Some quarantine projects are more ambitious than others.
Case in point, Seth Gottesdiener decided to ride his bike from Los Angeles to Washington D.C. and ask the same 10 questions to folks he interviewed along the way.
His project is called The Great American Bike Ride and his journey was documented by a small film crew that plans to turn his journey and interviews into a documentary that captures this unique and delicate time in our nation's history.
Seth took the time to do an interview with us so we could find out more about him and his epic ride. (In the interest of full disclosure, we sponsored Seth with apparel for him and masks for the crew and their interview subjects. Our discussion has been edited slightly for clarity.)
Apart from being a Los Angeles business owner, social activist, and cyclist, what would you like our readers to know about you before we dive in?
I’m a small business owner, a trainer, and a proponent of empowering people.
Your project The Great American Bike Ride (a thoughtful idea you came up with while on the bike) took you from California to Washington D.C. with stops along the way to have conversations with a variety of citizens and ask them the same 10 vital questions. How did their responses change, if at all, as you made your way across the country?
We stopped in, dare I say, larger towns and big metropolis areas and of course when you’re getting into a more international place, people had, I would say, more left leaning ideas. However, a lot of the questions were a little more open ended, like, “Does every American deserve equal rights?” Far and wide, people would say of course. Then the interesting follow up to that was asking “Well, are all of them receiving them?”
The ranges in answers to that was really interesting to hear from people. I think as you go to bigger cities, it was usually racial equality that people would talk to in cities that are aware of this. People would be pretty aware that there’s a big movement happening and that’s not necessarily the same for all people depending on their color. Then when we were in small towns or rural areas, people would talk more economically or to the pay gap between women and men and how that differs.
One of the biggest ones from the get-go was “Which statement rings true to you right now; Black Lives Matter or All Lives Matter?” and we saw the complete spectrum. We saw people very adamantly say “If you don’t understand Black Lives Matter, you don’t understand the question if you don’t believe BLM is the correct answer” to a lot of people saying “No, well All Lives Matter because…” and they’re usually from a Christian background. They’d say “All Lives Matter because that is what we’re supposed to do. We’re supposed to love our neighbor unconditionally” and things like that.
Then there were some people in the middle. We had a really wonderful differently abled woman. She said “I completely understand this sentiment Black Lives Matter but I’ve been in a wheelchair since I was six so it’s really hard for me not to say All Lives Matter.” But she put it in different intersectional way and was a differently abled woman (and a little bit older too) so she had to work even harder. So when she said it, it made All Lives Matter resonate in a different tone than I’d ever understood before. I could kind of get behind what she was saying and understand. I think by no means was she racist or against the movement or anything. She said she has lots of friends and people who work at her organization who are Black and Brown but that particular statement she was really pushing for because she was a voice for the differently abled and disabled community.
Your route took you across the Southwest and up to the Midwest and on to D.C. via Southern states. How did your outlook on America change as you pedaled from one region to another and were you able to wrap your head around the sheer enormity of the US?
Oh my god. America is too big [laughs]. I think that’s actually probably why there’s a lot of divisiveness, geographically as well as the population. The sheer enormity of it was something I could not wrap my head around.
I was biking for days in Texas and was like “Where am I? This should be its own country.” I think because we’re so spread out, it allows for many contrasting opinions of things in this country and allows them to live in communities that are really surrounded by nothing else so the same ideas that are being recapitulated with the same people who may never leave that community. That was really interesting. I think a lot of people thought I was pretty wild for biking across America because I didn’t realize a lot of people just don’t travel that much.
Geographically, it’s really cool to see America because it changes. The Southwestern culture was full of Latin, Mexican, and indigenous influences. That was really cool. Coming up to more of a saltier, hardworking Illinois and Indiana and the Midwest that was really interesting too. Then going to D.C. and that surrounding area where you could really tell our founding fathers were here with the monuments everywhere and the names you’d recognize from textbooks but never put to an actual place.
You arrived in Washington D.C. on the eve of our most pivotal election in well over 100 years. What did it feel like to roll into our nation’s capital at such a delicate time?
We arrived a couple days before. It positioned us to have a really nice time in D.C. and look back and reflect and have some optimism.
The Great American Bike Ride was documented by a film crew that followed you in an RV along the way. What can you tell us about the plans to release the documentary about the journey and your experience?
We’re going to start the initial pre-post production meetings towards the end of the month and post production will ramp up in December. We hope to have a sizzle reel done by the end of the year. Our longer range goal is to shop the film to festivals.
What was it like having a film crew follow you around?
It was a producer, a director, a DP (director of photography), and a sound person. It wasn’t like every single day they would ride along with me and videotape me, which I was pretty thankful for. It would have driven me crazy.
