Michael & The TransAmerica Bike Route

by | Oct 1, 2023 | Inspiration

In 2022, Michael rode his bicycle across the United States on the TransAmerica Trail. It took Michael 84 days to complete the route, which is approximately 4,200 miles and runs from Astoria, Oregon, to Yorktown, Virginia.

Before this ride, he hadn’t been on a bike for more than 10 miles in a single trip. This just goes to show his adventurous spirit, resilient attitude, and admirable perseverance that helped him complete this incredible adventure with no bike-packing experience.

In the interview below, you can learn more about Michael and how he got the idea to embark on this adventure, as well as some recommended resources for anyone interested in something like this. He also has some incredible life advice that we all need to hear, so continue reading to get inspired by a fellow adventurer.

Michael and his bike at the Victory Monument, the official finish line in Yorktown, Virginia.

“Things are pretty scary if you overthink it, but at the end of the day, stuff that scares you or makes you feel uncomfortable is stuff that helps you grow.”

– Michael

Ashley: Start by telling us about yourself!

Michael: My name is Michael Longo, I’m from Quincy, Illinois, and I’m currently living in Denver, Colorado. Something that I’m passionate about and the reason I moved out to Colorado (and the main reason why most people do) is the love of the outdoors. Anything to do with hiking, camping, or anything like that in the mountains, that’s what I’m passionate about. The one thing that really drew me out to Colorado was the skiing. That’s something I grew up doing, taking family vacations out to Colorado, and that’s where I fell in love with it.

My first time out to Colorado was in my 7th grade year, so I think I was around 12 or 13 years old. I remember driving back home from Winter Park, looking over to my mom, and saying “I will live out here someday.” And after college, I took care of what I needed to do, then that summer I moved out to Colorado and I haven’t looked back yet.

Ashley: Do you have any pets?

Michael: Yes! I have a Border Collie / Australian Shepherd and he has a little bit of Bernese in him. His name is Bennie and he is five years old. He’s my little adventure buddy! I rescued him when he was a year old – he was running wild on an Indian reservation down in Utah and there’s a non-profit that goes and rescues all the puppies that are running wild there. I got him for $75 and it’s the best $75 I’ve ever spent.

Ashley: Bennie is awesome! Do you have a favorite quote right now?

Michael: My favorite quote right now… I don’t know if there’s a quote that stands out to me right now, but something that I’ve tried to live my life by is to just get out there and try to do as much as possible. Kind of live in the moment and don’t think about the future and don’t think about the past. Just try to enjoy the moment that you’re in because life does go by pretty fast and if you don’t soak up the moment, it will go even faster.

Ashley: That’s awesome! That’s a perfect lifestyle for living in Colorado.

Michael, Bennie, and Derek backcountry skiing in Breckenridge, Colorado.

Michael: Yes it is!

Ashley: In 2022 in the summer, you biked the TransAmerica Trail. In your own words, what is the TransAmerica Trail?

Michael: I would say… a trip of a lifetime that pushes you to the absolute limits that you can do in your life because there are so many different aspects that go into that journey. You get to experience the highs of the highs and the lows of the lows and it’s something that you mentally and physically prepare for prior to the trip and you can’t really explain it until after the trip. Because what you experience during that trip is something that I will probably never experience again in my life.

Ashley: In a good way?

Michael: Yes, in a good way. Absolutely. It pushes you to the limit mentally. Physically, I knew it was going to be challenging, but mentally I didn’t expect it to be that hard. You’re out there for 84 days, and every day you’re packing up, biking over 50 miles (roughly), and mentally it’s just a battle out there. I would say that was the hardest part of the journey. But that being said, the mental part of it whenever you do cross the finish line was probably the most rewarding aspect of completing the journey.

Ashley: You said it took you 84 days?

Michael: Yes, 84 days. A little under 4,000 miles.

Ashley: And you biked eastbound, correct?

Michael: Eastbound, yup. I started in Astoria, Oregon, and ended in Yorktown, Virginia. I had to pivot my route because of wildfires and flooding in Yellowstone, so I didn’t get to go up that way. I went down through Utah over to Colorado. So I had to pivot my journey a little bit but that was because of natural disasters that were going on.

Ashley: Right. And why did you choose to go eastbound versus westbound?

Michael: There was no particular reason why I wanted to go eastbound. I’m a big family guy, and I knew if I ended in Virginia that my family could come and see me cross the finish line. So that was important to me. I knew in Oregon it would have been a little more difficult for them to fly out and see me. So I think the one thing was just to see my family at the finish line.

