Do you remember this photograph posted to our Facebook wall in the summer of 2011?
On this pleasant June day, our Higher Gear’s Women’s Ride was joined by two guest cyclists, Adam and Christy Coppola. The couple was beginning a “day off” by joining us for a 25-mile bike ride. Except the Coppola’s day off isn’t what you think; they were taking a day off from their bikes. Mostly. Except for that 25 miles. But that 25 miles wasn’t getting them anywhere, as opposed to the rest of their days…
You see, when we met Adam and Christy that day in June, they were five months and 34 states in to their bicycle tour of the U.S., the Give a Bike: 50 State Tour. In 2011, the couple devoted a year of their lives – and the first year of their marriage – to biking 12,591 miles through all 50 states with the purpose of experiencing adventure and giving bikes to those in need.
The Coppola’s were the first to complete an unsupported bike tour of the 50 United States in a calendar year. Their 11-month journey began January 10th and ended November 12th, 2011. In that time, they exceeded their fundraising goal of $25,000 that went towards “bringing mobility, healthy life choices and joy to disabled United States veterans and underprivileged communities around the globe.” Through their efforts, Adam and Christy, funded 125 bicycles through World Bicycle Relief and two ($3,000) hand-cycles for Achilles International.
When Adam and Christy joined our Wednesday morning Women’s Ride in June 2011, they had already crossed the North American continent once and were nearly halfway to crossing it again. What was really impressive about these two – aside from their physical feat – was their enthusiasm. One could really get a sense that they were loving each and every day. Five months in to what would be an 11-month journey – when most of us would be complaining about saddle sores and tired legs and even, perhaps, looking for a new cycling partner – and the Coppola’s were radiating joy.
Who, after all, would spend a “day off” from cycling – by riding 25 miles? And who would do that with big smiles on their faces? Perhaps the same people who would set off on a year-long, self-supported bike tour as their honeymoon.
The Coppola’s have been called many things. And, yes, “crazy” is certainly one of them!
The Coppola’s Give a Bike tour has been well documented – via Adam’s wicked photography skills, the Give a Bike blog and Christy’s articles, on Give A Bike’s Facebook and Twitter accounts and by many local TV stations and newspapers – as they traversed the country.
In the articles and blog, you can read about how the couple decided to set out to ride all 50 states even though Christy had never ridden more than 17 miles. You can learn about the interesting people who opened their homes and showers to them. You can see photos of meals they made at their campsites and meals they enjoyed through the generosity of strangers.
In all that’s been written, several themes persisted: the joy of meeting new people, the generosity of others and, the theme that started their adventure, the Coppola’s passion for “giving forward.”
We caught up with Adam and Christy two years after they set out on their adventure. We were interested in a different aspect of their story, the story of THEM, the story of Adam and Christy. In Christy’s first entry to the Give a Bike blog, she points out that it was both of their fingers on the “enter” key – to submit her resignation from her job, the final “obstacle” to pursuing their “dream.” The Coppola’s story, from day one is a story about “them” – as a couple, as a team.
Higher Gear was interested in how that unity defined the Coppola’s mission and ensured its success. We were curious to know how their relationship was changed by their cross-country adventure together and, more to the point, how their relationship survived!
What we learned was that from the beginning, Adam’s and Christy’s relationship was based in adventure travel. Their first trip together was spent hiking in Yosemite and camping out most nights. In fact, that first trip is when they realized their relationship was “the real deal.” From that point on, the two traveled as much as they could. Their travels included visiting Christy’s brother who was in Africa with the Peace Corps. (It was there where they learned what a difference a bike can make.)
With a passion for travel, a desire to do good and their whole lives ahead of them, Adam and Christy started to throw some ideas around. “We are both passionate about adventure, travel and the outdoors, and we wanted to do something big before we settle down, start a family and buy a house.” With Adam wrapping up grad school, they knew that would be a perfect time to take action. But what, exactly, to do?
While brainstorming this idea to take a year off and “do something to give back and give forward,” the first thing they did was list their passions. According to Christy:
Because Adam’s passion was photography and mine was writing, we wouldn’t settle on an adventure that didn’t include the two.
I guess you could say that right from the start, this adventure was a little bit of both of us. We owned it together. That was important. Neither of us was willing to give up something we had created. Something that meant so much to us individually as well as together.
That spirit of shared ownership was a foundation of the Coppola’s tour. While the couple shared a passion for adventure travel, they knew a year-long tour would be different from anything they had experienced yet.
