Independence Day – And Day 664 Car-Free: Live Free or Drive!

Kirk on bike at McKenzie Pass near Sisters, Or.
Nothing lets you capture your American birthright quite like a ride across this incredible country. – Photo by Jay Mather

Note: I’ve been absent in the past month, working on other projects and writing. I’ll try to post more frequently in the weeks ahead. Today’s picture is from last summer, taken by Jay Mather as we approached McKenzie Pass near Sisters, Or. Today’s post is a reflection on the freedom I discovered last summer crossing America.


Early on the afternoon of Sunday, the Fourth of July last year
, I was rolling into Pueblo, Co. on a bright blue bicycle loaded with red panniers. I wore a red, white and blue bike jersey – the only jersey in my traveling wardrobe, a gift from my friends riding to raise funds for MS. One of their sponsors, the drug Copaxone, had supplied them.

But the finishing touch for my Independence Day ensemble came to me by way of pure serendipity. Earlier in the day I’d found an American flag on the shoulder of the road. The flag had been mounted on a car. Its plastic staff had snapped in the gusting headwinds on westbound State Hwy 96, but there was enough of the hollow stump to wedge it into a strap on my rear rack.

The flag was exactly what my bike and I needed. I was about midway through my TransAmerica Trail journey and felt surprisingly strong, considering I’d had only two days rest in 37 days on the Trail. I was way overdue for some celebration.

After covering 113 miles of Hwy 96 on that glorious Fourth of July, I was in for a surprise. By the time I arrived at The Guest Inn, the manager there had already fired up the grill for the first of two free Fourth of July barbecues. I swam in the pool and drank cold beer with the Bike the US for MS crew. A colossal Fireworks display at the municipal center a few blocks away topped off my Independence Day, but the long weekend was far from over.

On Monday morning, instead of firing up my stove and cooking oatmeal, I found free continental breakfast. And that night, the second big barbecue. On Tuesday I did little more than sleep, eat and overflow with gratitude.

“Is this a great country, or what?” I kept thinking last summer. “And this is my country!”

“Note to self,” I recall thinking. “You ain’t yet seen but half of it!” I could scarcely believe that I had just barely reached the mid point in my 4,620-mile, cross-country journey. And some of the best of it was yet to come.

There in Pueblo last year, I’m glad I took a couple of days to reflect. There I was, without a job. My country – in the middle of the worst economic slump since the Great Depression – was broiling under a record-breaking heatwave. Several million people were losing their homes. There seemed no stopping the oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico. Yes, we have bad news, America.

But as long as you and I have the freedom to load a bicycle and roam practically wherever we want – whenever the fancy strikes us – we are free. Would you believe that along the way, you can camp on courthouse lawns and swim in public pools in some generous communities for free? And in many of our National Parks, hikers and bikers can camp for practically nothing, or in wilderness areas for free.

It’s not the United States of Automobiles

One year, nine months and 26 days ago I put my car up for sale on Craigslist. But in fact, my Car-Free experiment already was well underway much earlier than that. I had been commuting by bicycle to work for many years.

Then, a little over a year ago, I cut loose for 75 days and discovered the United States of America in a way that’s impossible by any means other than by bicycle. Now, at age 60, I finally have collected something of my birthright. From sea to shining sea, this is my country.

If you’re able to do so, get out of your car and walk or ride a bike as often as you can. You’ll appreciate this incredibly rich nation all the more. And I promise you’ll be enriched along the way with a greater sense of well-being, strength, and prosperity.

Happy Fourth of July!

Grace. Peace. Bicycle grease.

PS: Remember, every lane is a bike lane.
Share the road.

………( )/ ( )
Enjoy the ride home.
© Copyright, Kirk M. Kandle, MMXI
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