When Kayla Tresser and Taylor Enders neared the end of their final spring quarter at Cal Poly, Tresser proposed a plan that would take them on a wild ride across the nation — more specifically, a transnational bike ride.
“My roommate and I both had no job and no plan,” Tresser said. “I said it jokingly – oh, let’s bike across the U.S. Then we both looked at each other and started to research it. It was one of those ideas I threw out into the air, and it stuck.”
A few months prior, Tresser was nearing completion of her last year at Cal Poly with her post-grad plans to work at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the first step in what she hoped to be a career in professional sports.
When the pandemic proved to be a global threat, the Tokyo Olympics became one of the many events canceled amid the rapid spread of the virus. Tresser found herself facing the predicament shared by many who have graduated this past year: entering an unstable job market attempting to adapt to the limitations of an unprecedented global pandemic.
Tresser said she had always been an athlete, and so she eagerly joined the triathlon team when she started attending Cal Poly. Though she was quite familiar with competitive biking of triathlon races, she was not familiar with the concept of bikepacking previous to her 82-day trek across the country, with all her belongings for the journey strategically packed on her back.
“It was a kind of a, ‘Well, what do we do now?’ plan,” Tresser said. “I was bummed for a while, because [the 2020 Olympics] was a once in a lifetime opportunity. But I’m the kind of person that will take situations like that and turn them around. … The chance to ride across the U.S. just came out of that.”
The over 4,000-mile-long track, dubbed the TransAmerica Trail, runs from Oregon to Virginia. It crosses ten states, all roughly aligned in the same latitudinal range as Virginia, with the exception of the beginning of the trail, which at its northernmost point runs through Missoula, Idaho, before meandering down through Yellowstone National Park to Pueblo, Colorado. The trail runs mostly through rural parts of the country, with the biggest city along the path being Eugene, Oregon.
Tresser and Enders started in early August and finished in November, documenting the ride using the Instagram account @continentalcrank.
Before they departed for their trip, Tresser said many people cautioned her and Enders against traveling alone as women, fearing they might face dangers or harassment along the way. However, there was only one instance when she recalled feeling truly unsafe –while trekking through some part of Oregon, two men were following and taunting the two, to the point where the bikers called the police.
Immediately following the phone call to the local police, a couple RV camping nearby spotted the two, slightly frazzled at the time. Handing them margaritas, the couple offered Tresser and Enders a safe spot to set up their tent next to their RV. Instances where the two felt unsafe, she noted, were thankfully quite scarce.
“People went out of their way to make us feel safe,” Tresser said. “I think you hear a lot about the negative things going on … but there’s a lot more kindness in the world than there is bad. People are a lot nicer than you hear [about].”
Even with the abundance of precautionary measures many are taking with concerns over COVID-19, the outdoor nature of their venture limited close contact with others and still allowed for safe interactions, Tresser said. Besides campsites being awfully full as people flocked to the outdoors with indoor activities closing, navigating the social changes brought on by COVID-19 never really became an issue.
Post COVID-19, though, Tresser said she’s set her sights on another bikepacking adventure: a trip across Europe. That, and job hunting in the meantime, of course.
“My life was always super structured. When my plans were derailed, there was a positive – and I found that,” Tresser said. “Perspective is everything. Taking the situation I was given … and turning it into that ride changed my perspective on the structure of life. It doesn’t need to be so linear.”
Wherever her non-linear path is sure to lead, bikepacking certainly will have a role to play.
“The trip showed me parts of the United States that I would never have seen otherwise,” Tresser said.
The vast expanse of terrain the path covers varies from mountainous parts of Wyoming and Colorado to the Great Plains, back to the Appalachian Mountain Range. Tresser and Enders spent most of their time camping at certain sites along the trail and restocking their food at grocery stores littered along the way.
Many of these campsites had areas designated specifically for those bikepacking either the entirety or portions of the TransAmerica Trail. While the trail offered campsites with dazzling views of Grand Teton National Park and the Continental Divide in Colorado, there were less spectacular places they were forced to reside after a long day’s ride.
One of these camping spots, Tresser said, turned out to be a grass field adjacent to a Walmart parking lot in the middle of Wyoming.
“It was probably one of the worst nights of sleep, with all the semi-trucks loading and unloading all night,” Tresser recalled. “But we were so tired it mostly didn’t matter where we slept.”