BIKE TOURING ACROSS AMERICA

Article about my cross country bike trips featured in Klipsun Magazine, the feature magazine of Western Washington University May 1993

He wears bell-bottom jeans and a red sweatshirt which hangs loosely off his thin frame. This soft spoken, fragile-looking man with a short crop of unnruly dark hair and a thick graying beared relates how he spread his life philosophies across the United States-on a bicycle. 

Western graduate Robert Ashworth has never owned a car. The 38-year old doesn"t even know how to drive. Yet he"s logged thousands of miles on his vehicle. "My bike is my main means of transportation," Ashworth said. "I just never wanted to drive. I never wanted to join that rat race. Around town, all the practical stuff I do I can do walking. And to me the value of living close and having things handy is important. "Like other people have the concept ofa Sunday drive, I"ll go out for a Sunday drive, but I don"t feel guilty about wasting gas. I"m just out dillying around. I go down to Skagit County and look at the daffodil fields. It"s a whole day. It"s about my most enjoyable way to spend the day. 

"Ashworth said he grew up riding a bike in his hometown of Pullman, Wash. When he came to Bellingham in 1973 to attend Western he continued to bike every where he went, never feeling the need for an automobile. "I figured one of the best ways to stay in shape is to never own a car," he said. "Exercise is just a byproduct of my lifestyle. "Most bikers ride for fun, but Ashworth bikes with a purpose. Two years ago he rode from coast to coast, an endeavor he said happened naturally. "I started going on long-distance trips around here, like out to Baker and down to Mount Vernon." Ashworth said."Then I decided to go camping and I went over to eastern Washington. "Ashworth began extending these trips and eventually rode down the coast of California to San Francisco. The idea of a cross-country venture was turning into a possible reality. "It"s always been a dream of mine to see how far east I could get, and see if I could possibly get across the country or at least get well into the Midwest" he said. Finally, in the summer of 1991, Ashworth arranged to take two months off from his custodial job at the YMCA and begin a joumey that would take nine and a half weeks and cover 4,350 miles."

Other people will go to the East Coast, and a lot of times they"ll fly," Ashworth said. "If you fly, the only thing you get to see is the in-flight movie. I wanted to see the country because I was a geography major at Westem so I"m very interested in land and people and city planning and things like that. And I wanted to see things along the way. 

"Ashworth said he didn"t put himself through any strenuous work outs to prepare for his trip. In fact, he fancies himself a fair weather cyclist and seldom rides during the winter. "People ask me what I do, if I have a fitness program. I actually don"t have a fitness program," he said. "I go to a free form dance at Fair Haven College because I enjoy dancing ... and then I"ll travel by bike and I just stay in shape automatically.

"Always in good shape. Ashworth took his Trek 750, a cross between a mountain bike and a touring bike, through the Northern U.S. travelling across Idaho and Western Montana to Yellowstone and then down to Northen Wyoming, over the Big Horn Mountains and into Pierre, S.D. where he got his first flat tire. After fixing the tire, Ashworth continued on to Minneapolis, Minn. This was one of his favorite cities and he spent two days exploring the intricate network of bike paths that connect various tourist sites. From Minnesota he rode through Wisconsin, along the shores oflake Superiour and down across Michigan. During the last leg of the trip, Ashworth travelled through southern Onterio. While in Canada, he locked up his bike for a day and took a bus into Toronto to tour the city. 

Once he reached New York State he realized he wasn"t going to make it back in time for work. No problem. He called his boss and arranged to take another week off. "We try to accomidate our employees," said YMCA building supervisor Jim Lockheed. "Robert"s a good worker and I"m personally supportive of what he does. We have a lot of respect for him. "With his employment status secure, Ashworth rode through Syracuse, N.Y.,Vermont and finally ended the ride in Salisbury Beach, Mass. Boxing up his bike he hopped on the Amtrak and headed west. Since he had no deadlines set for the trip, Ashworth rode his bike the way he lives his life - in the slow lane. 

