Joe Bowen was fresh out of the U.S. Air Force in 1967 when he decided to take the scenic route home to his native Kentucky. Some 14,000 meandering miles later, he’d toured the United States entirely by bicycle.
When, at age 62, the retired construction manager and grandfather of nine decided to retrace—or repedal—his steps, he added a digital camera and laptop to the 55 pounds of gear he would carry on his bicycle, the aptly nicknamed Rocinante (after John Steinbeck’s truck, in turn named for Don Quixote’s steed).
Kids at 15 Kentucky elementary schools and as far away as Australia, who’d asked him to research topics ranging from land formations to historic trails, have followed Bowen’s progress via e-mail dispatches packed with insights gleaned from his low-tech mode of transport. “When you travel by car, you don’t stop and talk to local people,” he says. “When you travel by bike, you’re dependent on them, and you learn things you wouldn’t otherwise.”
Bowen, who’s also listed in Guinness World Records for walking coast to coast on stilts, set out from California in April. During spring and summer, he wended his way through much of the West Coast and into Canada, then snaked back through the mountain states to Arizona (pictured), Texas, and Oklahoma. By the time he returns home late next spring, he’ll have visited scores of schools along his route, sharing stories from the road and telling kids, “This is your country.”
“I just keep pounding away at that message,” he says.