Cyclist includes Prineville on his cross-country trek
Matteo Schlitz posted a photo and message to Instagram Tuesday, triumphantly hoisting his bicycle overhead with the Pacific Ocean as backdrop.
The Washington, D.C., resident had set a goal months ago to reach Yachats, Oregon, by bicycle on Oct. 6, his 23rd birthday, concluding a cross-country journey that originated in his home town.
"Overwhelmingly grateful for the love shown from near and afar on this journey," he wrote on the Instagram post.
Schlitz passed through Prineville on Friday, Oct. 2, just four days before he reached the Pacific. He connected with local resident Debbie Proctor who invited the young cyclist to join her and her dad for lunch at Sandwich Factory. The restaurant is conveniently situated next to Good Bike Co.
"You have got a bike shop that has beer and Kombucha and nice people," he said of his initial impressions of Prineville.
Schlitz offers many reasons for deciding to hop on a bicycle and cruise across the U.S. One was to raise money for a yoga studio that used to employ him. Like many small businesses across the country, the COVID pandemic is causing the studio to struggle.
"They couldn't have anyone come in, so they switched to virtual," he said.
His other reasons were more personal. He wanted to get out of the house, and he wanted to challenge himself and see if he could actually do it.
It wouldn't be easy. Schlitz was not a cyclist – like most kids, he knew how to ride a bike, but he had never traveled long distances on one. He wasn't really out of shape, having played soccer in college, but he didn't start out with ideal amount of cardio fitness to log an average of 60 miles a day. Also, he didn't yet have the type of bike that would be necessary for carrying gear and covering several thousand miles.
But thanks to a construction job, he had managed to save up enough money to buy the right kind of bike – a Trek 520 heavy touring bike – and accumulate some gear for the trip. When he left on July 1, he loaded down his bike with a tent, sleeping bag, portable camp stove and a book. He also packed two sets of casual clothes and two sets of cycling clothes – but later found himself wishing he only took one set of each.
"That's too much," he remarked.
After researching route options and seeking advice from other cyclists, Schlitz decided to follow the Trans America Trail, which cuts across southern states like Tennessee, Arkansas and Oklahoma before reaching Colorado and heading northwest toward Oregon. Prineville is on the trail.
He didn't stick to the exact route, but that was somewhat by design.
"Someone gave me some advice and said, 'Go off of it as much as you can,'" he explained. "It's fun to go into towns where they have never seen bikers before. They get all excited."But the turning point in the trip, Schlitz said, was when he got to Colorado. From that point on, he has fallen in love with the landscape
"Everything has been so beautiful. I don't really plan on going back east after this," he gushed. "The nature out here has been incredible. I loved the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone. That was the highlight for sure."
During his three-month journey, Schlitz tried to make sure he got on his bike every day and pushed forward. There were times he took an extra day or two, but that was usually to a special place or spend more time with a new acquaintance. But he was determined to not let fatigue or a bad day keep him off the bike.
"I think those days that you don't want to bike are important to bike, because part of it is learning how to do that – to push through," he said. "My outlook on this trip – because a lot of people told me it was going to be really challenging – was that whenever you feel sad or like you can't do it, just try and be grateful for getting to out here when many of your friends are at home working or something like that."
Besides the beauty of the western states, the other pleasant surprise Schlitz has repeatedly encountered is the kindness and generosity of strangers. From his lunch with Proctor at Sandwich Factory to people offering him a place to stay the night, he has been floored by how kind complete strangers can be.
Despite only advertising his yoga studio fundraiser with a Facebook post, he raised enough money from complete strangers to close the book on that endeavor and start a new fundraiser that will purchase feminine hygiene products for girls in a Kenyan village he spent time in during his childhood.
"That kind of kindness has been the best part of the trip," he said. "It has been really refreshing because all you hear is negativity in the news."
Schlitz didn't start his journey with any plans for after it concluded. But sitting at Good Bike Co., four days away from Yachats, he acknowledged that he had recently begun thinking about what to do next. And while nothing is certain, he knows he wants to continue his nomadic lifestyle.
"After doing this, I don't know how I could stay in the same place for more than two or three days," he said.
He might get his chance. One of his best friends has moved to Mexico and is spending time down there surfing. He has also just bought a van, so Schlitz is considering another trip down the Pacific Coast to the Mexican border to meet him, possibly by November.
"Whether or not I bring the bike is to be decided," he said.
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