Taking the American Challenge

Cross-country bicyclists stop in Holly Pond

Holly Pond Mayor Carla Hart, center, with members of the Overland team at the Holly Pond fire station Monday. (Photo courtesy of Carla Hart)

HOLLY POND, Ala. – The east Cullman County town of Holly Pond has spent a few days hosting students and leaders from bicycle tour organization Overland Summers, as they travel through on a cross-country journey that will take them from the Atlantic coast to the Pacific. Starting on Tybee Island, Georgia just over a week ago, the group is scheduled to reach Los Angeles, California and hit the beach at Santa Monica in another five weeks. Along the way, the group is enjoying the hospitality of small towns like Holly Pond.

Each group has 12 students between the 9th and 12th grades with two adult leaders.

“Overland Summers is basically like summer camps, but on the go,” said group leader Bronson Cvijanovich of Chappaqua, N.Y. 

According to Cvijanovich, the groups cover approximately 85 miles per day.

The guide added, “We’re all self-supported; no van carrying our stuff. We carry everything on the bikes–basically, these saddlebags called panniers–and anything that can’t fit in those bags we just strap onto the rack with bungees, and then we just try to get up hills with all the weight.”

Cvijanovich said of the experience of riding cross-country, “I think the best way to see a place is on a bike, because you roll through much slower and you really get to stay there at night. You camp and you really get to see the towns on the way, as opposed to driving, like a road trip. Six weeks is a lot of stays in different towns, you know, passing through these really cool places that you might pass by all of them in a couple of days in a car.”

The two groups that stopped in Holly Pond were part of an Overland program called American Challenge.

According to the description of American Challenge on Overland’s website, “This trip is hard. Really hard. But it’s simple, too. Just wake up every day for six weeks, get on the bike, and head west. It’s no more complicated than that.

“Sharing the experience with your group and your Overland leaders makes all the difference. We can promise you this: you have never relied on the support and encouragement, the friendship and fun of any group of people as much as you will on the American Challenge. That is what makes it so great.

“There are markers all along the way of our steady progress toward the Pacific. Reaching the Mississippi. Rolling across the Great Plains. Climbing the Rockies. Marveling at the desert. Riding up and over the San Gabriels and into Los Angeles.

“On the last day of the trip, we’ll reach the coast. We’ll sprint across the sand, front wheels in hand, and dive into the crashing waves. Surrounded by trip mates with whom we have shared every day, every mile and every moment of these past six weeks, we’ll scream, yell, shout and hug. And you’ll know then how hard, how simple and how wonderful the American Challenge is.”

Group member Sam Solomon, who will arrive home when the group reaches California, first read about Overland’s American Challenge at eight years old and decided then that a cross-country bike tour was in her future. During 2020’s pandemic shutdown, she was determined to hit the road when things reopened. 

Solomon told The Tribune, “I needed something to look forward to, so I signed up for this trip. I’ll get outside, I’m going to see the country; it’s going to be awesome. So I guess it’s really been a dream of mine for a long time, just because I love biking, I love camping and I like meeting people and getting outside. Yeah, I’m really excited about it!”

The young bicyclist has found the experience “Definitely a little more challenging than I expected; I knew it was going to be hard, but I just didn’t appreciate the hills in Georgia — like where I live, there’s not a lot of hills, so I didn’t really have the opportunity to train on them. Seeing them here is a new experience. 

“There was definitely some difficult days, but I think what’s made this trip the most worth it is we’ve met so many nice people. Like here, we met the mayor of Holly Pond and they’re letting us stay here in the air-conditioned firehouse, which is amazing! And when we were in Millen, Georgia on one of our first nights, and we met a very nice woman named Joyce, and her and some of her friends from church, they cooked dinner for us, which was fun. We got to meet them and talk to them. 

“And it’s really cool. I’m from California, which is like really far away, so it’s really cool to come to different places in the country and meet all these nice people who are just really excited to meet us and help us out. And we’re so grateful to have benefitted from their generosity, to meet them and get the experience to learn from them.”

The Overland team will stop next in Double Springs before heading into Mississippi.

For more on Overland Summers, visit https://overlandsummers.com.

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W.C. Mann