Miles of Portraits – Faces From Riding Across America

Riding a loaded bicycle across America prompts strangers to ask every question in the book. So much so, that my friends and I joked that we should strap a sign to our bicycles that answers the typical questions. Over years of bike touring, I’ve gotten so used to telling people my story that on my second ride across the country, I decided to turn the question around on them.

The bicycle is a curious vehicle. Its passenger is its engine. – John Howard

The Wolthuis family, owners of the Ben Davis Store, has nearly blue eyes all-around. Alannah, the one in the Minnie Mouse dress was a true kid and asked me every possible question about my bike trip. James, in yellow, frequently rings up customers and has taken charge of the cyclist guest book.
We met Rob at Willis United Methodist Church — our home for the night. He’s another TransAmer from London who is a lot of things; a nurse, a triathlete, an ironman, and an amateur bike mechanic. He’s got 10 bikes in his apartment and his girlfriend is not happy about it. He flew in from England yesterday and has already got about 130 miles down.

Miles of Portraits is a collection of the faces I met on my bike trip from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean. The series is almost entirely based on chance as the photographs are mostly of people who approached me rather than the other way around.

The photo series is a testament to the fact that, despite what we hear in the news, for the most part, humanity is kind. Through my encounters, I’ve learned that the bicycle is a great equalizer, that riding one seems to cause complete strangers to tell you their life story and invite you into their backyard for a slice of pizza. That cars do in fact look out for bikes –– like that one time in the high desert of Washington state when a woman pulled over and insisted she give us a ride through a shoulderless road infested with speeding 18-wheelers. I’ve learned that good Samaritans are all over the place –– like a couple in the middle of Kentucky who set up a cyclist rest stop complete with ice water, snacks, and bike tools. I’ve learned that we look out for each other and that everyone single one of us has a story.

Out of nowhere, a cyclist rest stop complete with ice water, snacks, bike tools, and face wipes put up by good Samaritans, made my day. Blissfully refreshed, I rode out of it only to bump into Richard, one of the angels behind it. "My wife Donna does most of the work; my job is to put out the ice water."
I got my fourth flat tire climbing Togwotee Pass. As I was fixing it, Tim stopped his car and walked over to me holding a bicyclist's godsend — a proper bicycle pump. As a cyclist himself, he knows how tiring it can be to use a hand pump. He ended up pumping up the tube for me and getting it all back on the wheel — using his bare hands.
Harry spent his winter making canvass bike bags for his ride with Veronica down the Pacific Coast.
Bruce, his son, and a bunch of tenants live in a big house in Missoula. He’s famous on Warmshowers for opening up his mansion to as many cyclists as can fit inside. You can stay as long as you want but if you stay longer than 30 days, he asks that you start paying rent.

My friend Erik and I are taking Miles of Portraits around the world. Our first stop is Alaska where we’ll be riding 1,000 miles. We just launched a Kickstarter to help fund production of a magazine and film and hope you’ll check it out!

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Annalisa van den Bergh was born and raised in New York City by a Venezuelan mother and a Dutch father. She's a visual storyteller with a BFA in Graphic Design from the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). She's currently riding her bicycle around the world and taking pictures of the people she meets. The project, called Miles of Portraits celebrates the ways the bicycle brings people together.

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