By Lisa Capobianco
When Southington resident Liz Dietz wanted to pursue a bike trip across the nation last summer, she knew it would become the adventure of a lifetime, seeing popular landmarks and meeting new faces in unfamiliar places.
But she struggled to find a biking partner. After consulting multiple friends, no one came through until Liz contacted the person who knows her best: her mother, Sharon Vocke, an energy columnist for the Observer.
“To be honest, I never thought she would go with me,” said Liz, who attends Williams College in Massachusetts. “So many potential bike companions had fallen through that I figured it was not going to happen.”
Liz said she felt shocked and excited when she told her mother through a text message she had no choice but to take on the challenge too.
“Oh I know—I have been planning on it for a month,” Sharon told her daughter through a text message.
The mother and daughter adventure launched July 9, and continued through the end of August. Carrying all their belongings in knapsacks strapped behind their backs while pedaling over a thousand miles, Sharon and Liz traveled from Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado up through the Tetons and Yellowstone in Wyoming, and into Montana where they rented a car to see Glacier National Park. Then they pedaled their way to Idaho, Washington state, and Victoria, Canada. They landed in Portland, Ore. last.
“It was completely a whole new adventure,” said Sharon, who serves as the co-owner of EverGreen Energy, a local company that specializes in the installation of renewable energy sources like solar panels.
“Somehow we survived that first day,” she said.
With their dissembled bikes in boxes, Sharon and Liz first flew into Denver, Colo., where a shuttle brought them to a campground. They assembled the bikes back together upon arriving to the campsite, but Sharon realized that she did not tighten her handlebars enough—until she started biking down a mountain.
“My handlebars fell off,” she said.
Although Liz and Sharon experienced setbacks along the way, including low air pressure in their tires, they did not give up on their journey. Sharon said one of their biggest struggles took place in Yellowstone, Wyo., where they could not find any shoulders on the roadways.
“We stopped for a few minutes at the top of a particularly delightful hill, mostly to cherish the fact that we were still alive,” Liz said in her Tumblir blog, “Irrational National.” “Mom, in her maternal (and totally understandable) worry wanted to continue up Yellowstone National Parkway before the afternoon turned it into Yellowstone National Parking Lot, but I was all kinds of absolutely not.”
For Liz and Sharon, the perseverance to pedal through Yellowstone was worth it. During their time at Yellowstone National Park, they met Nat and Tamara—unforgettable strangers who welcomed the mother and daughter with open arms.
“They were beyond extraordinary,” Sharon said. “They invited us to stay with them in their campsite, they cooked for us.”
Along the way, Sharon and Liz met other people who made a lasting impression, including Daniel, who just finished serving in the Air Force, and decided to travel around for a year before settling down into a civilian job.
“He was logistically fantastic- he helped me with some bike repairs, since he was a mechanic, and let us stay with the hosts he arranged for himself,” said Liz, who encountered Daniel on a bike route through Montana. “He was also a fascinating person, who made some of the long days of biking go much more quickly during the week or so he was with us.”
Sharon and Liz also met ranchers in Wyoming, where they spend long hours branding cows for a living. Although they work from dawn until dusk, Sharon said it was amazing to see how the cowboys and cowgirls love their job.
“It is very different—they are very passionate about what they do,” Sharon said. “It is a hard life—they work from the moment they wake up until the moment they go to bed.”
Out of all the places they visited, Sharon and Liz both agreed that the North Cascades National Park in Washington was one of their favorite spots.
“It is like nothing we have ever seen in the Northeast,” Sharon said. “The combination of astounding beauty and the fact that we actually made it to the Cascades was the coolest,” Liz added. “The trip through the Cascades is bisected by a pair of mountain passes—first Washington Pass, where you climb over the last significant mountain of the country, and Rainy Pass, where it literally started to rain as soon as we hit it.”
When the mother-daughter bike trip ended, Liz and Sharon said they hope to have another adventure like that in the near future. Looking back on the trip, Sharon and Liz said not only did they enjoy spending time together, but they also learned more about themselves.
“I am stronger than I know—I can push beyond pain,” Sharon said. “The day to day things- bills, phone calls, Facebook, grocery shopping- that normally comprise an enormous amount of stress sort of drop away,” Liz said. “I became a little less stressed over the details.”