View from the road
Without knowing how to change a tire, or virtually anything about long-distance biking, John stember embarked on a 37-day ride from his summer job in minnesota to his parents' driveway in nw portland. he dumpster-dived for food, camped in restricted areas, and explored pockets of small-town american culture. these are edited excerpts of journal entries he crafted along the way.
Words & Photos by John Stember
5 Tacos with extra hot sauce. 3 mini packets of nutella. 1 Clif Bar. 1 pb+j. ½ cup pemmican. 4 litres of water. This has been my fuel for the approximate 50-mile first day. I spent .99 on two water bottles ($2.15) and $5.36 on 5 tacos. My total for the day was $7.51 — made it <$10.00!
DAY 2 → Montevideo
First off, I should have explained what I’m doing — the why we’ll leave for later — riding across a chunk of the United States by myself with no hard experience biking, at all… I’m pedaling from Minnesota west to Oregon (or at least planning to) about 2,000 miles.
DAY 3 → Goodwin, SD
I’m finding so much food I don’t know what to do with all of it and, inevitably, it ends up back in the dumpster.
People are probably wondering (and questioning) why I’m getting food from dumpsters, why I feel comfortable eating “trash,” and I would say back, the immediate motivation is expenditure. I am living off very little. The second reason is to meet my goal of less than $10 a day.
I think the biggest objection internally for most people when it comes to scavenging for food out of dumpsters is either health/sanitary concerns or the social taboo and this I find fascinating. How many unwritten “laws” dictate your everyday interactions + behavior?
DAY 4 Raymond, SD
Seeing these out-of-the-way slim communities that are only getting thinner makes me think hard about the trajectory of big ag monoculture, farming, and the ways of life I’ve come to know. It’s rare to see someone actually gardening, doing any sorts of physical labor. Everything’s mechanized, monopolized, computer run from a cushy leather seat. It’s a food desert out here too — fresh fruit + veggies are hard to come by in the heart of America’s farmlands. Just corn and soybeans and cows. Reminds me of Grapes of Wrath.
DAY 10 Scene, South Dakota. Population 15 (maybe).
I’ve been in badlands nat’l park for the last two days. The town I’m in still has a jail and I think drunk tanks from at least the early 1900s + maybe later. The bar says “Indians Allowed” and all the buildings ‘cept a few are boarded up. This place, now an old relic, has been left to tan in the sweltering sun and all that remains is the leathery cracked skin of old boots.
I’ve been thinking about doing this for so long. I’ve always been the one going up to dirty people and asking where they’re headed and gawking at what they’ve done. But now it’s me. And it feels like sometimes I’m not here, like I’m watching myself do these things.
There’s a reason everyone I meet says “I’ve always wanted to do something like this…” yet most never do. I could ask why but I already know the answer and so I don’t, I just smile + and try to swallow their reasons with them. I’m afraid i’m coming off snooty, yet i must articulate this frustration because i’m hearing the same bullshit over and over again.
A lot of the time I’ve done solo endeavors such as this it’s not fun, it’s not a Disney sugar cake and ice cream adventure, and loneliness plays a big part. I’m so new to this, this lifestyle, but the penance of poverty seems like a small voluntary sacrifice for a walkabout with wisdom.
The big horns were a bitch. 65 mi ride, 45 of those miles up hill.
The 83 miles to cody WY left me on loose ends. I screamed at the wind. I flipped someone off. And now lying in a park with an impossible-to-miss “Camping Prohibited” sign feet away, I feel run out, exhausted and stretched thin.
Every time a car roars by my whole being shrinks, braces, then prays. I see limbs, paws, hooves, jaws, intestinal + fecal smears, bloated bodies, fermented rot, flesh and bone — hundreds of animals hit. So when a car screams by it’s hard not to imagine what you’d look like out there on the concrete battlefield. It’s a war zone. Squashed. Stampeded flat by the rubber + metal. Blown up. I flinched.
DAY 20 + 21
There are these wispy moments of madness and organic celebration that you readers don’t hear about. They are lost in between the grease and grandness that are built on pillars of preconception; ideas of what this must be like + how it feels. All these little things make the arms, legs, and guts of this ___________ (unsure what to call it.. Not adventure or trip. Test? Notch on the pole? Practice?).
DAY 25 Ririe, ID
I rode through 86 miles of sagebrush buttes and potato harvests. The wind was dry and warm and unloaded 25 mph gusts most of the day. I ran out of water (I carry 2 litres) 30 miles from the next town in 85 degree heat.
I saw my first building in 40 miles and turned down the road with a big sign that read “Idaho National Laboratory, Authorized Personnel Only.” While rolling up to what looked like a checkpoint, a middle aged man stepped out of a booth, fully garbed in military camo and armed. He kept his distance didn’t smile.
“Where ya goin?” He coolly said. I told him I was out of water — couldn’t find my voice when I said it. He stepped closer, 35 feet now, and motioned he couldn’t hear.
“I’m in a bad way because I don’t have water + it’s 30 miles to the next town”
“Everything is closed here. There’s a rest area a couple miles ahead. Don’t know if there’s water though.”
I looked down and turned my bike hoping no words would make my message more clear: “I hope you think about this later, at the end of the day, and you regret it.”
I managed to catch a ride @ a gas station to shave 10 mi off my day. They guy’s name was also John. His son Silus, who must have been 3 or 4, kept asking, “Why is this guy in the car?” Then he showed me a dead bug in a jar.
DAY 31 Boise → Vale, OR (60 mi)
A great tide of emotion washed over me when I crossed the border of Idaho into Oregon and stopped at the sign to dance + slip a picture.
This has never been about bicycling, more about a photographic expedition w/ people and landscape and scale and pace. This is more aptly a venture into the alternative lifestyles and flows of the small town American people.
So much of this has been about slowing down my life. And because of that I’ve struggled to find a name for this. I dislike calling this a trip because that implies there’s a start and an end, a conclusion. I see this and feel it — bicycle travel — and it reminds me more of a flowing river, my flowing river.
Today was my last full day of bicycling and tonight is my final night on the road. I rode up and through the Eastern drainages of Mt. Hood on seldom traveled forest road 48. The 30 miles of uphill were sweaty and I chose to pedal in silence for most of the time.
The road was two laned. You could take off your pants and dance around with the time it took a car to pass. No seriously, it gets hot climbing hills and the morning chill must be shrugged off around 10-11, so you gotta change. No use running to the woods — nothing to lean the bike on. Now listen… any far off motor drone coming around the timber bends? Quickly disengage your long underwear and shorts. New boxers, or no boxers — tough call. There’s the sound of a car… heartbeat quickens, pants around ankles, hurry! Composure John, no room for error here. Focus… mooning them could be… got my damn pants on.
DAY 37 - The Final Push
Mike: “MIT DEM RAD UM DIE WELT”
“Around the world on a bike.”