Ashley: And I’m sure that was a special moment?

Michael: Yes! Thinking about it now I do get chills. Just rolling up to Yorktown, it’s called the Victory Monument – that’s the official finish line of the TransAmerica bike route. And just seeing my family there. They had t-shirts made me for, and they had my brother pop a bottle of Champagne and started spraying it everywhere. Yeah, it was pretty special.

Ashley: That’s awesome. I’m glad that your family was there at the finish line.

Michael: Yeah, they were a huge part of helping me through that journey..just pushing me to keep on going mentally. So to see them at the finish line was a pretty special moment.

Ashley: Would you say that they were a part of your inspiration to do this in the first place?

Michael: Ummm. A part of it. I think that the inspiration was just to try and do something that I mentally wanted to push myself through. Looking back on it, I can’t really remember what drove me to do it.

It was just something that, living in Breckenridge, I saw people biking. I stopped and talked with a biker one time and he was telling me what he was doing. From that moment on, I was instantly attracted to this route.

I can’t pinpoint why I wanted to do it. It was just something deep down that was always sticking with me and I had the opportunity to do it and I just wanted to go for it.

Ashley: Well it’s quite the adventure. Did you have any related experience before, besides talking to the biker?

Michael: You know, the funny thing is..when I tell people this they kind of look at me like I’m crazy. But prior to this bike ride, I think the longest bike ride I ever went on was 10 miles. So I didn’t really know anything about long-distance biking or anything about biking, to be honest.

Ashley: But that’s the inspiring part.. it doesn’t take a serious biker or someone who’s biked their entire life to go and do something like this. Anyone can just pick up a bike and go on this incredible journey.

Michael: Yeah, I think that’s the special part of this.. is pushing yourself and not thinking that you can’t do anything. Because honestly, it sounds cheesy, but if you put your mind to it, you’re capable of doing anything. It just proves to you that you don’t need the most fancy equipment, you don’t need to be the most fit person in the world. If you just dedicate yourself to doing something, it’s pretty amazing what you’re capable of doing.

Ashley: 100%. So take us back to the month before you started. I know you left Breckenridge, you went and spent some time at home. Where were you at physically and mentally prior to starting?

Michael: I moved back to Quincy, Illinois (where I’m from) and kind of just started training and getting the bike all ready for the journey. Going back to the equipment part of it, I bought a bike from my friend for $80. I just took it to our local bike shop and got the best tune-up that they had to offer. New tires, new chains, new breaks. I couldn’t speak highly enough of that bike shop. They really hooked it up.

Then I just started training. I would be lying to you if I told you that I felt prepared for the journey. But I was scared shitless leading up to this journey, to be honest. “What have I gotten myself into?” The nerves started kicking in, and leading up to it was probably the scariest part. I think I was just so ready to get it started.

It started to really kick in whenever I took the train to get out to Astoria. And whenever that train left Illinois, that’s when I was like “Alright, there’s no turning back now.” It was a pretty surreal moment just looking out the window. My mom and dad dropped me off at the train station. It’s just like “It’s now or never.

Michael holding his bike over his head after jumping into the ocean in Virginia.

Physically I felt good. I did have a little scare about a week before I was supposed to take off. I was jump roping at a local gym and I heard a pop in my Achilles area. That last week of training, I couldn’t do any jump roping, any running, or any training like that. My parents have a pool and that was my training for the last week. The first week on the bike was pretty painful, to be honest. That was a little scary moment leading up to the trip.

Ashley: But it ended up working itself out after the first week?

Michael: Yeah. I went to a family friend who’s a physical therapist. There was no damage to the Achilles or anything. He just said to “lay low for that week leading up to the trip, then whenever you start biking it will actually help with the recovery.” I trusted him and it all worked out!

Ashley: So going into the depth of your experience and the journey, what would you say was your highest high of the whole time?

Michael: I think the highest high was the first mountain pass that I went over. It’s called McKenzie Pass and it was the second hardest pass to go over on the whole trip. It was in Oregon through the Cascade Mountain Range. Knowing that I completed the second-highest pass on the journey, it was a pretty surreal moment.

