I met Sam through a week long experience called LeaderShape at Auburn that was centered around Global Issues and how students can change the world. He has an incredible fire to help people and is the kind of person you could listen to talk for hours. His entry is exactly the kind of inspiration that I hope people take to heart and that produces action.
Who am I? I am someone who believes in people. I believe people have an overlooked and often forgotten ability to adapt and explore. The summer between sophomore and junior year of high school—at the age of sixteen—I chose to travel by bicycle across America; 4,400 miles from Yorktown, Virginia, to Newport, Oregon. For two and a half months I lived at the mercy of the elements and the people along the way. When in need, strangers invited me into their homes for dinner or a shower and more than once gave me directions or an emergency ride to the nearest bike shop. I did not take my trip to find myself; I took my trip to find people. I do not like to sit back and just take life as it comes; I refuse to be another passive person uninterested in the world around them.
I chose to take a bike instead of a car because I wanted to make connections with people, and I learned that there is no more intimate way to discover one’s country than by bike. I wanted to learn about America from the perspective of the individuals I met, so I decided to say a simple hello or some attempt at conversation with everyone in passing. Sometimes that greeting turned into a meal or a Popsicle, and if given the chance people opened up their lives to me. I talked to gas station attendants about their marriages, hotel housekeeping at the Laundromat about the proper way to wash a combination of spandex, cotton, and a red blanket in one load, and Kentucky farmers about the process of growing soy and tobacco. I encountered American charity when a Sunday morning church service in Vesuvius, Virginia ended with the congregation insisting I accept the contents of the collection plate. Another time, thousands of miles later, I sat at a table with a Mexican immigrant in Sugar City, Colorado listening to him talk in a mixture of English and Spanish about how he lost his family and is now working three jobs so he can retire to Mexico when he is older. The diversity, not only racially but socioeconomically, and the unselfishness of the American people never ceased to amaze me.
I realized that Americans are some of the most generous and warmhearted people, even though they are stereotyped otherwise. I was taken in by churches and by people who could only offer a simple patch of grass, behind their mobile home, to pitch a tent on; I was given money by people who probably gave up their next week’s grocery money but refused to let me go without it. This intense hospitality, taught me to appreciate the opportunities I have, and to cherish life as presented to me. Traveling by bicycle isn’t always fun or easy. Along the way, I learned to be determined and resourceful, but traveling by bicycle also inspires an appreciation of the little things—the crest of a hill, a soft tailwind, a scoop of homemade ice cream, or the spray of a lawn hose—that are too often ignored.
I learned that wearing tight fitting bike shorts is an excellent way to meet local women, but also invites a lot of unwanted attention from rural town sheriffs. I learned that there is really no such thing as a closing time if you beg enough, and it is better to beg for forgiveness rather than permission. I learned there is no such thing as too big a burger, and there is no such thing as too comfortable a bike seat. I learned that if there is a fork in the road the correct way is always uphill and one is never lost but rather taking the scenic route. I learned that people want to be a part of something bigger, not only for themselves, but to help others achieve their goals. Farmers, mechanics, and waiters taught me to embrace life and appreciate the opportunities I have been afforded. Life cannot be compared to a bike race, but rather a long cycling tour. Life is beautiful, erratic, and always straight into a head wind, but when prepared and helped along the way, life is a stunning and breathtaking ride. I do not define myself by a long list of characteristics, but by a list of experiences that have taught me to live humbly and serve others. This is who I am, and what I am passionate about.
20 years old
August 14, 2013