Kathleen Ventura, 31, started planning her bike ride across the US in 2011.
“We didn’t even have bikes!” she remembers. “When we decided to rid, it started with micro actions — and first, we had to get bikes.”
She and her husband Brock Delinski, 33, were living just outside Chicago at the time, her working as an account executive in sales at Groupon and him working as an operations supervisor for a waste-services company. They had their hearts set on an extended period of international, nomadic travel and figured a cross-country adventure, where they spoke the language and knew the currency, would be a good place to start.
Ultimately, they ended up biking over 4,200 miles in around five months. Ventura spoke with Business Insider to share the victories, challenges, and costs of traversing the US on a bike.
The spring of 2012 was full of change for Ventura and Delinski: They got married in March, their Chicago lease was up in May, and they left for their marathon ride on June 7.
Before they set off, they spent a month living with Ventura's parents in order to stockpile a few paychecks' worth of savings. Between a year of saving and planning, selling their cars and furniture, and the last-minute influx of cash, they had about $50,000 saved for their bike trip and whatever came next.
Using maps from the Adventure Cycling Association, they plotted their way through the TransAmerica Trail, starting in Yorktown, Virginia and ending in Astoria, Oregon.
'When I say maps, I think people think I was on trails,' Ventura says. 'We were on streets and roads and in some cases, the interstate.' The maps the nonprofit association provides describe not only the route, but also an elevation chart and notification about local cycling-friendly resources.
'They will say in this town there's a grocery store, in this town there's fuel,' Ventura says. 'The route we took was the most established, so they could be like 'There's a grocery store in this town that lets cyclists camp in the backyard, or this church will let you use the kitchen and take a shower for a donation.' We were able to plan based on that.'
'I felt like the whole thing was like a video game,' Ventura remembers. 'Every day was a new day with new challenges: dogs trying to bite you, headwinds trying to knock you over, 105 degrees.'
They carried a small camping stove and most days would make ramen or other noodles along with some vegetables, for nutrients. Most nights, the pair would pitch a tent -- in a campground out west, or in a church, or in a city park in a small town, where they were usually lucky enough to find outlets to plug in their phones.
In a typical day, they would bike 40-70 miles, depending on the terrain. 'Some days we would hammer it all out, some days we would stop for lunch somewhere,' Ventura says. As they biked across the south, they had to set off at 5 a.m. in order to make progress before it got too hot to continue. Further west, they could sleep in.
Between eating ramen and sleeping on the ground, Ventura estimates the five-month adventure cost them about $6,000.
'It totally could be done on less,' she says. 'We met kids just sleeping on the side of the road, but we just weren't doing that. There was a level of comfort we felt was necessary when we were being rained on. Some days we we would sleep for free and people would give us food, other days it was freezing and we were disgusting and we just needed a shower and a nice hotel. It depends on your comfort level and your budget and your priorities. We wanted to enjoy it -- we weren't there to break a record.'
And, for the record, Ventura says, 'my parents thought we were bananas.'
One piece of advice Ventura shared for other ambitious cyclists: 'Look out for drivers! They're not paying attention. Just don't ever put your trust in the cars. When in doubt, stop, or walk the bike, or take up the entire lane so you can be sure they see you.'
And, she adds, watch out for dogs. 'Especially in Kentucky, dogs think they're supposed to chase and bite you. People will keep a water bottle on their handlebars to splash them.'
The couple arrived at the finish line at 5 p.m. in early November, just a few minutes after dark on the day after daylight savings.
They spent a week in Portland before loading their bikes into boxes for a 24-train ride home to Chicago for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Today, having returned from a year travelling through Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, Portugal, Ireland, and Italy, they're living in Sedona, Arizona. Ventura is working as a life and business coach, and Delinski is starting his own business building cat furniture from reclaimed wood.
'The really great thing about the ride was how cool and helpful people were,' Ventura says. 'Strangers would just help us. We had a woman we've never met drive us to a Walmart to get a bike part. In Colorado, we were talking to a guy in a store not realising it was the owner, and he offered us his rental condo for free and walked us over.'
Ventura and Delinski took advantage of a website called Warm Showers, which lets people list places to stay and shower specifically for travelling cyclists.
'The coolest part of the trip was the restoration of my faith in humanity, and how kind total strangers can be,' Ventura says. 'Across the whole country, we experienced it everywhere: People were kind and honest and loving, and rescued us from some tough spots.'