Tricounty News

Brit learns from many kindnesses along his 3-month journey

By Jean Doran Matua, Editor

While preparing this week's Tri-County News, we got a call from Schmidty's manager, Lurene Lunde. Someone potentially interesting had stopped there.

As I told him when I met him, you know you're in a small town when you stop for lunch and they call the newspaper.

Matthew Bell is a 20-year-old university student from England who decided to do something a little more with his summer break than sitting around the house.

"I want to do something big," he told himself. So he chose a summer bike trip, and he chose to do it in the United States.

He arrived in Los Angeles just over a month ago with his brand-new bicycle. (He was brand-new to cycling, too.) He set out on the first leg of his trip and spent a week biking to Las Vegas.

The 125-degree heat made it hurt to breathe, he said. Several people asked him why he chose a southern route in the summer; why not a more northern, cooler one?

So he shifted gears, so to speak, and took a 3-hour bus ride back to Los Angeles, then caught the train from LA to Seattle. That's where he began his real journey, June 24.

He set out on Highway 2 to Wolf Point, down to Glendive to I-94 which he took to Fargo, then Highway 55 to Minneapolis. He stopped in Kimball Tuesday,

July 24, nearly to his endpoint for the day: Annandale.

Matt has been riding 40-50 miles a day for the past 30 days. His total journey is about 3,500 miles (not sure if that counts his LA to Vegas trip). But he doesn't think about how far he has yet to go, or how far he's come. He told me he thinks only of the next mile, one mile at a time. Finish a mile, then think about the next one.

He starts out at around 7 a.m. and usually stops around 1 p.m. He then spends about three hours finding a place to stay overnight. So far, he's stayed in several firehouses. (He's been given so many fireman T-shirts that he had to ship some of them home.) He's pitched a tent, stayed in private homes, and one generous soul paid for him to spend a night in a hotel. He usually retires for the night by 9.

With headwinds, Matt can only make about 5 miles an hour cycling. On a good day, with tailwinds, he can do 24 mph. On one really good day, going through the Rocky Mountains, he made 75 miles.

Matt is such a cycling novice, he didn't know that he should have tested his bicycle and broken it in. Along the way, someone paid for a tune-up to have everything adjusted. Another seasoned cyclist just a few days ago made other adjustments that have made riding now much smoother and more comfortable.

His plan is to spend about $10 a day along his 90-day trek. He's found that it isn't that hard to do. He has no gas expense, for one. He told me he carries cereal with him, and usually stops somewhere in the morning to buy some milk to complete his breakfast. For dinner, he often has a tin of baked beans (heated on a camp stove he carries) and a tin of pears. He shuns fast food along the way.

"I could live on ClifBars," Matt said. He joked that maybe he should be wearing a ClifBars T-shirt or something. (ClifBar people: I've got his cell number if you want to contact him.)

He's not using bike maps on his journey. Instead, he prefers the lesser-traveled paths and the incidental surprises along the way (like stopping in Kimball and ending up in the newspaper).

Along the way, he's taken lots of photos of views and scenes most of us would miss as we speed by on the Interstate. He's keeping a journal (on an iPad, of course) as well. He won't be publishing any of it, though, online or anywhere else. It's just his way of remembering where he's been and what he's seen.

"I've got a mind like a goldfish," said the physicist/mathematics student.

He is indeed collecting many memories along this life-changing trip, even if he needs a little digital assistance with the memory-keeping part.

"Why?" This is the most frequent question he's been asked on his cross-country trip.

He's not riding for any charity, or to raise money for anything. He's not carrying any signs or banners.

Instead, this is a journey of personal development. He's got many hours of solitary time each day to ponder his life's meaning and purpose.

Matt has been in boarding school since age 6, as has his younger brother. He's had little contact with his parents for most of his life. He grew up in average, middle-class England. After two years at university, he decided a change was in order; he needed to do something more meaningful.

His 90-day American adventure has given him a great deal of freedom, while he's also learning to rely on others.

"I didn't help much growing up," Matt said. "But I'm being helped a lot now." These angel-helpers have asked only one thing in return for their acts of kindness: that he do likewise, when given the opportunity. This is shifting his thinking along the journey.

"I think it's making me a better person," he added.

"I'm becoming more patient. I'm not so caught up in little things."

So far, Matt has been amazed at our night stars. (Remember, he's been traveling through Washington, Montana and North Dakota, far away from any kind of light pollution that muddies the night skies.) He's also been surprised at how kind everyone has been along the way.

His favorite discovery so far: recliners. Everyone here has them, and they're so comfortable. He's going to encourage his parents to buy some at home, even though the chairs are not very popular in England.

His worst night so far: the night he pitched his tent in a church yard. When the lawn sprinklers started up, he didn't think much of it. (His tent is waterproof, and it's not that much different from rain except for the noise.) He fell asleep, only to wake abruptly several hours later when a hidden sprinkler popped up in the middle of his tent filling it with about an inch of water.

Matt is here in the U.S. on a 90-day tourist visa. His return flight is

Sept. 11 (yes, 9/11). As it turns out, not many people want to fly on that date, and he got a good deal on the airfare.

Happy (and kind) trails, Matt!