Cycling for a Purpose

By Sean Petersmark


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AT THE START I WOULDN'T say I was searching for something. I would say I was in a flow. I had success in my life and I was about to graduate early. But still the question nagged: “then what?” I wasn’t scared of the future or afraid to go into my career, but there was this unmistakable desire to explore; a calling. So I intuitively turned towards planning a grand adventure. Still the question nagged: “then what?” I wasn’t scared of the future or afraid to go into my career, but there was this unmistakable desire to explore; a calling. So I intuitively turned towards planning a grand adventure.

I was explaining to a friend about this desire, when they suggested I look into a non-profit called Bike and Build. I researched it and instantly fell in love. It was a supported bike trip across the country with young adults for the affordable housing cause; perfect just barely beings to describe it!

Nonetheless, throughout the whole process I was anxious. I had to build and submit an application. Then train for the trip, then volunteer with affordable housing, then fundraise, and then go on the trip. Soon after my application was submitted I got accepted. And then I had a decision to make.

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It was during Christmas when my previous employer that I interned with, had just made me a full-time job offer; real money right out of college. However, I couldn’t do both. The way I looked at it one was a given and the other was a dream.

It was possibly one of the hardest decisions I’ve had to make. But there, amongst family, I committed to the adventure.

I answered the call.

I wish I could say that my anxiety stopped after that but then I would have missed my first lesson: That if I’m not scared by it, I’m not dreaming big enough.

Preparation is almost always the hardest part of any adventure. I had just started a relationship, I had two jobs, it was my last quarter of college, I had to raise $4,500 to participate, I had to train my body to bike across the country, oh and I was just getting over mono. My journey started before the actual trip, but there I learned my second lesson; community can help you get through almost anything.

On June 14th, I began the trip. I joined 30 other young adults to bike from Portsmouth, New Hampshire to Bellingham, Washington for affordable housing.

At least that’s what it said on paper. What really happened was we started out on a journey to give back and instead received a transformational experience.

What I will say to those looking for this type of experience, is that you really won’t know what’s happening until it’s over. For me, it was multiple events, cultural interactions, and lessons learned all strung together to build about a change inside of me. And I didn’t even see it coming. I had the highest of the highs and the lowest of the lows on the trip. But they were all necessary.

I found my strength climbing over the Green Mountains. Cars made me fear for my life in Illinois. I felt lost in the skyscrapers of Chicago. I found a life-long community in Wisconsin. I felt freedom riding naked in Minnesota. I struggled against headwinds in North Dakota. I explored nature with friends in Montana. I felt homesick in Idaho. I felt anxiety for the end in Washington. I felt pure joy in Bellingham. And finally, I felt empowered in the end.

I was proud of myself, I could shake off the dust of routine and comfort and jump right on into the unknown. The journey gave me a blueprint on how to tackle the seemingly impossible tasks that may lay ahead in life. And more importantly, I found out how to do it my way. How Sean Petersmark would do it. Surrounded by a supportive community I became a little bit closer with myself.

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I found all the cliché’s are cliché’s for a reason: We’re stronger than we think, it’s the journey not the destination, and travel restores faith in humanity. But Nike was onto something when they coined Just do it, because when I looked at a map of the United States and traced my route, I was fucking scared. I was scared because I couldn’t comprehend it all. And the truth is I still can’t, but I’m glad I did it anyway.

I can point to New Hampshire and Washington and then calculate all the miles but those numbers are meaningless. When I say I biked I across the country I’m not talking about miles, I’m talking about all the little moments in between where I discovered a new lens to look at the world around me. The journey I went on changed me and continues to do so. Somewhere along the way my thoughts started to align with my actions, and there in the middle of my journey I begun to know a little bit more of what it means to be me.

Michael Bennett