Alice Honeywell and Bobbi Montgomery consider themselves "word nerds." Before they retired, Alice, 62, was an editor and publications director at the University of Wisconsin. Bobbi, 64, taught high school English and journalism in Ohio. Yet it didn't occur to them until they were halfway across the country on a postretirement bicycle trip to write a book about their adventures.
"We were in a cafe somewhere in North Dakota," says Alice, "and the person we were talking to seemed to like listening to our stories and said, 'I want to read your book!' Bobbi and I looked at each other and said, 'Book? Us?!' "
The result is Across America by Bicycle: Alice and Bobbi's Summer on Wheels. It recounts their three months of pedaling from Astoria, Ore., to Bar Harbor, Maine — by way of Washington, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont and New Hampshire. They dodged wildfires, worried about snakes and bears, braved intense heat and drenching rainstorms. Most of all, they stopped along the way to chat with the people they met.
The two women had met on an informal bike trip Alice led through Nova Scotia. They'd been on weeklong bicycle trips together since then, and exchanged cards at Christmastime, but otherwise didn't know each other very well. Alice decided that she wanted to ride across country after she retired and began asking around to see who else was interested. Among her bike-riding comrades, only Bobbi planned to retire at about the same time. "So that," says Alice, "is how we ended up together."
They learned biking across country is filled with the sort of unexpected stresses that can rupture a partnership — as reflected by a bike-shop owner in Wisconsin who'd met other such pairs before Alice and Bobbi wandered in. "Still talking to each other?" he asked when he heard what they were up to. "Then you're having a good trip."
They were, indeed. The adventure forged a deep friendship that lasted well beyond the 3,500 miles they spent together. They both spoke with the AARP Bulletin about their journey.
Q. What were your secrets to getting along?
Alice: Flexibility and an ability not to try to control another person. We both like to be in charge, but neither of us is a control freak. We trusted each other's competence.
Bobbi: Also, we wanted to make the whole trip. So if we had to do something that normally was not a favorite thing to do, it didn't matter: It was all for the trip. And we both had the same objectives — it wasn't just the physical challenge and it wasn't just to see our country, although those were important. We wanted to know what life was like in other areas of the country.
Q. How were the people along the way? Did people in one region treat you differently from another?
Bobbi: You know, the people out West were so friendly and so wonderful, and we wondered how the people out East would treat us. But they were just as friendly. There was no difference.
Alice: We found that when we were stopped in the middle of the country looking at a map, any vehicle that came along would stop and ask us if we needed anything. We learned that we didn't have to worry — that we would have help if we needed it.
Q. Did you accept it, the help?
Bobbi: Alice was reluctant to take people up on their offers. I'm from the East Coast originally, but she's a Midwesterner: She didn't want to be a bother.
Alice: One time, we pulled into a motel just as the clouds were bursting. A man standing in the doorway of the room next door reached into his pocket and took out his keys and said, "Here, take my truck and go into town and get yourselves a decent meal." This was before I took Bobbi's message seriously, so I said, "Oh no, we'll be fine." When Bobbi heard she said, "Alice! You can't do that!" I realized that we had to look at it from the other point of view: People get a lot out of giving, and we have to learn to accept their largesse.
Bobbi: Alice, I'm so glad my lectures have done their job and you see it my way.
Q. Did you ever have to worry about your safety?
Alice: We were maybe a little bit concerned at the beginning, but we learned that we didn't need to be. The people we were most reluctant to engage with were some of the nicest people.