A Journey Worth Taking
By Belle Penaranda - Flat Hat Executive Editor
Flat Hat - August 30, 2002
Student Newspaper of the College of William and Mary
Prior to attending the College, Matt Muller, '02, played on his high school football team for four years and then spent four more years in the U.S. Marine Corps as an infantry sergeant. Give him a few Pennsylvanian hills, however, and he'll do what most people on a bicycle would do.
"I'm not above picking up my bike and walking up the hill that way," Matt said, despite his intensive background in physical training.
But in the long run, what are a couple of little hills to someone riding his bicycle across the United States and back? That's exactly what Matt, who graduated last May with a degree in English, is up to nowadays.
It's not that Matt is a stranger to bicycling. He completed the mountain biking and triathlon (which involves road cycling) courses in the kinesiology department in his senior year. As for actual experience on the road -- he's been there, done that. Last summer, just before attending the College summer program in Cambridge, he "bike-packed" through the Isle of Skye and the North Central Highlands of Scotland.
Now, Matt's fulfilling a lifelong dream in another, much longer cross-country trek.
"It's definitely crazy and adventurous, but most of all, I've wanted to do something like this since I was a kid," he said.
Many before Matt have undergone this same journey on a bicycle, but this trip is unusual in some ways. First, he's going all the way from the East (his exact starting point was West Potomac Park in Washington, D.C.) to the West Coast and back. Secondly, he rides his Jamis Dakota XC bicycle alone, pulling a trailer that holds his camping gear, clothes, food, camera, notebook and a few books.
"When you're traveling alone, you're more free to meander and be more whimsical," Matt said. "I do miss having people with me, but at the same time, when you're alone, you meet more people that way. It happens almost miraculously."
Indeed, Matt has encountered a variety of people since hitting the road, from Amish farmers to Pope John Paul II (from a distance, anyway). Not surprisingly, however, he's come across regular folks the most, and except for a few weird looks here and there, they've accepted Matt with gracious hospitality. He sees this especially when traveling through the suburbs, because he often has to ask strangers to camp in their backyards. It really hasn't presented much of a problem, though.
"Not a state has gone by so far where someone hasn't invited me into their home," Matt said. "They want to hear all about my trip and at the same time, it gives me a chance to know them."
A sore ankle in Mackinac Island, Mich., became a blessing, according to Matt, and soon turned into his best experience on the trip, so far. After having a doctor check his ankle on the island, he attended Mass at St. Anne's Catholic Church there and learned about teaching English to Hispanic workers. Since his ankle was keeping him out of commission for the time being, he volunteered to tutor the Spanish speakers. Matt was soon invited to a pilgrimage to World Youth Day in Toronto, Canada, with members of St. Anne's.
That small detour has been one of the highlights so far, but what is the worst aspect of his travels? Actually, he doesn't have much to complain about, except for the toll 2,634 miles (at press time) have taken on his bicycle.
"Sometimes I feel like I'm touring bike shops," he said.
For instance, in his recent stop at Fargo, N.D., Matt had to get an almost foot-long crack in his bicycle frame fixed. It seemed impossible to get immediate help, but thanks to a local bike shop, Jamis agreed to ship him a brand new frame overnight.
When Matt's not spending time in bike shops, he's writing about them, along with the rest of his adventures. His degree in English hasn't gone to waste -- another unique aspect about his journey is that he keeps a painstakingly detailed record of it in journal form. All of his writings can be found on MatthewMuller.com.
"This is just the kind of thing that a writer would do," religion professor David Holmes, who taught Matt in one of his classes, said. "I hope he gets published someday. He's doing the right thing."
The website, maintained by Matt's mother Linda Muller, also features maps, weather forecasts for his most recent stops and a contact section where people can e-mail him messages.
"In the first few weeks, we had about 50 to 100 hits a day," Linda said. "Since then, it's shot up to around 700 to 1,500 a day. The e-mails are coming in like crazy."
What's astounding is that Linda hasn't yet registered MatthewMuller.com with any major search engines like Google. The site's popularity is solely a result of word of mouth through friends and family.
Although Linda is the webmaster of Matt's site and therefore knows the most details about the trip outside of her son, she can't stop worrying. In the beginning, hearing Matt's plans made her "heart drop." Yet, it's been almost three months since his June 3 departure, and he's survived so far. Linda feels much better about her son's travels after all of the good experiences he has had on the road, but she's still concerned.
"I watch 'Unsolved Mysteries,'" Linda said. "So of course I'm worried ... but I know that [Matt] can take care of himself. I pray every day and I know others are praying for him."
The winter is coming up, and so Matt is planning to find a place to stay, ideally in the Northwest. He also wants to work and save money for the upcoming legs of his journey.
There are three parts to the trip -- he is currently on the second one that is projected to take him through Montana, Wyoming, Idaho and Washington.
The final leg will take him north to Vancouver, British Columbia, and then through California, the Southwest and the South. His final destination is Williamsburg, Va.
"For now, I hope to be back around this time next year, so I can see my friends who are juniors now enter their senior year," Matt said. "Or maybe it'll take longer, and I'll end up back there in May 2004 to see them graduate."
And what will happen after that? Matt isn't too sure, although he may go to Boston, Mass., to live with some friends.
Planning for the future aside, he's made a discovery during his travels.
"It's a good thing I didn't bring a cell phone with me," Matt said. "I've learned to ask people around me for help, and even though it's old-fashioned, I've found that they like getting the chance to be a hero and saving the day."