Reflections on a Bike Ride Across America
With the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic likely behind us and the world starting to return to some sense of normalcy, I wanted to get outside, see our country, and visit OpenGov customers. What followed was an awesome, grueling, and transformative cycling trip through wildfire smoke, desert heat, mountain rains, wind, and a few frosty mornings.
I finished the 3,400-mile ride on Nov. 3 in Yorktown, VA. As I decompress during this week of giving thanks, I’ve reflected on a few of the lessons learned from the trip.
1. We are a nation with a help-thy-neighbor spirit.
I met government employees who work hard and genuinely want to help their communities. This was evident in the men and women of CAL FIRE with whom I visited on their break from fighting the Caldor Fire. It was also true of the municipal employees I met in Utah, Colorado, Kansas, and Virginia. Beyond the public sector, I received help from local folks in Hanksville, UT, after the town was devastated by a flash flood that washed away our support vehicle.
Despite the current tense political environment at the federal level, most people treat each other as neighbors, deserving of help and respect. This kindness and selflessness motivated me. At OpenGov, we want to foster this spirit by enabling and empowering our nation’s civil servants to help others and be heroes in their communities.
2. Local governments are reflections of their communities.
It’s easy to criticize “government,” and many of us do it, but we often miss a couple of key understandings. First, the government is just us. Residents can raise their hand and run for city or town council. In fact, virtually every government is just a collection of its residents. So who are we criticizing other than ourselves?
Second, there is not a one-size-fits-all playbook for how to run a government. A key piece of governing is discerning the wants and needs of diverse communities, prioritizing those wants and needs, and then executing a plan to deliver on them.
Much of the Western Express and TransAmerica bike routes that I followed across America are rural. Many communities along the way don’t have the digital infrastructure that many of us take for granted, including broadband Internet and even cellular coverage.
Fortunately, for those communities that want to invest in technology, and I saw many that do, there’s never been a better time. Software and hardware technologies are progressing rapidly. Not to mention, funding and grant sources are at an all-time high. Expectations are rising, service provision has never been more complicated, and trust has seldom been lower. This means it’s going to be an exciting and fast-moving few years ahead!
3. “Work From Anywhere” doesn’t work so well on a bike.
Before the ride, I anticipated cycling for 5-6 hours during the day, arriving at a motel, and hopping online to bang out a bunch of work before bed each night. That is not how it worked. Mother nature, my body, and my brain all had different plans, and weak networks often made working impossible.
Although I constantly took calls from the bike (thanks to wireless headphones and extra batteries), my teammates picked up a lot of slack. They were extremely forgiving of the background noise, poor reception, and endless logistical problems. I don’t recommend working from a bike, but stepping away did provide room for others to step up, and it showed the trust we’ve built as a team. I couldn’t be more grateful for the incredible leaders and managers I work with and the mission-driven, talented employees who do outstanding work every day.
4. We have a big, beautiful country.
I loved the desert beauty and Americana of the Extraterrestrial Highway in Nevada, the red rocks of Utah, and the big passes in the Rocky Mountains. I shared Slop Burgers with strangers at Gray’s Coors Tavern in Pueblo, CO, crossed the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, and ate a Hot Brown washed down with bourbon in Lexington, KY. I climbed endless hills in the Ozarks, coal country, and the Blue Ridge of Appalachia. It was inspiring to see the landscapes, meet so many kind people, and experience our local and regional cultures in a way you can’t when flying or driving.
One unexpectedly interesting part of the trip involved the hundreds of historical markers along the way. Reading them was like traveling the path of westward migration in reverse. The towns in Kansas, for instance, were settled in the 1860s and 1870s, with those dates dropping about 10 years every 20-30 miles. The placards described 18th-century history when I moved into southern Illinois and Missouri. After crossing into the Piedmont of Virginia, the signs increased in frequency and started reflecting our nation’s origin stories in the 1700s and then the 1600s by tidewater.
Overall, I’m thrilled to have collaborated on this ride with the Sandra Day O’Connor Institute For American Democracy to continue the legacy of the former Supreme Court Justice. We raised more than $20,000 to support multigenerational civics education, civil discourse, and civic engagement. Given that we are our governments, it is our shared responsibility to come together to solve problems and improve our communities.
Category: OpenGov Updates