How to Bike Across North America… Twice
Matthew Lawrence, a bearded twenty-something, biked across Canada during the summer of 2011, traveling from British Columbia to his home province of Prince Edward Island. That’s 6700 km/4163 miles.
And then he did it again this summer. Matt biked from Prince Edward Island this time, finishing his journey in California. This most recent trek began in late April and, after biking 7498 km/4659 miles, he arrived at Comic-Con in San Diego, a dream come true for comic fan Matt.
Matt and I have been friends since we took Journalism together in college, so it only made sense that I ask him a few questions about his most recent cross-continent adventure. I started with the most important question of all.
How many litres of sweat?
Buckets. Buckets and buckets of sweat. There was one time I actually spit on myself and it was cooler. I was like “This is disgusting! But it’s cooling.” That was in Nevada.
Oh yeah. You rode your bike through the desert.
People in Nevada wouldn’t call it a desert but it was really hot. They would call it the top of the desert. There were a lot of hills and a lot of flat land, kind of desert-like setting. But yeah. It was hot. I was hot.
A few people have asked me why you decided to bike to Comic-Con instead of flying. *Valley Girl voice* So, like, whyyyy?
It was always a dream of mine to go to Comic-Con and after biking across Canada, I just realized that the best way to go anywhere now is to bike. That was permanently etched into my bucket list from there.
Aside from Comic-Con, what were your top three experiences while biking from PEI to California?
This is nothing to do with biking but on my bike ride, I went to Barrie, Ontario for the National Dodgeball Festival. I don’t want to take all the credit but I helped get our dodgeball group to the festival. That means a lot to me because I’ve been playing dodgeball for at least ten years and I’ve been the president of the Dodgeball PEI group here for the last five. I think that was one of the proudest feelings I’ve ever had in my entire life, just to see that whole group of people.
Another highlight for me would be meeting Kevin Smith in San Diego. I guess that’s kind of part of Comic-Con. I’ve watched all of his movies, even the bad ones. That was great. I’ve been listening to his podcast for years.
Another one is San Francisco. I think San Francisco was a highlight for me because I grew up with Full House and I loved that theme song so much. So every time that theme would come on and I’d see the Golden Gate Bridge I’d think “I wanna friggin’ go there. Man, that place looks awesome.” That’s been instilled in my brain since I was a little kid. Four or five. I was able to check that off my bucket list as well.
What was your most negative experience?
I freaked out when I lost my wallet. I just bought my hotel room with my phone and I started biking towards that destination. I had about 40 miles to go. I would’ve gotten there by dusk or so. I finished listing to a podcast episode, I tapped my tap pocket and I realized my wallet wasn’t there. I checked my front pocket, wasn’t there. Checked my saddle bags, couldn’t find it. I thought I may have left it at the café I was at so I started biking back. I also thought it may have dropped out of my back pocket while I was biking and I just didn’t notice. I stuck out my thumb and hitched a ride back to the town I was at. He put my bike in the back of his truck. I couldn’t find the wallet on the side of the road so I assumed someone stole it when I got to the café.
So, I thought “Well, I guess I’m going to be cancelling my credit card and trying to get a new ID.” Thankfully my passport wasn’t in there. I had it in my saddle bag. I just had to go about cancelling my credit card. The guy dropped me off and I started biking back to the hotel. As I’m biking, I decide to call the credit card company and cancel my card. And right before they cancel the card, I found my wallet on the side of the road. I was like “Nooooo, don’t cancel my card!” “Really? Seriously?” “Yeah, I can’t believe it either!”
There were sometimes… the people that would host me would stay up all night and have parties. That sucked too much about it since I had a roof over my head.
You mostly couch surfed, right?
Yeah. Sometimes I camped but mostly couch surfed. When I didn’t want to camp or couch surf, I got a hotel room. Honestly, I think hotels and the Warm Showers app really spoiled me to the extent where I didn’t want to camp. When I biked across Canada, I camped all the time. I’d rarely get a hotel room and I was fine with that. I got so used to putting up my tent and taking it down, it was fine. Yeah, not this time.
What happened with the squirrels?
I was in Utah and I was in a good mood. I stop at a tourist stop and there’s some fountains and a pop machine. There were squirrels everywhere. They’re not afraid of people either. They’re really chubby and fat and cute things. So I fed them some peanuts. They were just so cute. I put some in my hand and they started crawling up on me. I recorded a video of it and posted it and one of my friends that’s a veterinarian says, “They’re really cute and everything but make sure you don’t get the plague.” And I said, “Huh.” I looked it up and the last reported case of the plague was in Utah in that same location a year ago. I was like, “Holy f***.” ’Cause one of them had bit my finger. I started freaking out. I wasn’t feeling good after that and it was really getting to me. The person I stayed with that night, I told him, “I might have the plague.” He laughed at me. “You don’t have the plague. I’m sure your fine.” “Are you sure?” “Yes. If you need to go to the hospital, we’ll take you. You’ll be fine.” He thought it was funny.
What did you bring with you?
