What is Conversations With US?
Conversations With US, or CWU, is my effort to better understand the real America, as opposed to the caricature offered by cable news and social media, and then to report my findings to those yearning to hear less about them and more about US.
Questions I'm often asked:
Why are you doing this now?
Because I believe it's time to let America speak for itself. If you're anything like me, some days you find yourself hesitating to read or watch the news because you're tired of always hearing about what divides and pits us against one another. Early on, I suspected this focus on conflict had more to do with media ratings and political agendas than the reality on the ground. I went straight to the source to find out.
I actually started CWU way back in 2010. You can see my original project launch blog post here. I then took a long break to focus on work but got back in the saddle in the summer of 2015 to finish what I started.
Why the bike?
For starters, cyclotouring is really fun. It can't be done in a rush, and that slow and steady pace allows me to open up my ears and eyes to more fully take in what's around me. Also, I find that folks are usually curious and friendly when they see me huffing and puffing along on an overloaded bike. It's a great conversation starter.
How long is it going to take to finish?
I have covered every state except Hawai'i. I plan to finish the project once I've sold enough books to cover the cost of the tour! Your purchase will help get me there, offering a snapshot of America in return.
How long were you on the road?
I've dedicated years to CWU, but I think my longest stretch of continual pedaling came to something like 7 weeks. Instead of a marathon tour, I divided the U.S. into ten different regions, as you can see on the Routes Overview page here. Each region represents a 4-7 week ride, with between 5-6 weeks being the norm. After completing a route I returned home to rest for a few weeks before setting out on the next route. Also, I didn't tour over the winter.
What did you do when it rained?
Got wet. Sometimes very wet.
Where do you sleep?
Pretty much anywhere I can. I have a page devoted to the fundamentals of cyclotouring that you can check out if you'd like to learn more.
How far did you ride?
I tried to plan each route so that I pedaled around 50 miles every day, making my average mileage per region somewhere around 1,900 miles total. I'm looking at a grand total of about 16,000 miles, plus over a thousand miles of training.
How do you travel so far on a bike?
Very slowly! It's really just a matter of moderate training before the tour, and then eating right (and A LOT), taking care of your body, and waking up every morning and just doing it, day after day. The fact that bike touring is so much fun makes it really easy to do. By "really easy" I mean not impossible, and by "so much fun" I mean so much fun, mostly.
Were you by yourself?
Of course not! I met new, awesome people every single day. Also, I really benefited by maintaining this website and my Facebook and Instagram pages, connecting and sharing with a larger group of supporters. But, as far as pedaling goes, I did it alone, without a support van or travel buddy.
Do you have sponsors?
Not in the sense of a corporate or organizational sponsor, no. I regularly met folks who offered a hot meal and a warm shower, and that kind of support was invaluable.
What kinds of people did you speak with?
As its name implies, the project focuses on the conversations I had with Americans. My goal was to talk with all sorts of people from all over the country, and I did my best to succeed in that. Sometimes I would met someone at a restaurant or a gas station and wind up spending a half hour talking with them. Other times I'd pass by a neat-looking house or an interesting business and would drop-in to introduce myself and see whether folks had some time to chat. Still other times I'd research a town ahead of time, calling up a community leader or businessperson to ask if they might have time to speak with me when I passed through. In other situations, folks at a local Chamber of Commerce or tourist office, friends of friends, or someone who offered me a place to stay would connect me with a local for an interview.
How many people have you interviewed?
I talked with all sorts of people every day, but I set a routine that I tried hard to stick to in which every day on the road I'd seek out at least one person willing to have an extended, on-the-record conversation with me. Over the course of the project I sat down for interviews with nearly 400 people.
What kinds of things did you talk about?
Everything! I learned so much from the folks I met. Part of the project goal was to explore what it means to be American, how the country is changing (and how that's affecting people's lives), and what true similarities and differences we have with one another, so I often tried to touch on those subjects. I also just wanted to hear what people had on their minds... or sometimes what their thoughts might be on something I had on my mind.