Bike

Michael Mueller

Michael Mueller recently returned to Greenville after completing the Trans America Bicycle Route, designed by the Adventure Cycling Association. Mueller departed on May 17 on Amtrak from St. Louis to Chicago to Washington D.C, arriving May 18. He then left the eastern terminus of the Trans America Bicycle Route, Victory Monument in Yorktown, Virginia, on May 21. The trip consisted of a total of 82 days on the bicycle (73 riding days and 9 zero days, which are rest days). Total riding time equaled 412 hours, 11 minutes, and 55 seconds and the distance traveled was 4126.09 miles. Mueller arrived at the western terminus point, the Columbia River Maritime Museum “Anchor” on Aug. 10. He flew home with his wife and bicycle on Aug. 18.

When asked what inspired him to take on such a journey, Mueller said that he and his family moved into Greenville in 2008 and the price of gas “first shot up over $3 a gallon. I was driving a four-wheel drive truck.” He said he worked at the prison and, due to high gas prices and poor gas mileage, he decided to bike to work. He added that he was 235 pounds at that time, and the bicycling resulted in a 65-pound weight loss within six months, which he has maintained ever since. Over time, he began riding ever further distances, and that was how the biking began.

Mueller said that he found the Bicycle Touring Pro on YouTube, who “did these travels all over the world.” He said that it looked like fun, adding that he is well over 60,000 miles on a bike now. As he delved further into the world of bicycle tours, Mueller discovered the Adventure Cycling Association, which plans routes and tours, both guided and unsupported.

He says that the Trans America Bicycle Route is the “super bowl of bicycle touring in the United States,” and that he originally did not plan on riding the route, but doing a hybrid version. However, on the third day of the trip, he met John, a stranger who quickly became a friend. The two of them completed the rest of the route together. Mueller said that this wasn’t something he did because of a cause, it was just something he wanted to experience.

Mueller said he retired last August and knew for several years that he wanted to do a larger trip like this one, which is the largest tour he’s done.

But Mueller said the one thing that happens on every ride is that it restores your faith in humanity. “I was amazed at how people were so nice,” he said. “And caring — strangers. And it was just so mind blowing.” He added that the experience is “nothing that you see in the media … You just can’t imagine. You’re so vulnerable on a bike … You have what you have on, everything is in your bike.” He added that a lot of people are scared to attempt such a trip alone, that people tend to think that other people are mean and dangerous. But Mueller said that his experience has been quite the opposite.

He said that he used maps provided by the Adventure Cycling Association to navigate, which marked out which amenities were available for cyclists in each stop. He met John, a retired firefighter from North Carolina, on the third day of the trip, when it was raining very hard and the two decided it would be safer to ride together. Mueller said that if cyclists decide to ride together, it usually only lasts 3 or 4 days due to differences in riding preferences, but that John was an ideal riding partner. As they talked, they learned that they had retired on the same day of the same year and are both the same age. He said he couldn’t think of a single incident when he thought that he should complete the rest of the route alone.

The route led Mueller from Yorktown through Virginia, across Kentucky, southern Illinois, through the Ozarks, Kansas, Colorado, crisscrossing the Rocky Mountains all the way to Missoula, Montana, south into Idaho, Oregon and then to Astoria and the coast.

When asked which location was his favorite to visit, Mueller said it was the most difficult question to be asked. He said that he didn’t really have a favorite location so much as the people he met being a favorite experience, with all of the kindness that was experienced along the way. “Every day was a good day,” he said. “Every day was a beautiful day.”

Mueller added, “You don’t know how nice the world is until you get on a bike. People are so nice. People will go out of their way to help you, even when you don’t ask for it.”

He said that he and John were in Daleville, Virginia, when they spotted dark clouds approaching and knew they had to reach their next destination before the storm arrived. They checked their maps to see if there were any churches nearby where they could seek shelter, but there was nothing. They encountered a fellow cyclist along the way who invited them to come stay at his house. Mueller said the man’s wife was a bit reluctant at first, but eventually came around, even going so far as to wake up early to make the two of them breakfast.

Mueller described another story, on Father’s Day, where he met the Rolandi family. He and John were at a pavilion when the Rolandis arrived. The two cyclists offered to move, but the Rolandis insisted they stay. Mueller said that, because he was a father, the Rolandis included him in their Father’s Day photograph saying, “You can be an honorary Rolandi on Father’s Day.”

Meuller documented the event on his YouTube channel and described an incident of encountering someone along the way who had seen that very Father’s Day video. He said that was probably the strangest part of the entire trip.

In addition to filming the trip, Mueller journaled the entire experience. He said he also uses the journals to reflect on the trip and try to capture the raw emotions.

He writes the journals not just for himself, but any future grandchildren as well. He plans on downloading the videos he made and including them with the book so he can one day say, “Kids, Papi did this. Let me tell you a story. And read it to them. That’s gonna be really, really cool.”

During the trip, he spent eight days in churches, five times they stayed at Warm Showers, they stayed at fire stations, four strangers opened up their homes, and hostels and campgrounds. They even stayed at one American Legion.

He said the most picturesque place that sticks in his mind was Picture Gorge in John Day National Park. He described a mountain range that was split by an earthquake, “like God reached down, and grabbed the mountains and pulled it apart.” He said that part was the most interesting, along with McKenzie Pass, which was the last mountain pass they had on the trip. Mueller said that the pass once had an active volcano that covered the surrounding area with an ancient lava field, which made it look “very lunar.”

When the tour was over, Mueller said he experienced a feeling of disappointment because he was “addicted to …the kindness of people. I enjoy meeting strangers.”