Mountain Bike

My Bike Ride Across America

Few among us ever achieve a glimpse into the heart of rural America as broad and comprehensive as the one Nathan Winters experienced in the summer of 2009. Weary dairy farmers in Wisconsin, big cattle ranchers in Montana, corn growers in you-name-the-state.

From left-leaning young farmers in Vermont to right-leaning ranchers out West, every type of American farmer was among those Winters came face to face with on his 4,300-mile cross-country bike trip that summer.

What did he find? Rural America boasts a community of quality people concerned with our food production. And despite our individual beliefs and circumstances, we all might have more in common than we like to admit.

During a conversation with a Montana cattle rancher, Winters remembers the rancher mentioning that it’s fairly easy to get a hat from China, but not a steak from down the road, and how that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

“I think everyone across the country (thinks) we don’t need to be importing and exporting all this food. We’ve got plenty of it here in our own country, and we need to slow things down and get back to the basics. I think that was something everyone across the board was onboard with,” says Winters.

He also encountered that same local-centric emphasis throughout the northern states of the country.

Prior to embarking on the ride that undoubtedly exposed him to new perspectives, Winters worked as a software developer in Southern California. The recession of 2008 left him without a job, and, discussing it today, he calls it the best thing that ever happened to him.

After a trip to Thailand and backpacking in Southeast Asia and living in Southern California, Winters – who grew up in a small town – realized that throughout his travels, he had missed out on a portion of rural American culture and locations similar to where he was from in the Northeast United States.

Setting up his trip so he would navigate some of the regions he’d never visited, Winters decided on a route from Belfast, Maine, westward through Vermont, the Midwest, Northern Plains and then on west over the Cascade and Rocky mountains, ending in Bellingham, Washington.

From May 9 to October 5, it was Winters with his bike and camping gear, and plenty of characters who make up the fabric of rural America Going viral

Using a keen aptitude for social media – Twitter (@follownathan) and Facebook (www.facebook.com/follownathan), as well as YouTube – Winters shared his journey.

On This website, you can see video interviews with people like Art Thelen, proprietor of Wild Rose Dairy in La Farge, Wisconsin, and a dairy farmer with 1,000 dairy cows to milk daily around the clock, who encourages whoever will listen to come to his farm and look at his operation. As transparent as his insistence on the quality of his dairy, Thelen is equally transparent in his reverence for his predecessors in keeping the family farm alive rather than pursuing other vocations that would result in higher income.

Why Am I Doing This Journey?

So, whacha doin’ with your summer – Anything constructive?
Biking 4,000 miles to support nature? That’s what Nathan Winters did to raise $50,000 for The Nature Conservancy – and raise awareness of issues such as climate change and of people who are working with agriculture, wilderness and efforts to preserve natural places. Looks pretty good next to cutting the grass, doesn’t it?

No – the Conservancy doesn’t have anything to do with it. Nathan is just a guy with strong legs and a big heart who found himself with the opportunity and desire to do something dramatic for nature. Really dramatic, in his case: He embarked on this journey without any previous bike touring experience.

But more than a bike ride – it’s a fully interactive event. Nathan Blogs and tweets daily updates and images from his journey, in addition to doing outreach to local press and events and visiting as many Nature Conservancy preserves as he can.

We wanted to get some basics – so here’s a quick Q&A with Nathan to get you started (look for more updates as his journey progresses):

CGSHow far are you biking on this journey? When and where did you start, and where are you ending? Where are you now?

Nathan Winters: Roughly 4,000 miles. I started May 10th in Belfast, Maine. I am currently in Winona, MN, and going to finish somewhere in Washington State. It’ll take about six months.

CGSWhy The Nature Conservancy?

Nathan Winters: I am passionate about many things in the world and had considered various ways to give back. But when I dug deep and thought about which cause I truly cared about most and what I was truly most connected to…it was the preservation of nature. I chose The Nature Conservancy as my beneficiary because I feel it is an amazing organization that helps protect our planet beyond ways we can fathom.

I also feel that people around the world should really consider themselves global citizens and not citizens native to the country in which they are living. I see The Nature Conservancy as an organization that does just that based on their work all over the world. They simply have the ability to do more with more… and that puts my mind at ease.

CGS: How are you publicizing the trip, and what’s been the online response?

Nathan Winters: I am very active on twitteryoutube and keep an online blog hosted by my sponsor Greenopolis.

CGSYou didn’t have any touring experience before this. What’s been the most challenging experience so far?

Nathan Winters: Climbing mountain passes in Vermont and battling heavy rains and wind uphill in New York have certainly presented some challenges. And while it might sound a bit cliche…leaving the wonderful people in great communities behind is always a very difficult thing to do as well.

CGS: I understand you’ve been visiting Nature Conservancy preserves and staffers along the way. How is that going, and what have been some of your experiences?

Nathan Winters: It is always great to see some of the work The Nature Conservancy is doing here in the states. One of my favorite experiences I had the opportunity to stay and meet with the folks with the Michigan region and talk closely in regards to the wonderful work that goes into managing and protecting the Great Lakes/Lake Michigan region. Truly fascinating.

CGS: How did you afford the time (and the expense) to do all this?

Nathan Winters: My sponsor helps me financially and like many other hard working Americans I had found myself in between jobs and decided to seize the opportunity.

CGS: Final question: How much are you carrying?

Nathan Winters: I am packing 70 pounds full of camping gear and electronics. As you could imagine, I am very self-sufficient at this point.