In the hundred days between departing Key West, Florida and arriving at our 5,000th mile in Seattle, Washington I calculate that we have, assuming ninety pedals per minute and an average speed of ten miles per hour, rotated our legs two and a half billion times.

That’s a lot of time to sit on a bicycle – a lot of time to sit and bear witness to the country highways and byways and interstates that twist and crisscross their ways through the thirteen states we’ve been fortunate enough to cut across. We ride these roads, every day a new city, and a new home.

But this lifestyle is not always easy. On some days, motivation is hard to come by. I miss my family, my friends, and the comforts of a warm bed and a lucky coffee cup.

The Keys to Freeze team poses at the southernmost point reachable by road in the United States in Key West, Florida. The concrete buoy reads “90 miles to Cuba.” Let the journey begin! (Photo credit: Sandy Healy)
The Keys to Freeze team poses at the southernmost point reachable by road in the United States in Key West, Florida. The concrete buoy reads “90 miles to Cuba.” Let the journey begin! (Photo credit: Sandy Healy)

The road’s hidden joys – a surprise bike path next to a busy bridge, for example – help us push through the tougher, taxing miles. Now, we look back on these first four months of our 8,000-mile trip to Deadhorse, Alaska, given a rare chance for introspection as we prepare to ride on to Canada.

Left: The joy of a bike path on a bridge leading over the soft blue waters of the Florida Keys. Rachel Burns rides with the wind at her back. Right: An alligator lounges at dusk in Paynes Prairie, a nature preserve in Gainesville, Florida. Hundreds of gators bask in the mud nearby as night approaches.
Left: The joy of a bike path on a bridge leading over the soft blue waters of the Florida Keys. Rachel Burns rides with the wind at her back. Right: An alligator lounges at dusk in Paynes Prairie, a nature preserve in Gainesville, Florida. Hundreds of gators bask in the mud nearby as night approaches.

We can see where we’ve been. We can look at our country’s cultures and its people and the lives that have touched ours as we have pedaled through.

So the road goes…and with us on it.

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From the rows of dusky alligators watching, bemused, as we ride by in Florida, to the elaborate taxidermy projects of a Louisiana gas station, we spend our first 2,000 miles attempting to find a sustainable routine. Changing flats and chasing sunsets become a part of our day-to-day yet we still take time to enjoy the finer things, such as the Big Texan 72-ounce. steak dinner in Amarillo on Easter Sunday. .

Brady Lawrence blends in with the taxidermy deer charging from the walls of a backwoods restaurant in a Louisiana gas station.
Brady Lawrence blends in with the taxidermy deer charging from the walls of a backwoods restaurant in a Louisiana gas station.
Rachel changes a flat tire under a sweeping Texas sky. Being able to appreciate the scenery makes the task more manageable.
Rachel changes a flat tire under a sweeping Texas sky. Being able to appreciate the scenery makes the task more manageable.
Reese Wells sits back, satisfied after completing the Big Texan 72-ounce steak dinner challenge. He is rewarded with a shirt, a free meal, and a distended belly for his efforts.
Reese Wells sits back, satisfied after completing the Big Texan 72-ounce steak dinner challenge. He is rewarded with a shirt, a free meal, and a distended belly for his efforts.

We put our core values in writing, calling them “Expedition Rules,” formed to help govern the doings of our six-member party. One such mandate – the group’s favorite, actually – is to have a dance party every 500 miles. So we dance, and dance hard, when these mile markers are reached, such as mile 2,000 at the Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo.

The team celebrates with a spirited dance party after reaching mile 2,000 at the famed Cadillac Ranch. (Photo credit: Jake Splawn)
The team celebrates with a spirited dance party after reaching mile 2,000 at the famed Cadillac Ranch. (Photo credit: Jake Splawn)
Left: Snow and sleet come one frosty morning as the team pedals on to Moab, Utah. The ‘Freeze’ portion of the trip has come upon us quickly. Right: A day off in Moab, Utah allows for exploration of a canyon road at sunset. The sun takes its leave behind Wall Street, a famous length of sandstone cliff visited by rock climbers from around the world.
Left: Snow and sleet come one frosty morning as the team pedals on to Moab, Utah. The ‘Freeze’ portion of the trip has come upon us quickly. Right: A day off in Moab, Utah allows for exploration of a canyon road at sunset. The sun takes its leave behind Wall Street, a famous length of sandstone cliff visited by rock climbers from around the world.

