Last fall Jeffrey Tanenhaus left his job as a corporate event planner in New York City and hopped on his favorite mode of transportation: a Citi Bike. He pedaled west across the Hudson River and didn’t stop. As he’s ridden across the country, he’s pushed the limits of himself and his machine—now dubbed Countri Bike. I chatted with him in December, while he was in Arizona. This was originally published in Bicycle Times Issue #39.
So where in the world did this idea come from to ride a Citi bike across the country?
It grew out of my frustration with my then current job. I was really struggling professionally to figure out what I wanted to do. The office environment was stifling. While I enjoyed the people that worked there, it was a windowless office and I really just felt trapped there from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. My bike commute—on a share bike—was by far the best part of my day, every day. I really formed a bond with the share bikes because they empowered me.
What has been the highlight of the trip for you?
Today (day of conversation) I just left the Grand Canyon. It was the first time in my adult life that I’ve been there and it is pretty grand. I loved being on the bike so I could take the road that goes along the rim and saw as much as I could and was able to pull over any place I wanted to when people in cars were just driving by. I felt like that was a sight I would never tire of.
What about a low point?
When the winds come out of the west they hit you straight on and these winds can be twenty, thirty, forty, fifty miles an hour. For a couple days in a row I was facing those winds until ultimately I hitchhiked one day because I had gotten so tired of it I couldn’t continue.
I had already done some riding on the interstate but I had never hitchhiked before. It was a rather exhausting experience because I had to find the right spot to do it and there were several exits from the town I was in onto the interstate. [I didn’t know] which of the exits would I have the best luck at.
I did not enjoy that process because for the first time in the ride I did not have control over what I was doing—I was relying on somebody else, whereas on the bike I could control my own destiny all the time. It was kind of exhausting standing up, trying to smile, getting hit in the face with 30 mph sustained winds.
It wasn’t a breeze, for lack of a better word. I felt really vulnerable. There was a sign in the vicinity—which I did not stand near—but it said “Do not pick up hitchhikers, prison facilities.” But sure enough a couple from Texas stopped for me and had room for my bike and they had a whole story about where they were going, and it was so nice to cross paths with strangers for an hour or two and have that experience.
How has the Citi Bike held up?
There were a lot of unique challenges that came into play by taking a share bike. I was unable to prepare if something went wrong, and unable to pedal far because of the gearing limitations and weight. The bike itself has been in pretty good shape. I did get one flat tire headed into Tulsa, Oklahoma. The tires themselves began to wear out, the tread began to separate, and I had to find new tires in Amarillo, Texas. In Washington, D.C., a sympathetic bike shop had swapped out my pedals and seat for free. The original pedals were beginning to crack.
What did you learn about yourself along the way?
I have a lot of travel experience, but I don’t have a lot of bike touring experience. To travel by bicycle is really a wonderful way to have more intimate experiences with the places that you’re traveling because you feel a real connection to the road and you become very observant with everything. In a car you tend to tune stuff out, but when you’re biking all of your senses are heightened and it allows you to appreciate the landscape and to appreciate smaller places.
One of the biggest surprises is that I actually went through with this in the first place. It was a real unknown. It was kind of risky. I was pretty nervous in the beginning, and then being out of my comfort zone nearly all the time, riding on unfamiliar roads through unfamiliar places but making it work has been extremely gratifying. It sounds cliché “the impossible is possible,” but maybe the improbable is possible. So it has been a constant struggle, but a good struggle.
What did you learn about America?
I was pleasantly surprised that not only are there things going on, but there is a lot to do, and there are cool people making these cities livable. There are people moving back into downtown Tulsa, downtown Cincinnati, and opening up coffee shops and farm-to-table restaurants and specialty bakeries. It’s been really rewarding to see how people live in places like Albuquerque and Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, and to realize that they actually have it right, [unlike] where I came from in New York. That was eye opening to see that “Oh, maybe the answer isn’t in the big cities.”
I was really nervous about even starting this trip, and the farther I got the more confidence I gained, the more rewarding experiences I had, and that gave me the motivation to keep going even on days when it was really tough, where I didn’t really pass anything interesting.
Not every day has been wonderful, but just the feeling to wake up each day and go somewhere new has made this all worth it. Some of those days are not that exciting and other days are incredibly rewarding but I’ve made a lifetime of memories in these four months. To be at the Grand Canyon, I didn’t think it was possible, but I’m doing it.
Catch up and follow along with Tanenhaus on his journey at countribike.com, and on Instagram at @countribike.