On May 14, I clipped my bags to my rack, swung my leg over my seat, and slid my feet into my pedal cages. I was about to start the journey of a lifetime: a bike ride from the east coast of Virginia to the west coast of Oregon.

I began planning the trip about a year before I set out. My friends and family didn’t believe that I’d actually follow through when I first revealed my idea (I’d always had adventure pipe-dreams). But this idea was bigger, and more real. I was determined to make it happen.

A stressful year full of thesis-writing and nagging (“So what next? Any job prospects? What are you going to do with your life?”) threatened me with the undesirable prospect of “growing up,” but after my diploma was placed in my hand on that hot May day, I took my own unconventional leap into “adulthood.” A day and a half later, I was saying goodbye to my parents at the mouth of the James River in Yorktown, Va.--packed but not prepared. I hadn’t processed college graduation or done much physical training, but, ready or not, I was about to fill my lungs with adventure, raw and wonderful. At that stage, I couldn’t even fathom the experiences lying before me.

For the next 2 and half months, I lived radically differently than I had the previous 21 years of my life. I rode my bike an average of 65 miles each day, carried my entire livelihood in two saddlebags, met new people at every pit stop, and called a new patch of grass or bit of church floor my home each night. The trip was as romantic and freeing as it sounds, maybe more so. For the first time in so long, I didn’t need to worry about meeting deadlines, finishing coursework, dealing with “friend drama,” or even what I should wear. I had two riding outfits, two t-shirts for wearing off the bike, no mirror, and zero makeup (not even legitimate facewash). This simplicity allowed me to truly detach myself from superficial concerns and gaze outwardly at the unembellished, inspiring beauty of the country I had lived in my whole life but barely known.

I had no idea in setting out just how much I would gain from this trip; I only knew it would be a great adventure and it would change me. How right I was! But how much that actually meant, I could not have known. I think it is significant that I was not mentally or physically ready for this undertaking but went anyway. When in life are we actually ready for what is thrown at us? But should this stop us from acting? No! You must, as Mark Twain so perfectly states, “throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” Without a healthy dose of uncertainty, how can we learn or accomplish things we never thought possible?

I finished my journey with over 4250 miles of road under my tires, some wicked tan lines, and an increased thirst for adventure. I still didn’t know what my future held, but I had confidence in myself like never before.