He left Portland, Oregon on May 11.
Tied to his bike was a pack stuffed with the basic essentials: an extra pair of socks, a green raincoat, a hat knitted by his friend’s mother and food — mostly non-perishable, high-calorie foods like nuts and seeds. Ari Dubow ’21 also packed a single book, the title of which varied as he swapped it out at different spots along his route to Brooklyn, New York.
The transfer student — after building the bike from used pieces he had found at secondhand stores — traveled for nearly two months, ultimately covering around 4,500 miles. Dubow wasn’t a pro biker when he decided to embark on the transcontinental journey, and didn’t schedule out much of it at all.
“My plans changed by the second day,” Dubow admitted. While he had plotted a couple of cities as must-stops, like Madison, Wisconsin and Montreal, the trip was spontaneous and included many literal forks in the road.
“There’s one I remember,” he said. “Either I’d go to South Dakota or I would add, like four or five hundred miles and go south to, like, Colorado.” He went to Colorado.
While a slight itch to travel and a clear “shruggedness” about planning ahead were factors in his venture, Dubow, a philosophy major, couldn’t quite narrow down a single motivation for the trip.
“I guess I’m just curious,” Dubow said. “I mean, just a very sort of simple curiosity about what it would be like to do a trip that long. What would it be like to see the country at that pace?”
Dubow, a transfer student from Deep Springs College in Deep Springs, California, heard that he was accepted to Cornell just days before embarking. He enrolled in Cornell on his phone — from his bike — in a park in Fort Collins, Colorado.
“It was, like, a lot of resolve,” Dubow described. “Like, I’m finishing the Rockies. I’m in the plains. I’m enrolled in college.”
While the landscapes were beautiful and he came back with some oddly specific favorite regions — southwest Connecticut and northwest Colorado among them — Dubow said that the quick, quirky conversations along the way were his favorite parts.
West of the Mississippi River, Dubow said, conversations were more political. Many passersby saw that he was traveling from Portland to Brooklyn on a bike, and after learning that his politics leaned liberal, they engaged him in conversations about his political beliefs. After the first few, Dubow said, he learned to listen more than speak.
Regardless of politics, though, Dubow described being welcomed by strangers who used warmshowers.org, a website to help bikers find places to shower and sleep. One couple, Dave and Jill from Jackson, Wyoming, fed him a whole chicken. In another town, a man offered him a beer.
“Full disclosure,” Dubow told him, “I’m under 21.”
The man replied: “Full disclosure, I’m a cop.”
After traversing eleven states and two Canadian provinces, turning 21 years old and enrolling in college on the road, Dubow didn’t know if the trip had really been all that life-changing or transformative — or even the trip of self-reliance he had romanticized in high school.
It was hard at times, he said, being under continual stress to find a place to eat, shower or sleep.
“You can look at pictures of landscapes and think about how stunning it is,” he said. “But when you add on to that, the sound of you breathing heavily and your bike cranking and cars whizzing past and the feeling of being hungry and thirsty — it’s a little less.”
As Dubow prepares for classes, he said the time off was relaxing, but he looks forward to occupying himself soon.
“I get restless,” he said.