Shauna is a student in the MatadorU Travel Photography program.

ELEVEN YEARS AGO, I participated in the California AIDS/LifeCycle ride, cycling from San Francisco to Los Angeles. As I rolled over the finish line at the end of the event, I vowed to myself to figure out a way to make cycling my living. Years went by. I picked up running and severely pulled my groin during the Los Angeles marathon. Another year went by and my doctor said I had to stop running for a few months.

The next day, I began my 8 days of preparation for a bike ride across America, with my girlfriend, Rachel, and our pooch, Romero, as my pit crew.

In reality, my 8 days of planning was really all about waiting for the Adventure Cycling Association to send me maps to follow throughout the ride. When they arrived, I packed my panniers, got the pit crew together, and set off. The route would take me from Florence, Oregon through Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, and Kentucky, before finally ending in Yorktown, Virginia.

1

Bumpy start

The first day was filled with rain and wind, and I was thrilled to feel all of the elements as I rode along the river. Then, my worst fear happened: I crashed on Day 1, while passing over some railroad tracks that were crossing the road on a diagonal. Still, I went down smiling, thinking about how I was doing what I'd dreamt of for so long. The clouds cleared and my pit crew happened to spot this ideal location to pitch our tent, cook some food, and just sit, relax, and breathe.

2

History

I'm not much of a history buff, but when we came into towns like Virginia City, Montana, I had to stop and walk around, imagining all the eager miners arriving into town on this old train. Nevada City was once known as one of the "Richest Gold Strikes in the Rocky Mountain West," along with Virginia City, just down the road.

3

Pitstop

While I love to ride, there are times when it feels right to hop off, let your bum rest and heal (you can get saddle sores if you're not careful), and take a dip in the lakes and rivers. Along this stretch of river, there were plenty of fly-fishermen and women. It was interesting to watch the technique, but as a lover of all animals, I couldn't participate in anything that would harm one. I even share my garden veggies at home with the gophers because I can't bear the thought of killing one.

4

Ghost ranch

The maps supplied by Adventure Cycling Association list the names of upcoming towns and the services they might offer. While I'm sure it's a challenge to keep them updated, we ran into many "ghost towns" due to the bad economy. This one, however, was a bonafide ghost town, though it would have been more aptly named "Barely Beginning" -- at least for the east-bound traveler.

5

Hills and climbs

Hills and climbs are my absolute favorite. In fact, it's the downhill that scares the bejeezus out of me. I'm happy to report that many of the climbs traverse multiple peaks, so you don't always ride to the bottom before making the next ascent. Often, you get these nice valleys between ridges where it's the most peaceful.

6

Morning friends

One of my favorite things on this trip was seeing all the cows in the morning. They'd be along the side of the road in their pastures every morning, mooing and carrying on. I imagined they were saying good morning to me as I rode by.

7

Yellowstone

I'm not sure I'd ever drive through Yellowstone, because even on a bike I felt like I was going too fast. I kept stopping, watching the elk graze or the bison rolling around on his back in the meadows. And, once again, I learned a little bit of history as I rode along Earthquake Lake. It was the result of a violent earthquake in 1959 that shook so badly it caused a massive landslide, creating this dam that forms Quake Lake.

8

The middle

Through the middle this country are some very flat lands. The roads are straight for miles and miles. It would get lonely on the road when there were no cars or other cyclists to see and my pit crew was so far ahead that I wouldn't see them for quite some time. But without fail, whenever I started feeling like this wasn't fun, I would see something to put me back in a happy daydream, like these clouds floating above.

9

Air conditioner

This past year was one of the hottest summers on record for the middle of the country. It would get over 100 degrees by 7 in the morning. I learned to get up before dawn and ride, so I could call it a day when I found places like the Platte River to cool off and camp. My pit crew usually knew that I wouldn't ride past noon on the hottest days, so they were always on the lookout for watering holes for me to sit and soak in after a long day of riding.

10

The elk

Every time I came across any animals (except the skunks with their tails raised at me), I'd stop to watch. I'm fascinated by their personalities and behaviors. I even stopped to watch the turtles cross the road in Missouri, which ended up being a long break from riding. When I got a chance to see these elk, I stood in awe as they grazed and lounged.

11

The importance of apples

There were times when it was so hot I wanted to quit. I'd had it, I couldn't go another mile. Whenever I was feeling that way, I'd ride up to a scene like this, with my pit crew waiting with a much needed apple break. We got into a routine where I'd take an apple break at 10am and Romero would get to eat the apple core, something he still does to this day.

12

Options

When I arrived in Damascus, VA, I didn't know what to do first. I wanted to hop off my bike and start walking the Appalachian Trail that very same day. I've always wanted to do a thru-hike, and this would be a sweet place to start. But my crew reminded me that we were riding across America and we carried on.

13

Towards the end

I was up early on my last day because I'd grown to love welcoming in the new day at sunrise. As I took in this scene, I was sad, I was happy, I was torn.

14

Destination

At the end of the last day, I arrived in Yorktown, VA. Still happy, still sad, still torn. I couldn't go back to a job now. I'd finally found what I love to do and I now know I can ride over 4,000 miles with a smile on my face, through rain, across mountains, through deserts and forests, along rivers, and even down steep hills. But there's always another adventure to take on, and this summer, I'll chase my next dream of walking a thru-hike: the John Muir Trail.