The fantasy of chucking it all and hitting the road for unknown adventure is woven into the fabric of the American imagination. But how many of us would choose to pursue that dream on a 45-pound Citi Bike?
Aiming to reinvent himself, to inspire others to test their limits and to spread the gospel of bike share, a 35-year-old New Yorker, Jeffrey Tanenhaus (top), undocked a Citi Bike from an East Village station on August 7, exited Manhattan by ferry to New Jersey and began pedaling 500 miles and counting. He and the bright blue bike, which he has re-christened Countri Bike, rolled into Paw Paw, West Virginia this week.
Tanenhaus worked in event planning before leaving what he considered a dead-end job and giving up the lease on his apartment (with 300 square feet of outdoor space, no less). In an exclusive e-mail interview from the road, Tanenhaus shares the reasoning behind crossing the country on two wheels and how a bicycle became the vehicle for his pursuit of happiness and renewed purpose.
When contacted by email on Tuesday, a spokesperson for NYC Bike Share replied that the operator of Citi Bike would have no comment.
You can follow Tanenhaus’s road reports and view more photos at www.countribike.com.[This story was first reported on velojoy.]
What inspired this impulse to quit your job and ride a bicycle across the country?
I hated feeling trapped by my job, but loved the freedom of using the shared bike system. I had a dead-end job in a windowless office and was struggling personally to find meaning in my life. Living in New York felt like treading water—I wasn’t going anywhere but was paying a lot to be in the pool. Putting a sturdy shared bike into motion made me focus on the exciting present and forget the disappointing past and uncertain future.
Seeing America by bicycle: A pause in Sharpsburg, MD at the historic Civil War battlefield.
Lots of people have fantasies about chucking it all and hitting the road. What turned the key for you?
After I parted ways with the events planning agency and the lease expired on my Brooklyn studio, there was no next step waiting for me. This lack of direction was simultaneously frightening and liberating. I focused on my NYC app guide, which I can manage from anywhere with wi-fi. So I decided to leave NYC with the comfort of a shared bike and a portable wi-fi connection.
Tanenhaus hauls his travel essentials in a small trailer hitched to the seat post.
Tell me about your previous travel experience? Have you ever taken on as ambitious a challenge as this one?
I’ve always had a thirst for adventure. My first job out of college was in Guam. A catastrophic natural disaster sent me packing back to NYC and I later moved to Japan without language skills or a job. Every day in Tokyo was interesting and had meaning, even though life was lonely and confusing. I channeled my experiences into the best writing I’ve ever done. I like myself better when I’m out of my comfort zone. Days are memorable and I’m constantly learning new things. I see this bike trip as a challenge similar to my time in Japan.
Why did you feel that it was important to make the journey by Citi Bike? Are you hoping to spread awareness of bike share as a legitimate transportation alternative to cars?
Biking was the best part of my day, whether it was 78 and sunny or 28 and snowy. I became a bike sharing evangelist to anyone who would listen. Now on the road, I’m just trying to make it one day at a time. I hope people who visit my site will feel inspired to incorporate a bike into their lives. If I can make it to West Virginia, maybe New Yorkers can make it to the West Village?
You’ve reached out to NYC Bike Share, the operators of Citi Bike. Have they responded in any way?
I reached out multiple times across multiple channels as early as April 2014. I have not heard from them since a brief telephone conversation at that time. They were not supportive of the idea then and I doubt that has changed.
Technically, are you riding on stolen property?
I checked out the bike on my membership account and was correctly charged the maximum overage fee. If I were committing such a bike sharing atrocity I think I would have heard from them at least once since leaving New York almost 500 miles ago.
How have people along your route reacted to seeing you on a bright blue Citi Bike? You mentioned that Capital Bike Share riders in DC called you out on social media…
A few cyclists in New Jersey recognized the bike and wished me luck. One incredulous motorist even pulled over to chat with me. In DC the bike got a few mentions on social media and sparked speculation on an Arlington bike forum. I got plenty of high fives during a DC Beer Week Bikes & Brews tour. That was a great afternoon and I gotta say that DC is better for biking than NYC!
What do you hope to gain on a personal level from riding a bicycle across America?
I was frustrated with my status quo and needed to hit the reset button. I wanted to feel alive again and experience a creative resurgence, which happens when I go beyond my comfort zone. I want to meet new people, learn about them, see Main Street and breathe different air. I also hope to inspire others to try bike sharing and see how it can improve their lives.
You’ve launched a website to chronicle your journey. I see you’re also seeking sponsors. Any takers?
I contacted outdoor apparel companies to help me gear up, but most did not respond. In the case of REI, they no longer sponsor individual athletes. Starting from scratch with no followers and no precedent, who would support me other than mom and dad? So I am making do with old running shoes and ripped gym shorts, the same commuter clothes I wore in NYC. However, since I started, friends and acquaintances have generously donated to my ride and for that I’m grateful.
Temporary shelter, pitched in Martinak State Park in Denton, MD.
Talk a little bit about the practical side of the trip. How are you financing this — what are you doing about accommodations, meals, etc.?
Savings paid for the bike and additional gear (camping supplies and the trailer). I’ve tapped into the Warm Showers reciprocal hospitality network for touring cyclists. In one case I stayed in a lakefront house and the host wasn’t even home. When a host is home it’s customary to have a meal cooked for you. My dinners have been delicious. During the day I survive on an awkward mix of protein bars, gummy bears and Slurpees. Sometimes I camp and sometimes it’s free. My cost of living on the road is much lower than in NYC, so at this point it feels like I’m saving money and having more fun.
Tanenhaus marks mile 155 of the dusty C&O Canal Towpath, near Paw Paw, WV.
You’re about three weeks in now with a long way to go. So far, what has surprised you most about this trip?
That I turned a crazy dream riddled with challenges and uncertainties into reality all on my own. When I rode Citi Bike over the Manhattan Bridge to work in the morning, looking at the skyline high above the water, I fantasized about biking over a bridge to Cape May, the end of New Jersey. Many months later I actually crossed into Cape May and realized, wow, did I really just do that on a Citi Bike? Why stop here? I’ll keep going.
Carol (left) and Mark and their friend Kathy hosted Tanenhaus in Cape May, NJ.
Photo credits: Top and fourth from top in NYC, David Joshua Ford; all others, Jeffrey Tanenhaus