During that climb, I was like “What the heck did I get myself into?” It was one of the hardest days I’ve ever had physically, just trying to push myself. I hadn’t gotten into a routine yet, so I was leaving base camp in the morning around eight or nine, and that day was the hottest day that Oregon had in the last 50 years I think. I was biking up this pass mid-afternoon, just absolutely dying. Just knowing that I had physically gotten through that moment, I knew that anything that came across on that journey, I would be able to do it because I had pushed myself and gotten through a pretty hard moment right at the beginning of the trip. I actually cried at the top of the mountain.

Ashley: A cry of relief?

Michael: It was a cry of relief for sure.

Ashley: To follow up with the highest high, what would you say was your low point in the journey?

Michael: I think the low point was probably the first two weeks out there. And I say that because whenever you’re looking at a map, and you see the blue dot in Oregon and you have to go all the way over to Virginia. It is something that I can’t explain, but it was just like “How the heck am I going to do this?”

And I think that was a pretty low moment because I started to doubt myself a little bit. Just realizing that I was going to be away from family and friends and doing this solo.. all of my emotions started to kick in a little bit. But then after those first two weeks, you kind of get into a routine. And then I told myself I wasn’t going to look at the map anymore at the end of the day. Just focusing on the moment and not focusing on how far I needed to go or how far I had gone. Just focusing in on the moment.

Ashley: And this has translated into the philosophy you live by of just living in the moment and not looking at the past and future. Do you think that stems from your bike journey or had that been a thing before then?

Michael: I kind of did live like that prior to the bike trip, but the bike trip has solidified that for me and that’s something I will live by until the day that I leave this earth. Just to live in the moment.

Michael’s bike in John Day Fossil Beds National Monument.

Ashley: That’s beautiful. So of all the preparation you did, would you say that was an unexpected lesson, or is there an unexpected lesson that stands out to you?

Michael: I think the one thing that I took away from this whole bike journey is: that you can kinda get caught up in all the negative stuff that is around you. And rightfully so since we are surrounded by it so much. But at the end of the day, if you just put down the phone, put down whatever you’re reading, and put down all the stuff around you and just connect with people on a personal level.

People are out here to help you. People are willing to help you, and people want to see you succeed. And that’s something I saw throughout the whole journey. It’s pretty special to see how many people are willing to lend a helping hand. Like, I had people pull over and offer me water, give me food, offer me their backyard to camp in. Give me their house to sleep in, make me dinner. It was pretty special to see the kindness of people. And that’s something that I try to pay it forward after the bike trip too. To help people out as much as possible.

Ashley: And speaking of paying it forward, you biked and accepted donations for a cause, right?

Michael: I did, yeah! Street Soccer USA is a non-profit that helps people in low-income areas to have a safe spot to go play soccer. Soccer is a big part of my life so I wanted to do something with soccer, and this non-profit stood out to me prior to my trip. They help people have a safe spot to play soccer so they can not focus on whatever is going on in their life. Soccer is a great game and they can get out there and play with their best friends. Some of my best friends to this day are people that I met through soccer and it’s important to me to help build a community through that.

Ashley: For sure. Is there a story that stands out to you that still puts a smile on your face? Something that happened while you were on the road?

Michael: Yeah! This was in Tennessee, and I was in this rural area when I saw a school bus go past me. About 25 minutes later, a little kid came on his bike. His name was Christopher, and Christopher stopped me and said that he saw me on his school bus. He said that he was a big bike rider and he “saw the bike packs on your bike and I was curious about what you were doing.” I told him what I was doing and his eyes just lit up. He was shocked that I was biking across the country! He was telling me about how biking was his favorite thing and Christopher biked with me for about 10 miles that day. And then he was like “Well, I have to turn around and go back and get some dinner.”

Later on that evening, I was at my camp spot and some guy rolled up on his motorcycle and was like “Are you Michael?” And I was like “Yeah, I’m Michael. “He’s like “I’m Christopher’s neighbor. He was telling me that you were biking across the country. I just wanted to come down and introduce myself because I biked from the Mexican border to the Canadian border when I was in my 40s.”

We were just making small talk about our journeys and our bike rides and stuff like that. The next morning, he stopped by the campsite before I left and made me breakfast. He gave me all these different supplies for my bike. That was a pretty cool moment where I got to connect with two people in this small town in Tennessee. The chances of a guy doing a bike journey like that in a small town in Tennessee was pretty special. That’s a day that I will never forget out there on that journey.

First, Christopher was just smiling ear to ear that he was biking with me and that he was meeting someone who was doing this. And then connecting with his neighbor and talking with him. He helped me out a bunch with motivation, just to keep on going and making me breakfast and giving me bike supplies for free. So that was a pretty cool moment out there.