I brought a tent, sleeping bad, a Therm-a-Rest, two saddle bags, two water bottles, a CamelBak, an iPhone, my wallet, two battery chargers, a book. I brought a sweater, biking shorts. I brought a little too much but in Salt Lake City, I was able to send most of it back. The main essentials.
Did you talk to any of our American friends about their f***ed up election?
A lot of people talked to me about it. I never brought it up because I thought it might be a touchy subject. A lot of people kept saying, “I’m definitely moving to Canada.” “Cool, man.” “Where should I go?” (laughs) “I dunno, Winnipeg? Or come to the east coast.”
As I went through the States, more and more often, I would see the support that Trump was getting and I don’t know what’s gonna happen! Any time an American asked me, I’d say “Hillary” cause I’m not a Trump supporter and I’m never going to be a Trump supporter.
What was your daily schedule like?
I’d try to wake up around 5:30 and start riding around 6:30. My daily eating schedule was McDonald’s, basically every morning. People are like “You eat that garbage?” but it’s the quickest way to get calories into me. They have healthy options. I usually got oatmeal—it’s not the greatest oatmeal but it’s alright. I had oatmeal, some coffee, lots of orange juice and some hot cakes. I would often look for fast food places with Wifi. Sometimes I’d eat lunch or I’d stop at a gas station and get some M&Ms or a Snickers or something to charge up my battery again. Then at night, I’d either go to a sit-down restaurant or I’d go to McDonald’s again. It’s cheap!
What did you get to do in San Diego at Comic-Con?
The thing about San Diego, I only had one ticket. That was for Sunday. I couldn’t pick up my badge until Sunday, so the only thing I could really do was walk around the city and go to the off-site events. If you ever get one ticket for Comic-Con for one day, don’t say “It’s not worth it.” Take it from me, I biked there. It’s definitely worth it.
I checked out the convention centre and saw some cosplayers. I went to the Adult Swim off-site event which was a free carnival. This was this FX horror off-site event—they had a bunch of statues and shit you could look at. They had Paddy’s Pub from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, pouring people water which was really funny. I went to the Eisener’s which is like the Oscars for comic books. I went to HarmonTown which is a popular podcast. I went to Fatman on Batman and Hollywood Babble-On (two Kevin Smith podcasts)… What else did I do? …I caught some Pokemon.
That started up biiiig while you were gone.
Note: it has since died down dramatically.
What about meeting Kevin Smith? What was that like?
That was surreal for me ‘cause listen to his podcasts and I’ve seen all his movies. It was awesome to meet him. He seems like a very cheerful guy. Constantly hugged me, not that there was anything wrong with that. I met him, he gave me a hug, I told him how much I liked his movies, he gave me another hug. I said we should do a picture and he goes “OK, get closer, get closer.” And I got closer. And he says “Closer, closer!” So I thought, “OK, I’m just doing this.” So I turned and put my lips on his cheek. But now that I think about it, I think he was talking to Ralph, the co-host of Hollywood Babble-On. So… whatever. (laughs) It’s a great picture anyway!
Would you bike to Comic-Con again?
I probably would. I’d take another route, maybe go south, bike down the east coast, bike across the south, get to San Diego and then fly back. When I originally thought about this trip, I wanted to bike across Canada again, hit Vancouver and then go down but I realized that would take too much time. I might fly to Vancouver sometime and then bike down. I always wanted to go through Seattle because I’m a big Nirvana fan.
Was the journey harder or easier than you expected?
Easier. I don’t wanna brag but I had a lot more money this time around. I was going a lot faster than expected. When I biked across Canada, I was by myself and it was my first time doing something like this. I was definitely more confident, I was more capable of knowing what I should do, where to camp, how I should act, stuff like that. The only nervousness I had was going into the States for the first time.
What advice do you have for others considering a long-distance bike trip?
Don’t ever think that you need to bring everything with you. If you overpack, that’s fine as well. At least you didn’t under-pack.
If you’re not biking with anyone, podcasts. They definitely kill time. Podcasts. Books. You can’t really read while you’re biking.
Oh yeah. Audiobooks. Why didn’t I think of that?
I would suggest making sure that you’re cycling whatever’s comfortable for you. If you’re sticking with some cycling guide that says what position you should be in while you’re riding and it’s giving you rashes, if it’s making you uncomfortable, just do what works for you. I’ve had so many people come up to me and they’re surprised I don’t have rashes. I just have bike shorts and a decent sized, soft seat. First off, don’t be touring with a hard seat.
What long-distance bike trip would you like to do next?
I’d like to bike around Ireland. I’d also like to go to Europe, or maybe just the UK. I’d like to bike to Spain, maybe go to Italy. I think my next big bike trip will probably be outside of North America. That’s definitely something I’m looking forward to.
Note: After this interview, Matt received a letter from the Canadian prime minister.
Note: This interview was originally published on Medium.
Jillianne Hamilton is the author of Molly Miranda: Thief for Hire, its two action/comedy sequels, and The Lazy Historian's Guide to the Wives of Henry VIII. She is also a graphic designer, a hoarder of podcasts and a history enthusiast. Learn more.