,” says Gill. “When you think of the open road, you think of America.”
So why’d he include Canada? “Well, honestly, the only reason I included Canada is because it looked better on the map,” he admits. “Initially, I was just going to finish in Alaska. But then I thought, I should close the ‘U.’ Do a loop. So I tacked on an extra, oh, 4,500 miles.” Was it worth it? “Canada was pretty, but pretty only lasts you like four hours. Canada was … sparse. I’d go for days without seeing anyone.” Everywhere else he went, though, he met people. All sorts, as he pedaled to “a lot” of Jay Z along the way. From Virginia to Alabama, Texas to California, his favorite. (“If a green card magically appeared, I’d move there in a second,” he says. “Delaware? Not so much.”) He also hit Oregon and Alaska. Along the way, he met hundreds of people. And almost every single one of them was warm and generous (offering free meals and couches) — and more than willing to sit before his camera and spill their stories.
Bartenders and tech start-up founders, singing cowgirls and city mayors, comedians, Civil War reenacters, god worshipers, ex-drug dealers … this young Brit met a greater cross section of Americans than most of us cocooned citizens ever will. Did he find what he was looking for? “I think so. I do feel less lost,” says Gill, laughing. “I can’t tell you specifically how or why that is. But I feel like it’s all going to come together. How, exactly, I have no idea.”
IT’S THE JOURNEY…
Here’s a quick look at who Gill met — and what he learned along the way. Consider these rough cuts from the road, and a film project in the making.
Cape Charles, Virginia
“How many times can you say I’m going to do this and never do any of it. Just do the things you want to do. You want to go sailing? Go sailing.” — Dora Sullivan, mayor of Cape Charles.
“I think it’s extremely important to find what it is we’re good at, and do that. You know? Why swim upstream?” — Misslette, The Singing Cowgirl
Vague DIrection: Singing Cowgirl
“Starting is probably the most important routine … I find that once you actually start doing the thing, even if you’re just forcing yourself to type, your brain just starts. Your creativity follows. Creativity follows hard work.” — Matt Mullenweg, founder of WordPress.
Vague Direction: Matt Mullenweg
“Fear of rejection is the biggest fear of a lot of people. If you can mentally prepare yourself to face the fact that you will be rejected, and that’s OK … You grow when you’re rejected. — Samira Mostofi, movie assistant.
Vague Direction: Samira Mostofi
“Life is really fulfilled by connection … Humans thrive on connection. And if we cut ourselves off, whether it be our own doing, or whether we’re cut off for other reasons, that’s when we stop thriving.” — Sierra Noble, musician.
Vague Direction: Sierra Noble