Like a lot of people, Christopher Wolpert longed to travel across the United States, to see what he calls the "guts" of America.
Unlike most, he achieved his dream using pedal power.
Wolpert, 29, a 1991 Juneau-Douglas High School graduate, spent much of the past summer seeing diverse regions of the country - Appalachia, the Ozarks, the Great Plains, the Rocky Mountains - from the seat of his mountain bike.
"I dipped my rear tire in the Potomac (at the start), and I dipped my front tire in the Pacific Ocean when I was done," he said earlier this month on a visit to Juneau.
Wolpert left Washington, D.C., on July 24 and - 4,400 miles, 150,000 feet of hill-climbing and 15 flat tires later - reached Astoria, Ore., on Sept. 23. But for all the dedication and determination the trip required, Wolpert really did not have an extensive biking background.
"I never was a real big cyclist growing up," he said. "About five years ago I met people who were on a long bike trip, and it sounded like so much fun. What a way to see the country."
Wolpert, who now works in Anchorage as a civil engineer for the Alaska State Parks, embarked on a few short cycling tours around southcentral Alaska to get "a taste for what it could be like."
After securing the time off of work that the trip required, Wolpert started planning for the trip in March. He chose to plan his route using the Adventure Cycling Association, an organization that traces its roots to cross-country bike trips that celebrated the nation's bicentennial in 1976. The group offers a number of route maps and guides for purchase.
Wolpert opted to take the TransAmerica Bicycle Trail, the original route used by the cross-country rides of the 1970s. Starting at Washington, D.C., it crosses Virginia, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho and Oregon.
"It is designed to take you through small towns, off the beaten path, on roads that are safe for biking," he said. "It's a proven route. ... It's a very popular cross-country route, so I ran into other cyclists who were doing the same thing."
Wolpert disassembled his bike in Anchorage, flew to Washington, D.C., and unpacked his bike at the airport. He assembled it on the spot and pedaled out of terminal.
The first couple weeks were the most difficult, Wolpert said, as he adjusted to the physical - and mental - strain of biking solo in hot summer weather through the Appalachian Mountains.
"When you get out there, you're battling elements," he said. "It was a bit daunting at times, but after I got into the rhythm of the trip I forgot about that. I got lost in the trip."
The constant up-and-down from Virginia and Kentucky through the Ozarks of Missouri made the flat land of Kansas a welcome relief, Wolpert said. The endless sky of the Great Plains was particularly impressive, he said.
"I was really looking forward to Kansas," he said. "It's everything Alaska isn't."
By the time he reached the Rocky Mountains, Wolpert was well-adjusted to the daily rigors of the trip. He found the mountain stretches of Colorado, Wyoming and Montana to be well within his ability.
"A lot of people think the Rocky Mountains would be the worst part, but they really weren't," he said. "They built the roads through the mountains, instead of over them."
Along the way, Wolpert was exposed to sights as diverse as Old Faithful geyser and a booming Kansas thunderstorm, as well as regional cuisine.
"I made a point of trying the local flavor," he said. "I got a taste of some of the Southern food. We've all had Southern food before, but it's a different thing to be there. ... The smells and the sounds were very distinct."
And the midsummer insect noise - crickets, cicadas and other nocturnal noisemakers - made sleeping difficult at times, since Wolpert camped about 85 percent of the time and was not used to the sound.
Other than the to-be-expected flat tires, Wolpert said his Gary Fisher mountain bike and BOB trailer held up well over the trip. He packed as light as possible for the trip, carrying just a tent, cooking supplies, a small radio, journals, lots of sunblock and two sets of clothes - one for biking, and one to change into at the end of the day.
Living on the road melted away the concerns of the hectic world around him, Wolpert said.
"It made life very simple," he said. "When I woke up in the morning I had one thing on my mind - biking."
Wolpert averaged about 75 to 80 miles a day during his two months on the road. He said the transcontinental journey can be done in less time, "but it would have defeated the purpose of the trip.
"If you want to see the guts of the country, you really have to go out of the way."
On the Net:
Adventure Cycling Association: http://www.adv-cycling.org.
Andrew Krueger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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