A self portrait by Martha Retallick

Between 1980 and 1992, local cyclist, author, photographer and web developer, Martha Retallick, rode in all 50 states. Then she wrote a book about it.

Now you can download a PDF version of Discovering America for free on her website.

Check out the Q&A I did with Retallick about her book.

Can you tell me a little about yourself and the book?

I’m an avid ’round-town bicyclist and have been for about 20 years. Before that, I was quite into long-distance bicycle touring. The book describes my travels through all 50 of the United States — and a bit of Canada and Mexico — between 1980 and 1992.

How did you get the idea?

From another long-distance bicyclist. We crossed paths in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula during the summer of 1980. Here was someone with the goal of bicycling in all 50 of the United States, and my goal was to get back to work after losing my job. Well, that wasn’t what The Troublemaker (aka my mouth) had in store for me. Darn thing opened up and out came the words “I want to do that too.”

Mind you, this was back in the 1980s, a very careerist time in our country. The notion of taking time off to go exploring wasn’t referred to as a Gap Year the way it is now. If anything, hopping off the career treadmill was looked upon with contempt. Like you weren’t cut out for the workplace. And that you wanted no part of being a yuppie. Or working for them.

Matter of fact, I can remember antagonizing a job interviewer after she asked me about my plans for the next five years. Well, at that point, I had 38 states under my belt, and I was looking for 12 more. So, my plans included doing a long organized bike ride in honor of the bicentennial of the U.S. Constitution. That obviously wasn’t what my interviewer wanted to hear. But, if impressing Ms. Nasty with an All Career! All The Time! demeanor was what I needed to do to get hired, I wasn’t interested.

As it turned out, America’s Freedom Ride never happened. But I did end up quitting a different job at the same institution where the aforementioned interview took place. And then I  biked from Mexico to Canada.

How long did it take for you to actually start off on your trip?

I started catching the “maybe I could go a long way on a bike” bug during the summer of 1979. I’d just graduated from college, and my parents gave me the best graduation gift on the planet: money. It was enough to cover the purchase of an entry-level ten-speed. Which I fell in love with. I joined the local bicycle touring club, and we did rides all over the state of Michigan. My fellow club members had biked in many places besides Michigan, and let’s just say that they gave me lots of ideas.

How long did it take you to complete it?

Twelve and a half years.

What is your best memory from the trip?

The people who helped me along the way. Much of my long-distance bicycling happened during the early 1980s, and the U.S. economy was going through hard times. Very hard times. In Indiana, I met a homeless family that shared a meal with me. And in Texas, I was given government cheese by an old lady who said that she couldn’t eat all of it. Here in Arizona, I was “adopted” by a Phoenix family that hosted me — free of charge — for an entire winter.

What is the worst?

This happened in various places, but my knees weren’t the happiest about my riding bikes that weren’t set up properly. (Memo to others: Bike fit is very important. Even if you’re not planning on racing your bike.) Sorry to say, but the knee damage turned out to be permanent, and that’s what ended my long distance bicycling back in 1993. These days, I’m good for about 20 miles, and then I have to quit.

Anything else you would like to add?

If you take to bicycling, whether it’s around town or around the country, it will ruin your aspirations for a materialistic, consumption-driven lifestyle. Why? Because if you’re getting around by bike, you have to carry all that stuff. So, less is more.

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