Mills College senior Kelly Stewart plans to embark on a three-month long cycling journey after her graduation in May. The empowering trip will take her from San Francisco, to Belfast, Maine, estimated to be just around 5,000 miles.
The Environmental Studies major’s motivation behind the trip, which she will be taking with boyfriend Max Lurie, comes from a personal self defense class that she took while at Mills. The class made her question how she was filling her role as a woman in society.
“It made me think about growing up and entering adulthood. I wanted to create a space for myself,” she said.
Stewart wants to prove that she can accomplish what is thought of as being an unsafe bikeride using the tools she learned in the class, such as learning how to feel safe in her surroundings by being aware of what is around her.
“The self defense class made me declare my freedom!” said Stewart confidently.
Initially she decided to take the trip alone, Stewart said, “I was pumped about it, but anxious.”
Stewart said being in a relationship with Lurie made her realize that he is a great support system for her. Being that the trip will be a struggle, she chose to take advantage of the support. She said, “I told Max, let’s go on a crazy adventure!”
Stewart met Lurie in Iceland while studying abroad. Lurie is a resident of Belfast, Maine. Stewart herself hails from Connecticut.
“My parents are used to me doing big adventures. My mom is excited for me because she had such a good time [on her cycling trip] in the ’70s,” Stewart said.
Stewart’s mother, Susan, biked across the country after she graduated college. “My mom told her best friend ‘Hey this would be cool. Let’s do it!’ They had crappy bikes and no training. They just biked across America with maps and money,” she said.
Susan Stewart and her friend biked from Oregon to New York.
Besides receiving incredible support from Lurie, Stewart also gets support from her Mills swim team and coach. Senior Sarah Chavez, who has been Stewart’s friend since their freshwoman year, and has been on the swim team with Stewart for two years, describes her as a “little fire cracker.”
“She just goes after anything. When I want to do something I’ve never done before, I think ‘Oh Kelly has probably done that already!'” said Chavez.
Swim coach Neil Virtue said, “It doesn’t surprise me that Kelly is biking [from San Francisco to Maine] because she doesn’t shy away from challenges. This trip is not just a physical challenge, but a psychological challenge too.”
Being part of a “big adventure family,” this cycling trip is not the first on Stewart’s resume. When she was in the 7’th grade, Stewart’s mother took her on a two month long hiking trip and every summer afterwards Stewart chose to hike for months out of her summer.
As a youth, Stewart hiked the Appalachian Trail, which ranges from Georgia to Maine; she has also traveled through South America and went to Alaska on a month long mountaineering trip.
Because Stewart has done so much traveling, she is a certified Wilderness First Responder, which allows her to care for injuries until further help is accessible.
Stewart said, “If we get hurt, we’ll improvise. We will wear helmets and try to be safe.”
In preparation for their trip together, Stewart and Lurie bought bikes with the same wheel size to ensure the same pedal per push, no matter how long a person’s leg is. Stewart, who stands at 5’1,” needed to be able to keep up with Lurie, who is almost a foot taller than her, and the wheel size was the way to do it.
Stewart said, “We’re not going to bike together the whole time because we have a different pace. The person in front gets the map and will wait at the next stop.”
Stewart and Lurie bought touring bikes off of eBay and assembled them by themselves. A touring bike is a road-bike with a steel frame rather than a carbon fiber frame. They can withstand crashes and weather elements.
Carrying only about 12 pounds of gear each, Stewart and Lurie will be supplied with the bare minimum. They will carry bike shorts, town shorts, cycling jerseys and vests, along with rain jackets, hats, gloves, socks and biking shoes. For their camp, they will carry two tarps that will make up their tent, a sleeping bag and a small torso-length sleeping pad.
Stewart said, “We just want to have fun. We can buy things along the way if we need them.”
Realizing that life isn’t always full of sunshine and good times, Stewart said, I’m most excited for the rain, hail, cold, loneliness, and crankiness. It’s an opportunity to embrace rock bottom. We have to enjoy the shitty times too!”
The two 23-year old cyclists plan to save about $1,500 each for their trip, limiting their budget to about $10 a day. They will not spend the night in hotels, motels or campgrounds. Instead, they will pull off the road whenever they please, and build their own impromptu campsite.
“People spend a lot to bike across [the country],” said Stewart. “[Staying in motels] would take all the adventure out of it anyway.”
Deciding to eat large breakfasts in small diners along the way, Stewart and Lurie otherwise plan to eat out of gas stations and wherever else cheap food can be found.
They have also planned to budget for staying extra days in places that interest them along their route.
Starting in California, the mid-states route designed by Adventure Cycling Association runs horizontal through the country to the Great Lakes and then up north through New York, ending in Maine.
Besides offering bike friendly roads, diners and people who are cycling enthusiasts along the way, the route has many scenic landscapes that Stewart is excited about.
“I like long trips so that I can take a step back to look where life is going. It’s three months of exhausting myself, but I get to think for hours.”
Upon arriving in Maine, Stewart and Lurie will be welcomed by Lurie’s family and friends; Lurie’s parents are throwing the couple an Arrival Party, where they will have barbeque. The couple will reside in Orono, Maine, located near Belfast, at which point Stewart said she will find a job.
When asked what she will first do upon arriving at the end of her adventure, Stewart grinned with a hearty laugh and said, “Take a breath!”