ALMA — It was on a break from school, during a leisurely bike ride through the trails of Alma, when Ellen Laurenz got an idea that would define her summer.
Laurenz, a senior education major at Alma College, was listening to a podcast about a young man who had made a cross-country bike trip. Always an adventure-seeker, Laurenz decided she would do the same.
“I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is something I have to do,’” said Laurenz, of Breckenridge. “After a couple of weeks debating, I decided I was going to find people to go with me, because if (the podcast host) can do it, I can do it. One thing led to another, and after a little convincing, I talked my sisters into it, and we gathered a group of six.”
Together with her sisters; Claire and Annie Laurenz; Claire’s partner, Christopher Rasschaert, of Frankenmuth; their work colleague, Elle Dickerman, of Granville, Ohio; and Dickerman’s friend, Johnmark Wisniewski, of Independence, Ohio; Ellen Laurenz bought a one-way ticket to Seattle and set out for the East Coast on May 17.
Laurenz freely admits that she is not an expert cyclist. While she and her sisters grew up playing sports, and several members of their crew have experience on long bike trips, they don’t possess much in the way of high-end gear. However, she says, they make up for their lack of expertise with determination.
“As college students, we don’t really have the budget for expensive things like a fancy bike or a GPS system. We kind of made up our route as we went,” Laurenz said.
Starting from Washington state, the group traveled roughly 70 to 80 miles daily, highlighted by difficult treks through the Cascade and Rocky mountains. Difficult situations, including one person who fell ill, provided opportunities to rise above adversity.
According to Laurenz, the trip was less about pushing herself to the limit, and more about spreading joy and connecting with people. The crew doesn’t simply bike and rest, rather, they have taken detours to visit museums and monuments, and drop in on family members living outside of Michigan. They have been surprised by strangers offering warm showers, places to sleep and hot meals.
“I say that we are self-sufficient because we are carrying all of our gear and food, but we are staying on public parks, city parks, national forest land and sometimes people’s yards,” Laurenz said.
“When six strangers show up to your house in 100-degree weather in the middle of Montana, asking for water, it is kind of weird — but in situations like that, people have wanted to help us. The kindness of people and the gratitude that we have been shown has been eye-opening.”
Laurenz has also gained a new appreciation for the scenic beauty of the United States. Her crew has done yoga while resting on mountains and in city parks, something necessary to keep their legs feeling fresh during the venture.
“Scenery-wise, the mountains were my favorite. The weather was ideal for a bicyclist, the views were spectacular and the wildlife was awesome. On a bicycle, the world moves in slow motion,” Laurenz said.
The group traveled from Washington through the Idaho panhandle, into Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin, before taking a ferry to Michigan. They spent the Fourth of July with family and then rode south through Ohio, and on into New England, ending in Portland, Maine. By the time it was over, they had ridden for more than two months and 4,000 miles.
Laurenz said the trip has provided innumerable memories for she and her friends — and she has more than fulfilled her longing for adventure.
“This trip has changed me in many profound ways, mentally and physically. It has changed who I am and how I think. I’ve become more confident as an avid female traveler and been able to illustrate what the human body is capable of,” Laurenz said. “I know that I will walk away from this journey feeling confident in who I am, where I have been, and who I hope to become.”