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Fall 2004 Issue
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The Young and the Adventurous

The NOLS alumni featured in this section aren't sitting on their laurels. They're qualifying for the Olympics in cycling, working at a medical clinic in the Dominican Republic, climbing the Seven Summits, and circumnavigating the U.S. on a bicycle.

Andrew Hopson
Andrew Hopson
Transcontinental Cyclist

The hot prairie sun beat down on his back as Andrew Hopson pedaled southwest through the flat cropland, crossing the Saskatchewan border on his way back to the United States. In the customs line, his bicycle’s odometer read 8,500 miles — it was July 25, 2004 and he was more than half way though his 14,000-mile circumcontinental navigation of North America. That night, on the handheld computer he uses to record the experiences of his journey, Hopson wrote:

I’ve been on my bike for five months, and I’ll be on it for five to come. I know what it feels like to drift off to sleep knowing there’s 150 fresh miles behind me. I know what it is to pour out heart and soul, to leave everything I’ve got on the road for a day.

Two years earlier, Hopson had arrived in his hometown of Portland, Maine at the end of a 2002 transcontinental cycling trip, where he had crossed the U.S. from west to east. But the only thing he desired was to turn the corner and continue south. After seeing a Balance Bar advertisement to sponsor passionate amateur athletes, Hopson realized his dream to pedal farther could become a reality. He spent the better part of a year preparing his Balance Bar sponsorship application and in January 2004 received the grant. In addition to sponsorship from State Farm Insurance Company, the Balance Bar funding enabled the cyclist to make his 10-month expedition possible.

For Hopson, this current journey is less about cycling the lengthy 14,000-mile distance and much more about exposure to the incredible cultural diversity and variety of weather and terrain found throughout North America. “Biking makes you vulnerable to all that is outside,” says Hopson. “It allows you to observe the subtleties you wouldn’t notice otherwise.”

Hopson has already cycled the Gulf Coast, the Atlantic Coast up to Nova Scotia, through the plains of Canada and the U.S., the Pacific Coast, and the length of Baja, Mexico. He will continue on through mainland Mexico and into Belize, ending his inspirational 10-month journey sometime this November. “Culturally, I have seen more diversity than I could have imagined existed. North America is enormous and enormously complex in both terrain and culture, and I have only seen a small sample of what I know is out there,” said Hopson in late September after eight months on the road.

Growing up in rural New York, Hopson spent more time outside than in. “Our television exploded sometime before I turned ten, and we never replaced it. My two sisters and I used to pal around together, climbing trees, canoeing, and riding bikes all over the place,” the cyclist says about his childhood. Hopson began road cycling in high school, after purchasing a good bicycle with summer work money. “I took long day tours. I liked the speed and how smooth it was. It was more interesting to me than mountain biking.”

After high school, Hopson took leave from college to attend a NOLS Rocky Mountain Semester in 1992. He was barely nineteen, but still thinks about his NOLS experience — how it impacted his life and affects his cycling goals. “Everything I learned on my NOLS course stayed with me, and recently those lessons have sprung up again,” says Hopson. “NOLS gave me the foundation framework for risk management that I definitely apply every day. I need to be careful that anything I do today doesn’t compromise tomorrow.”

While preparing for what he calls the “big bike ride,” Hopson used the expedition planning skills that he gained on his Rocky Mountain Semester. “My NOLS experience made it possible for me to think about a journey this long,” says the cyclist.

When he completes his circum-navigational tour, Hopson hopes to write a book about his experiences, and has started thinking about another potential “big bike ride” around Australia. “I try to be really open to people and situations in my life…so for my next adventure I am waiting to see what opportunities arise.”

-Susanna Helm


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