There’s the parallel story of me biking across the country but the meat and bones of this documentary is going to come from the interviews of course. The major focus was to make sure we captured these people telling their stories as good as we could.
And because we’re all bike geeks at heart we need to ask some cycling specific questions…
What bike did you use for your journey?
A Cannondale SuperSix Evo 6 Carbon Ultegra
What was your favorite day on the bike?
It’s so funny. I have three days that were my favorite. The first one is going to sound really weird. It was from Albuquerque to a place called Truth or Consequences, New Mexico and I fell that day. I actually had a horrible fall and I got major scars on my arms from it but I did 150 miles that day. I had an amazing tailwind, which is the reason why I fell, but I don’t know, maybe this shows what a masochist I am to accomplish that. Despite a fall, I was able to pick myself back up and bike another 70 miles and then we went to this beautiful hot spring that night.
The other one I would say was on our way from Tennessee to Louisville, KY. It was just beautiful, rolling hills, a perfect autumn day. I had my thin layered swrve long sleeve on [laughs]. It was perfect weather. Big hills. Horses. Amish people. It was the most eclectic beautiful autumnal day.
The third was on the Route 50 Bike Path, which actually goes all the way from Columbus, OH to DC. The particular route I was on was the Pittsburgh - Great Allegheny Passage and it went all along the Potomac River which was such a wonderful surprise to have this bike path with walkers, runners, and cyclists on it. It was a chilly day but it was beautiful. I’m from Connecticut so I was like “You can deal with it.”
What was your least favorite day on the bike?
That’s when I biked through Hurricane Delta. Yeah. That was horrible [laughs]. I didn’t realize it was gonna hit so hard. It said there was a chance of light rain but I was so ill-equipped for it because I thought it was going to be a short day but it ended up being some really big hills and it started downpouring and it dropped to about 45 degrees. I had to pull over that day and wait at a gas station for like an hour for my team to pick me up. I was shivering and thought I was going to get hypothermia. It was awful but I made it.
What was your favorite city you visited?
That’s tough. I really liked Memphis. I thought it had such a cool vibe to it. Columbus, OH was weirdly cool too. I felt very relaxed there and it felt like a very cute little city.
What was the most surprising city you visited?
I would say Texarkana because it was two cities! It was a random place. It was interesting to see a lot of different demographics living together but also it was pretty segregated.
What was the most inspiring thing you saw?
That’s really tough. Probably somewhere south of the Grand Canyon. There are all these beautiful, winding mountainside roads and you just couldn’t capture it on video. Also, biking over the Hoover Dam was really insane and amazing and scary but empowering. It was crazy. It was like a 3-foot divider wall from me and sudden death.
What (If any) weird food cravings did you have?
It wasn’t that weird but we were eating trash food after a while and I would microwave my cookies. I made the best pancake recipe though. You have to use vegetable oil, I don’t know why but it just works better. You line a pan with vegetable oil and you do 1/3rd ready oats and 2/3rds pancake mix, then add chocolate chips. Those are the best pancakes you’ll ever have. That is what I would crave in the morning before I rode 100+ miles.
What was your favorite post-ride meal?
Probably BBQ. I got picked up a couple times and there was BBQ waiting for me and I was very happy.
You averaged 75 - 120 miles a day. Did you listen to any music, books, or podcasts to help pass the time in the saddle?
I listened to tons of music and listened to quite a few podcasts too. No books though. I was reading White Fragility along the way which helped a bit with some of the interviews. The podcasts I listened to were The Daily and The Argument, which were both New York Times Podcasts. And then I had an interview with Glen Beck along the way so I started listening to his podcast which was fascinating, fascinating stuff [laughs].
Then it was mostly a really weird gamut of music along the way. I listened to everything from Tina Turner to Haim, to Fleetwood Mac and then random electronic artists, a lot of Kate Bush, and then some EDM DJs mixed in-between.
What advice would you have for anyone who’s thinking about embarking on a cross-country bike ride of their own?
Line your tires and use Stan’s or any other sealant. Get your bike fitted too and always plan a little more time than you thought.
Finally, it took a while for you to ride your way into fall weather but now that you’ve had a chance to try things out, what are your thoughts on our apparel?
I thought it was amazing. I completely fell in love with the clothing. It’s so well made. We all loved the masks. We gave them out to our interviewees and they thought they were great. We thought they were very protective and chic. Huge fan of swrve.
Want to hear more from Seth? Listen to his interview with the BBC or read his interview in the Memphis Commercial Appeal.
Want to help support The Great American Bike Ride? Click here to donate.
And be sure to follow @trainersethg and @thegreatamericanbikeride on Instagram!