Honestly, the Give a Bike tour was going to be a lot different than our other adventures and we really weren’t sure if our relationship could withstand the pressure. Before we left, we promised each other to put our relationship before the tour. If at any point we felt like the tour was tearing us apart, we would stop. But the opposite happened and we became a stronger couple because of what we went through together.
Christy has written about how she and Adam balance each other out and pick each other up when needed. She gave us some great examples of this from their tour:
When Adam’s knee was bothering him in the beginning of our tour, I rode slower so he wouldn’t be so frustrated. When I was having doubts about our first Appalachian Mountain climb, Adam didn’t hesitate when I asked to stop at a little cafe and regroup over a hot chocolate. And when we spent a week and a half riding through the cold, New England spring rain, we both had to remain positive and encourage the other. We relied on each other through difficult times and encouraged one another when the other was down.
Hmm. That sounds like what a good marriage, a true partnership, is all about. But we all know any relationship, especially a new one, hits rough patches now and then. “When we were so frustrated that we couldn’t see eye to eye, we would bike a little farther away from each other for a while to clear our thoughts and regroup at our next break.” As Christy put it, “We learned the same relationship lessons that any couple might in their first year of marriage.”
When asked their advice to any couple (new or not) thinking of embarking on a journey like their own, Adam and Christy said:
Two words: Do it.
Ok, seriously… I think the advice we would give to a couple thinking of embarking on a journey like ours, literally or metaphorically, would be to remember to be there for each other. As I said before, we promised to put our relationship first and we held true to that, especially when one of us was having a tough time. That advice holds true today. We may not be living on bikes anymore, but we are still in this together and have to remember to always support each other.
Oh… and don’t do a tour on a tandem.
During their first year of marriage, Adam and Christy spent six days a week pedaling together. Christy wrote about how even the out-of-the ordinary can become routine, how one is at risk of falling for the “grass is always greener” fallacy and how we often have to remind ourselves exactly which side of the fence we are on. The Coppola’s have had more than a year to recover and settle in to their post-newlywed tour life. How does their grass look now?
I remember the day Adam said, “I like how simple it is. All we have to do is bike.” I remember the feeling. What a great life we had that, literally, all we had to do was bike. So many people look at the tour as something so difficult to do, but it was so simple.
That simplicity probably made re-entry into life off the bike more difficult.
All year we had been doing exactly what we wanted to do. And somehow, we were successful at it… That was the biggest lesson we learned; we learned that we really could do whatever we wanted to do! We had built up Give A Bike into something more than we dreamed, and then, when that was over, we were somewhat lost. I guess we knew that we could do whatever we put our minds to, but after the tour, we had no idea what that was!
But now the Coppola’s do have another path ahead of them, another adventure into which they are embarking. This Christmas, Adam and Christy announced to the world exactly what that will be:
Adam and Christy are excited to be starting their own little family of bike tourists!
As for how their year-long tour prepared them for this next adventure:
From day one, this was a story about us as a couple. The tour taught us what the true meaning of togetherness and accomplishment are. But it goes further than this. True, it was just the two of us on the road day in and day out for those 11 months. But there were so, so, so many people rooting for us from the sidelines, joining us for a day or an hour, and sending us encouragement along the way. We realized our relationship went so much deeper than just the two us. We have a whole community of support. Don’t think that we won’t be calling on them to help us through this next big adventure we’re diving headfirst into!
Congratulations to Adam and Christy for completing their mission, for meeting their fundraising goals and for sharing an amazing adventure. And more congratulations are in order as the couple embarks on their next exciting adventure – into parenthood.
Thank you to Adam Coppola for sharing his brilliant photographs with us.
To learn more about Adam and Christy’s adventure, visit their website Give a Bike: 50 State Tour. There you will find more of Adam’s photographs (more can be found on his photography site, Coppola Photography) and Christy’s words about their journey. Don’t miss the articles Christy contributed to the Madison Patch. Some of our favorite articles that highlight their journey include:
We May Be Nuts But We Weren’t Kidding – February 6, 2011 (This (crazy) couple is serious!)
Watch Out for Those Crazies – February 13, 2011 (Who are you calling crazy?)
In Praise of Grocery Shopping, Laundry and Even (Gasp!) a 9 to 5 in a Cubicle – March 30, 2011 (Learning to love – and break – your routine.)
It’s All About Perspective – July 10, 2011 (Appreciation of differences)