Life in the Slow Lane

By: Carrie Porter
By: Carrie Porter

It takes six hours to fly across America and nine weeks to bike it.  The airlines offer you a bag of peanuts, but the road gives you food for thought.

Welcome to Bike & Build: A 3,634 mile bike ride from Providence, RI to San Francisco, CA during the summer of 2007.

As 30 meandering riders, we survived on enough peanut butter jars to rival the airlines’ peanut consumption.  But more than that, we saw the changing fabric of American society.

Inspired by Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road”  and John Steinbeck’s “Travels with Charley,” I recorded my adventure across America with a digital camera between my handlebars.  While both writers experienced the nation from coast to coast through hitchhiking and driving, I experienced the country from my bicycle seat. 

The toothy waitress in Berlin, Pennsylvania, the pie lady in Lawrence, Kansas and the-man-of-few-words in Sparks, Nevada. They each had a different story to tell, and that’s where my story starts.

From the seat of a bicycle, I physically experienced the contours of Utah’s salt flats and Colorado’s mountains. But it was when I dismounted the bike that I experienced the country through the shapes and curves of Americans’ smiles and frowns.

I learned in miles of the vast size that defines the country; I learned in poverty housing of the splayed array of vanishing Americana; I learned in curious questions that my answer rested with the profession dedicated to people, journalism.

The Medill School of Journalism has offered support for me to carry out this cruise from the hills of New England to the plains in Kansas to the Rocky Mountains of the West. 

Partnered with Habitat for Humanity, we worked on building sites along the way.

We biked and we built, but mostly we shook our heads and marveled where the roads, the people and the wheels of America are spinning.




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