Most of the time a day"s ride is about 8 a.m. and ended when he reached the day"s destination. Ashworth spent most of his nights in campgrounds, resting for the next day and talking with people he met along the way. "I got a lot of good political discussions going with a whole bunch of people. I talked about the environment, my lifestyle in Bellingham and my different philosophies on life."Ashworth made the ride solo because he was not interested in waiting for someone to free up time to go with him. "I like to (travel) alone because I meet people along the way,"he said. "(But) the main thing is I"m not going to wait until I find somebody. I"m just going to go do it. To hell with it ... most people are imprisoned in their cars.

"To fund the expedition, which cost close to $2,000, Ashworth pointed at the way he lives his life. "I"m pretty good about saving money," he said. "I live kind of an alternative lifestyle to most people since I don"t have a car. So maybe you could say how I paid for my trip is that I don" t have a car to eat up (my money). I"m not always shopping at the mall and stuff. I"m not a big consumer. "Much of the money went toward lodging, film and restaurants. Ashworth wanted to erase the stereotype of cyclists and chinciness. "I tipped along the way to leave a good impression of bicycles wherever I went."

Ashworth is not making a fortune, but said he chose his job because the YMCA promotes health and fitness, the stress level is tolerable and, of course, because his work is with-in a short distance. "To have a job that will let me take two months off means more to me than (making lots of money). The quality of life is what"s important to me, not how much money you make," he said. "We can have a higher quality of life in this country if we value things like time with friends. I would rather work at a lower stress job and makeless money." The size of Ashworth"s one-room apartment is comnparable to an average dormroom. Crammed into the little room is a computer, microwave, small refrigerator and a mattress whith a sleeping bag on top. It is sparsely furnished and reflects a lifestyle unconcerned with material possessions. 

Ashworth hopes to share with others the benefits of slowing down life"s harried pace. "My lifestyle here in Bellingham and my trips are kind of interrelated. Living in this little room is almost like camping," he said. "When I travel by bicycle, it"s kind oflike bringing peace to the area because, you know, if somebody"s in a hurry then what they see is everybody"s in their way. But I wasn"t in a hurry so the people were really good to me. I saw a lot of smiles and a lot of waves.

"Upon returning to Bellingham, Ashworth published a small booklet filled with pictures, adventures and anecdotes from his trip. He collected addresses as he went and sent copies to those he had met. Ashworth wrote the book to tell people about his extensive journey, and also to spread his views and philosophies on the danger of cars and the preservation of the environment. "I wanted to tell the story (of my trip), and I think it"s an effective, tool for social change, "he said. "The thing that"s probably the worst destruction of the environment is people"s cars and also our own lifestyles. I think we need to change our own lifestyles and then the corporations ...they respond to the market. I think a lot ofpeople want a nice environrnent, (but) too many people want their cake and eat it too. 

Always ready for a new adventure, Ashworth is planing another cross country venture for this summer. The trip will follow "essentially the same course with a few variations. This time, Ashworth, will be stopping in Pullman to visit some friends he has not seen for many years. "It turned out my twentieth highschool reunion is coming up. I wanted to go to my reunion in Pullman, but I wanted to bike there. I was hoping I could do that this summer. And then I was also hoping I could go across the country again, but I didn"t know if the timing would be right. "So what happened is that I got a notice from my reunion committee and by coincidence, it"s a total coincidence, the reunion is planned for the very day that I arrived in Pullman the last time I went across the country."

When Ashworth attended Pullman High 20 years ago, he won the Tack Hammer award for being the most individualistic student. When he returns to visit his old classmates this summer, does he think they will be surprised at what he"s accomplished in the last two decades?" I think they"ll probably say "That"s what we expected someone like Robert to do," he said. "Hearing a different drummer has always been kind of the slogan that"s been around my life."

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