Making our way into Utah the road grows cold yet offers the stunning sights of the Canyonlands, Bryce Canyon, and Zion national parks. We are fortunate enough to work with the Zion rangers on a trail maintenance day — cleaning up rock graffiti is good for the soul.

Feeling small, we look out over the expanse of Canyonlands National Park in Utah. Stretching out for miles below us is a great and beautiful “desertscape.”
Feeling small, we look out over the expanse of Canyonlands National Park in Utah. Stretching out for miles below us is a great and beautiful “desertscape.”

From Utah we descend into the hottest, driest, and lowest part of the country: Death Valley. The next week sends us out of the valley and into the snow and ice of the Sierra Mountains. How fast the road can change.

Left: Rain comes once again as Keys to Freeze rides up the western coast of California. Tyler smiles, the best warmth for such conditions. RIGHT: The team prepares camp on a deck in the prolific forest canopies of Garberville, California.
Left: Rain comes once again as Keys to Freeze rides up the western coast of California. Tyler smiles, the best warmth for such conditions. RIGHT: The team prepares camp on a deck in the prolific forest canopies of Garberville, California.

We reach Yosemite National Park in California the second week of April. Looking at the massive granite walls grown from the lush valley floor I feel insignificant but calm, these feelings I have imagined when looking upon heaven.

On the Avenue of the Giants, the famous Californian highway leading through a redwood forest, Tyler, Rachel, and Reese stand within the husk of a fallen giant, marveling at its immensity.
On the Avenue of the Giants, the famous Californian highway leading through a redwood forest, Tyler, Rachel, and Reese stand within the husk of a fallen giant, marveling at its immensity.
Tyler and Reese leap from a sand dune on the coast of Oregon. Their landing, much like their jumping, is graceless.
Tyler and Reese leap from a sand dune on the coast of Oregon. Their landing, much like their jumping, is graceless.

In San Francisco, Keys to Freeze says “Goodbye!” to Megan and George and continues as four. Heading into northern California, Oregon, and Washington we leave the dry and desert terrains of the southwest. Our new scenery is one of lush, dense green, the deep hues of an old forest with great trees, of a countryside that has slipped backwards in time.

Both Rachel and Tyler fall victim to the ubiquitous metal remains from shredded truck tires on U.S. 101 in Oregon.
Both Rachel and Tyler fall victim to the ubiquitous metal remains from shredded truck tires on U.S. 101 in Oregon.
Rachel rides north to Washington, the ominous skies weighing down upon the rainforest of the Pacific Northwest.
Rachel rides north to Washington, the ominous skies weighing down upon the rainforest of the Pacific Northwest.

Rain comes again. So do the flat tires on the busy West Coast highways. Truck staples – little strips of sharp metal – can pierce any touring tire. But after we’ve already changed fifty flat tires over the past few months what’s one more, right? There is nothing to be gained from pessimism on the road anyways.

Seattle, in truth, comes quickly. In a blink there we are, crossing a street in the heart of Downtown, a bike traffic light giving us the green signal. It is the moment I realize our time in the contiguous 48 states is over.

Thirteen states, 5,000 miles, and two and a half billion pedal strokes. That’s all it took. Keys to Freeze has made it to the great white north.

* * *

Reese Wells is a writer and adventure cyclist from Winston-Salem, North Carolina. He is a co-founder of Keys to Freeze and is excited to continue sharing stories from the road.

Brady Lawrence is a filmmaker and endurance athlete from Raleigh, North Carolina. He is a co-founder of Keys to Freeze and is proud to have found a way to carry all of his film gear on his bike.

Read more Keys to Freeze adventures on Narratively as our daring cyclist friends make their way from the Florida Keys to Deadhorse, Alaska.