Cross-country ‘book tour’ on bike teaches couple value of ‘diving in’
Above: Khara (left) and Emir Plicanic cycled from the Pacific to the Atlantic on their UNtour. Below: The trip included promotion of Khara's book on photography and stops for Khara to teach photography classes.
The first three were all books Khara read (and Emir read "by proxy" based on their discussions): "My Life on the Run" by Bart Yasso, "A Million Miles and a Thousand Years" by Donald Miller and "The Art of Nonconformity" by Chris Guillebeau. Each included some mention of riding bicycles across the United States.
"I had never thought of a bike as a mode of travel transportation," said Khara, a photographer, teacher, and author. "And then I thought, 'that would be so fun.' "
When Khara released her own book, "Your Camera Loves You: Learn to Love it Back," in August, the Plicanics decided to convert the cross-country ride into a book tour on wheels.
The catch: the only bicycle they owned was a tandem purchased at a garage sale (and used as a prop for engagement photos). They had never bicycled long-distance and had never camped. Ever.
"It sounds impressive … It is impressive, I guess, to have the wherewithal to see that through," Khara said. "But the big secret is that it's pretty simple. You can't let people psych you out. I think a lot of people live their lives without ever diving into anything."
Dubbing their ride The UNtour, the Plicanics dove right in. They bought bikes, matching jerseys, a tent, sleeping bags, iPhones, a solar charger and a pre-planned "Southern Tier" route map from Adventure Cycling. They booked venues for Khara to teach photography classes in eight cities: San Diego; Phoenix; Las Cruces, N.M.; Austin, Texas; New Orleans; Mobile, Ala.; and Tallahassee and Gainesville, Fla. Then they took their new bikes to a local bike shop for disassembly and shipping to California.
Emir, an interactive art director with Nelnet, front-end web and mobile developer and teacher, ramped up the trip's tech quotient by setting up a website to document their days on the road (65), mileage (3,222.9), flat tires (23) and, of course, photos. He also included map to show their location, automatically updated every 10 minutes by his iPhone (powered by the aforementioned solar charger). (Left: The Plicanic's route across the southern United States.)
"I got to geek out a little bit. It's my thing," he said, describing his role on the "book tour" as "emotional, technical, all kinds of support."
Along the "back highways and scenic byways" of the southern states, rolling past fields of chili peppers, pecans, cotton and sugar cane, they averaged 12 to 15 miles per hour and about 75 miles per day.
"We got to see America wake up and go to sleep every day," Khara said. "You don’t get to see that in a car on the interstate."
Above: The Plicanics cycled through — and snapped photos of — diverse landscapes over the course of their 3,200-mile ride. Below: After 65 days on the road, the couple completed its tour in St. Augustine, Fla.
They met a lot of "great" and "nice" people from all over the world, and waved at a lot of farmers and rural schoolchildren, but there were lots of quiet stretches, too. Those made for some interesting conversations, Emir said, chuckling through the beard he has cultivated since the trip began in mid-October. "Soooo, do you think that patent laws in the U.S. help or hurt innovation? Go."
It's difficult to describe the way Khara and Emir’s faces light up when they talk about the trip. Even the parts that don't seem so great.
Parts like climbing from sea level to 4,000 feet in on the first day of pedaling.* "The next stop was the post office, shipping the books back," Emir laughed. Instead, during downtime, he read (and Khara read by proxy) Steve Jobs's biography on his iPhone. Or like finding campsites after dark, in unfamiliar towns. Or like riding through 38 dog chases, sometimes with four or five dogs participating (come to think of it, they say, they should have tracked those on the website). Or like riding through daylong downpours in Louisiana and Texas, shoes squishing while they piled food on their plates at a lunch buffet, and yet declining invitations to stay and pressing on to make their mileage goals.
Despite all of this, it's clear that the Plicanics will be biking cross-country again. But probably slower, at a more leisurely 40 or 50 miles per day.
"Next I think it would be another country," Khara said. Maybe South America, New Zealand, or Australia.
Emir agreed, but with a condition. "Smaller," he said.
For an explanation of the UNtour in Khara's words, check out the video clip below.
Image and video credits: Photos and map courtesy of Khara and Emir Plicanic. Video from kharaplicanic on YouTube.
*Update Feb. 3, 11 a.m. – The Plicanics rode from sea level to 4,000 feet on the UNtour's first day. A previous version of the story incorrectly stated they rode from sea level to 14,000 feet.