Special to the Daily Mail
We have all had our share of wrong numbers. After an odd number made several consecutive attempts around 8:30 p.m. to call my cell phone, I finally answered it. I am so glad I did! I quickly learned the caller was an Australian who was riding her bicycle across America.
Why would an Australian be calling me in Nevada, Mo.? She was using the bicyclist’s social network, Warmshowers.org, which I used when crossing America on my bicycle in 2011. She needed a place to stay for the night. Members of Warm Showers open their homes to folks who are touring on a bicycle. I became a member long ago to give a hand to my fellow cyclists and to learn about their adventures. Hearing all about her experience and her impression of America made me proud of our great country. You will be, too, when you read what she had to say.
It was nearly dark when I answered the phone. I was the only Warm Shower opportunity she had in the immediate area. The next closet was in St. Louis! I firmly believe, as most bicyclists do, that there seems to be some kind of divine intervention when we are in a jam.
“Hello. Is this Frank Briscoe,” she asked. She was relieved to hear it was. “My name is Joanna Abernethy and I’m riding across America. I found you on the Warm Showers website and wondered if it would be possible to stay at your home this evening?” Without a moment’s hesitation, I said yes.
Joanna was 30 miles away in Lamar. “Stay there and I’ll come and get you.” Nope! She wanted to bicycle to Nevada and planned to take I-49. When I explained that bicyclists could not take the interstate in America and the only possible route would take her all night, we devised a plan. I immediately left to get Joanna and promised to return her to the intersection of Highways 160 and 43, a turn she missed and why she was in Lamar, in the morning so she could fulfill her plan to ride every mile on her bicycle across America.
I have been bicycling for nearly nine years and have made incredible friends on the road. Bicyclists are an enthusiastic group but I must say that I have never met anyone with a story like Joanna’s.
Who knew that fateful night that I was about to become friends with one of the most fascinating individuals I have ever met? We talked for hours that night, picked it up again the following morning and kept talking until I dropped her off, as promised, at the Highway 43-160 intersection.
Joanna’s quest to bicycle across America began as a toddler when her family lived in Mississippi. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated just before her family moved back to Australia. As a toddler, Joanna did not understand the significance of that dreadful day. Years later in an Australian school, she not only learned about it, but Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. became her inspiration for her ride across America. To honor him, she distributes business cards on her journey across America stating, “Dream . . . a tribute bike ride across America: Astoria, Oregon to Washington, DC, May — August 2014. I’m honoring the life, love, hope, courage and sacrifice that made the world better for all of us and looking towards the future.”
It’s astonishing to me. Joanna bought her bicycle and gear a mere six months ago. She was smart about it and read everything she could about bicycling. She did her homework and found a bicycle shop that specialized in touring bicycles and equipment. She purchased her bike and all the equipment she needed. With bicycle maps in hand, she developed her route for riding across America.
Joanna possesses heart, determination and dares to face the obstacles ahead of her. With 2,500 miles under her belt from Astoria, Ore., to Nevada, she has endured bicycle butt, climbing 40-plus mile long mountains, sub-freezing temperatures, thunderstorms, hail, wild animals and yet kept going. No doubt, she will make it to Washington, D.C.
Once we discussed the logistics of her adventure, we talked about her impression of America.
She observed a beautiful country as I did when I crossed America, and commented how different the landscapes and temperatures were from state-to-state. I asked Joanna what surprised her most about America. “The people,” she said. “You are so kind, generous and helpful.”
Joanna went on to say that in her country and other countries she has visited, people were reluctant to extend a kind word and hand to a complete stranger in need. Americans bought her meals and provided shelter when she needed it. “This is an everyday occurrence in the two and half months I have been crossing America.” I could tell she was profoundly touched but also oddly surprised. While camped at a state park in Montana, she met a bicyclist from Holland who was also crossing America. It was a chance meeting since their routes were reversed. They talked about their experiences in the U.S., and concluded that Americans were by far the most caring country they had visited. After that discussion, I was compelled to ask what she expected. “Australians and other countries imagine Americans as loud, abrasive, selfish, war mongering people,” she explained. “That is contrary to what I have found.”
Joanna genuinely appreciates our country, its beauty but most importantly, the people. It was a privilege to meet her and now an honor to call Joanna my friend.
Frank Briscoe is a freelance travel writer and a member of ITWPA and AWAI.
His bicycle adventures have taken him around the world. His writing works have been published locally, nationally and internationally. Briscoe applies his life experiences as a motivational speaker to inspire others. www.oldguyonabicycle.com.