Among the activities people have taken up during this pandemic, riding a bicycle through their town is a small, fun adventure people have come to enjoy.
Matteo Schlitz has taken it to another level: He’s pedaling from his home in Washington, D.C., to the Pacific Ocean.
Schlitz, 22, stopped in Baker City on Sept. 29 during his cross-country odyssey, which started July 1.
He plans to arrive at Pacific City, on the Oregon Coast, today to celebrate his 23rd birthday.
Schlitz said he has never done anything like his epic ride.
He doesn’t even consider himself a bicyclist.
But with universities closing campuses and shifting to online classes, Schlitz, a student at New York University, said he wasn’t ready to transition back to what felt like his high school years.
“I was definitely craving some sort of adventure and freedom,” he said.
Schlitz’s adventure has come with a few setbacks, including a recent bout with flat tires courtesy of the goat’s head (puncturevine) weeds on Highway 86 in eastern Baker County.
A passer-by gave Schlitz a ride into Halfway, where he found someone to help with his tires.
“He was laughing at me, because he told me ‘I can’t believe you’ve gotten this far and been so bad at fixing bikes,’ ” Schlitz said with a laugh.
The ride to Halfway wasn’t the only act of kindness Schlitz encountered on his journey, however.
He said several people who saw him camping offered to let him pitch his tent in their yard, or even, despite the coronavirus, to sleep in their homes.
“I told them it was up to them,” Schlitz said.
He told the good Samaritans that he was fine with staying outside if they were worried. Some insisted that he come inside.
“I’ve met so many cool people, I think the people have probably been my favorite part of this trip,” he said. “That’s been really cool.”
Schlitz said he wasn’t sure in the beginning if this journey was the right thing to do during a pandemic, but he decided he was less likely to contract COVID-19 on the road opposed to staying in New York and Washington.
He has been tested for the virus several times during the trip.
“That was one of my concerns, I didn’t want to be going into a small town and spreading it as an outsider where they wouldn’t normally get it,” Schlitz said. “So I tried to regularly get tested and I’ve been wearing a mask.”
Having pedaled across the nation, Schlitz has seen firsthand the different ways states have handled the pandemic, and ways residents have reacted to it.
“There are some places where I was wearing a mask and people would come to me and ask, like ‘You don’t believe in this pandemic, do you?’ and, again, I was a guest in their state or their town and so I tried to be respectful, but personally I do believe this is happening and we should take the precautions,” Schlitz said.
Besides the challenge and the adventure, Schlitz said he also has used his ride as a fundraiser for a yoga studio he worked for that has suffered financially during the pandemic.
“Also, I think I had something to prove to myself that I could do something,” he said. “I was tired of just having dreams and saying I was going to do this and that, and this and that, and I wanted to properly do something.”
Schlitz said he also really likes adventures, and during his journey he’s had quite a few of those.
He ventured into Yellowstone National Park and saw moose, bison, deer and bears. He said people in the East don’t worry about bears but when he started coming into the West, everyone was talking to him about bears.
“I remember I had one night I was camping, it wasn’t a campsite, I just pulled into the forest and found a spot to camp in, thinking in my tent worrying about bears and wolves — someone had told me there was wolves there the night before — I was like ‘oh man,’ ” Shiltz said.
He encountered other transcontinental cyclists on his journey, including a woman who was also riding solo. Schlitz said she inspired him.
He said the trip has given him time to figure out what he wants to do with his life.
“I wouldn’t say I have a better idea after taking it, but I know I want to keep exploring.”