Posted by: Mark Wollemann: On the move | January 10, 2016

The next adventure

In the summer of 2012, while participating in the Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI), I briefly met a couple of young guys who were biking across the U.S. I was intrigued. Could I do that?

To be clear, this wasn’t some fleeting impulse. I know people who watch a marathon and immediately start running. I know people who rush to the nearest jump school when a friend tries skydiving. That’s not me. I’ve watched dozens of running events. I’ve never had the faintest interest in running a marathon. My father, brother, and a few cousins have jumped out of airplanes. It’s not for me. But this biking thing has bitten me hard.

So I’ve been wondering for nearly four years, can I do this? We’re going to find out.

I’ve decided to celebrate my 55th year on Earth by biking across America. I initially told my beautiful wife of almost 30 years, Melody Gilbert, that I wanted to do this all by myself. As we discussed this further, we decided to make this a new adventure for both of us. I’m going to bike. Melody is going to drive an RV and we’re going to turn this into a film project.

We have a theme — a hook — that we think will resonate with more than a few friends and families. I’ll hold off on sharing that for now. Suffice to say, this will be a short-term — 2-3 month — project. But as we’ve shared with our students in Bulgaria, it’s got a natural story-telling hook — a beginning, middle and end. We don’t know how the story is going to turn out, but this is what you might call the “soft launch,” the beginning of this project.

Over the coming months, I’ll use this space to discuss the planning, training and challenges that will help shape this next endeavor.

For those of you who know us — or who have followed along on this blog — you know that we left our comfortable and wonderful life in Minnesota in 2011 to teach journalism (and Melody, documentary filmmaking) at the American University in Bulgaria. We spent four thrilling years in the Balkans. We made great friends. We taught incredible students from all over the world. We learned about these ancient and rich cultures. And we drank lots of beer, wine and rakia over long, relaxed meals. We laughed. We loved. We traveled. (Check out Melody’s videos and my stories on that site.) We shared our hearts and were rewarded with deep and lasting friendships that we’ll cherish forever.

But after four years (in May 2015), we made another move — to Chicago — to try U.S. big-city living. We’ve loved it so far. We’re still trying to get settled (which would include steady employment), but I don’t know how much longer I can sustain this cross-country bike ride idea. It feels like it’s now or never. So, it’s now (well, technically it’ll start sometime in June).

I’m not doing this as a fundraiser. I’m not doing this with a tour group. I’m going to map my own ride, I’m going to keep my own pace. Melody will help tell that story with video and I’m going to keep writing about it here. We’re not entirely sure what the end result will be. All we know for sure is that in the inimitable words of Izzy Mandelbaum, “It’s go time.”



  1. Your father jumped out of an airplane???????

    Which brother????


    Sent from my iPad


    • Gary. I think my dad did it on or around his 60th birthday. Also, Sally and Shannon Byrne!

  2. you crazy kid. i love this idea. i will follow your ride avidly.

  3. Looking forward to following your journey. You probably don’t have time, but I’m reading Find a Way by Diana Nyad right now. Lots of great quotes and information about planning a long distance event and a support group.

  4. Whoa! Exciting! Inspiring!

  5. Bravo! I was wondering what your next adventure was going to be. I think this is a brilliant one! Let me know if you need emergency backup!

    • Oh, you never know, Kyle … maybe the RAGBRAI will come through your backyard. … That would be fun!

  6. Bon voyage to both of you!!! Love you, miss you, enjoy it!

  7. Holy moly! I wish I had even a fraction of your courage. I can’t wait to see where this new (literal) journey will lead, Mark. Cheers to you and Melody for continuing to follow your passions, and for being so open to new adventures.

    • Ah, Heather. Thanks. … I don’t know how long this thing goes. It’s less courage and more fear of missing out on something before I get knocked off the merry-go-round.

      • Fear of missing out can become a form of courage, when properly channeled. 🙂

  8. If your looking for a chef, to cook you good sustainable meals long the way………..;-)

  9. If you bike through Phoenix let us know. My husband to be is from Bosnia and we always have good Bosnian food thanks to his mom. You can meet our daughter in person too instead of just seeing pictures.

    • Aw, thanks, Heather! We loved Bosnia when we visited. Really spectacularly beautiful country. I’m pretty sure I’m choosing a northern route — probably leaving from Oregon. Too hot down there by the time I’m leaving in June! But we’d love to see you all. If you make it to Chicago, let us know.

      • It is very hot here that time of year. I think we are going to try to make it to WI this spring or summer so maybe we will see you then.

  10. Wow! This is so exciting! How did you fail to mention this when we met in Winter Park last month? Oh, yeah. I guess it was hard to get in a word edgewise while I was ranting about the drama in my life! 🙂 Well, I wish you a safe and fabulous adventure! I will eagerly follow you on this ride of a lifetime.

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