Ashley: It sounds like Christopher and his neighbor are some cool guys!

Michael: Yeah, he was! He rolled up on a motorcycle. It was one of those adventure motorcycles that he had all the gear for backpacking and camping. He seemed like a pretty adventurous guy. He was like” Why the heck are you out here? I haven’t seen a bike packer since I moved out here!” So he was pretty shocked that I was out that way.

Ashley: But at that point, you were still on the route, right?

Michael’s bike at Yorktown, the last town before getting to the finish line.

Michael: I was in Tennessee. So I didn’t go through Kentucky. I went through Tennessee instead of Kentucky.

Ashley: And did you do that for a reason or just because?

Michael: I did that because.. to be honest.. Kentucky is notorious for really small country roads and the dogs are apparently really bad. They come and snip at your ankles the whole time. So Kentucky kind of threw me off on a loop. And Tennessee is one of my favorite states so I just re-routed through Tennessee for that reason (and because I love the state of Tennessee and how beautiful it is).

That’s another thing about the TransAmerica bike route, is the first couple of days I was biking on it, I was like “I’m going to stand true to the route. I’m not going to go off the route. I’m going to stay right on the line the whole way.”

The first couple of days, I rode with a couple of people who had done a bunch of long-distance bike journeys like this. I was telling them about this and they were just like “Dude, that’s not going to happen. If you need to re-route, if you need to change your route, that’s the beauty of the journey. It’s not to be set on an exact route, it’s just to accomplish something by getting from point A to point B. If you do need to take a different route, that’s perfectly fine.” That kind of opened my eyes up a little bit and it gives you more freedom too, which is neat.

Ashley: Right, and it lets you customize the journey to your needs and desires.

Michael: Exactly, so that was a pretty cool moment to hear right at the beginning of my journey. It eases the mind a little bit.

Ashley: So to kind of keep spinning off of that, what are some tips you would have for someone interested in doing something like this?

Michael: I think the biggest tip I would have to say is to make sure that you are prepared and doing the research on the journey before. Making sure that you have all the necessary resources on your phone because that did make a huge difference. And it gives you peace of mind, too. There’s a really cool app called Warm Showers. The best way to explain is it’s like AirBnb for bike packers. You can reach out to people who are in the town you are going to be staying at in the next couple of days and be like “Hey, I’m going to be biking through, do you have any availability at your house for me to stay?” That was a huge resource.

And Just knowing the campsites along the way and the distances between the towns and everything. Just making sure that you aren’t going into it blindly. Just doing as much research as possible.

Ashley: So you don’t need to be a crazy biker who’s done a lot of long-distance, but you do need to put in the time to research beforehand?

Michael: Absolutely. Just make sure you have the right gear. And you don’t need the best bike or anything, but just make sure that you’re bike is capable of making it across the country. Make sure you have the right gear and all the necessary resources to help you throughout.

Ashley: Did you end up going with tubeless tires? Or did you use regular tires?

Michael: I just used regular tires. Just whatever the bike shop recommended. They know way more than I do so I put my full trust in that bike shop prior. They set me up right with the best gear possible.

Ashley: What other resources would you recommend? A good bike shop that can give you some good information, Warm Showers, what other resources should people use for research and along the way?

Michael: A good resource to use is YouTube prior to the trip. I started looking at TransAmerica bike vlogs on YouTube and then looking at different bike packers and the gear they recommend to have on a long-distance journey like this. I think the #1 resource out there during your bike trip is your Facebook profile. Just reaching out and saying “Hey Facebook, I’m going through [this town] in a couple of weeks and would like to see if anyone is in the town to catch up or if they would want to host a stinky biker” or anything like that. Facebook was a great resource to have people following your journey and a lot of people (friends and friends of family) reached out and offered their house, offered dinners. You name it, they offered it. It was pretty special to see how many people were willing to help out.

Ashley: You basically used the Seven Degrees of Separation to your advantage?

Michael: Yes. I did!

Ashley: To wrap it up, my last question is “If you had any advice for any dreamer out there, not necessarily about biking, any dreamer who wants to do something, what would you tell them?”

Michael: I would say: embrace the fear and go out and do it. If you let fear hold you back, you’ll never do it. So embrace the fear and just go for it. Things are pretty scary if you overthink it, but at the end of the day, stuff that scares you or makes you feel uncomfortable is stuff that helps you grow. So just embrace that and live life to the fullest.

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