11:21 p.m. PDT September 12, 2015
As a child in Washington, John Allen loved the joy and freedom of transporting himself from one place to another by bicycle. Since he was 12 years old, he has packed tents and food and gone on various biking explorations.
This summer, Allen, now 61 years old, completed his longest journey yet by biking from the West Coast of the United States to the East Coast — a 4,660-mile trip in a little more than three months.
“It was like being a kid again,” Allen said.
Allen has completed biking tours every summer for years. He’s biked from the San Juan Islands to San Francisco. He’s shared his passion with his friends, family and former students.
But a year after retiring as a Salem-Keizer elementary school teacher, he decided he wanted to bike across the country.
Allen’s route was a collection of bike routes shared by other cyclists and cycling organizations that took him primarily across the northern parts of the United States.
Along the way, Allen took days off to explore the areas he was biking through. He primarily camped but stayed in the occasional bed and breakfast, motel or cyclists’ hostel.
While biking, Allen said, he got in better shape and met kind and impressive people, many of whom were biking thousands of miles more than him. And his love of biking was reinforced.
“Meeting people along the way was one of the best things,” he said. “(I found) the world is actually a pretty nice place and a nice place to explore.”
But it wasn’t always easy.
In addition to physical fatigue from biking nearly 52 to 55 miles a day in sometimes rough terrain, wind and unpredictable weather, Allen also faced emotional challenges.
“There were times when fatigue caught up to me physically and mentally and I had to step (back),” he said. “Some of the roads were so steep it took me four hours to do 14 miles.
“I almost quit.”
Allen said his wife was tremendously supportive, one of the main reasons he decided to rest and continue in times of doubt.
He found that when he could break the trip in smaller sections, such as the multiple routes he put together to create his path, he felt he could accomplish anything.
This is the message he hoped to teach his students while he was a teacher and what he continues to show his family.
He would offer to take his fourth- and fifth-grade students on a 15-mile bike ride when summer started every year.
“I wanted to get them to understand their own abilities to get themselves from one place to another,” he said. “I (hoped) they would be encouraged to do something with their lives, to go on adventures.”
Allen encourages others to do such a trip to change their outlook on the world and help build their self-confidence.
Some things “seem out of reach,” he said, but they aren’t.