People in Motion: Peter Gorman

by Heather Vandenengel

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“Why are you biking 10,000 miles around the country?” is the first question I ask Peter Gorman, who is biking 10,000 miles around the country, over the phone two weeks ago. It is, of course, the most obvious question and also the most difficult to answer, at least in any succinct fashion.

Such is the nature of travel that those who are stationary will always have questions for those who are moving through: What are you doing here? How long are you staying? Where are you going next?

Since selling nearly all of his belongings, save one box stored at his parents’ house, and moving out of his apartment in Boston almost seven months ago, Peter has answered the questions of strangers as he biked down the East coast, around the Florida Panhandle, through the charming old railroad towns of West Texas and up the coast of California.

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It came as a surprise that a solo bike trip would not be shaped by the long miles alone by himself, but through the daily interactions and kindnesses of people he met passing through, he says.

“I thought I would be spending a lot of time alone and working on creative projects all by myself. But after about a week I realized that I get approached by strangers all the time and it’s really easy to meet other people. Where I thought I would be spending my energy changed from myself to meeting other people.”

In a small town in South Carolina, he knocked on a firehouse door and asked if he could camp on their lawn; they invited him to sleep on an extra bed inside instead, cooked him dinner and still Facebook message him for updates on his trip. In Savannah, where he only expected to crash for one night but stayed for four, his couchsurfing host organized giant Bananagram games in the park, inviting passersby to play until it was 10 vs. 10. After a late night out in Lafayette, La., his host offered him the couch another night and they recovered together with hangover gumbo.

“I think it’s just people’s natural reaction to help somebody out who’s traveling, and so that always makes me feel really positive about other people,” Peter says.

Such is also the nature of travel that the traveler becomes the inevitable sounding board for everyone else’s longing to get on the road, someday. As Steinbeck writes in Travels with Charley in Search of America:

“Under the big oak trees of my place at Sag Harbor sat Rocinante, handsome and self-contained, and neighbors came to visit, some neighbors we didn’t even know we had. I saw in their eyes something I was to see over and over in every part of the nation—a burning desire to go, to move, to get under way, anyplace, away from any Here. They spoke quietly of how they wanted to go someday, to move about, free and unanchored, not toward something but away from something. I saw this look and heard this yearning everywhere in every state I visited. Nearly every American hungers to move.”

It’s something Peter hears all the time too, he says.

“People always say I wish I could do something like what you’re doing, but it’s just not something I’m able to afford.”

These two strands, the inclination of strangers to help travelers and hearing how they would also like to take a few months off and see the country, fused into an idea: a crowdsourced, self-sustaining project to fund travel for people who can’t afford it.

The idea, called The Off-Season Project, came to Peter about month into his trip, and after five months of honing and planning he launched an Indiegogo campaign earlier this week.

It’s a simple, smart idea: travelers will be funded for three months, which will cover their daily expenses as well as a stipend to cover their bills back home. While on the road, they’ll be expected to contribute something—creating public art displays in every city, documenting national parks, recording peoples’ stories—while also raising money for the next round of Off-Season Project travelers.

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Via the Indiegogo campaign, Peter is raising money for three travelers each for summer 2016 and fall 2016. Aspiring travelers will be able to apply online and will be selected by The Off-Season Project team.

“It’s something that I hear all the time, and I hear from other travelers, too, is what’s your cause, what are you raising money for?” says Peter. “It would be this network of people that grows and grows. The idea is to pay it forward.”

It’s also an nice, neat answer to the why query, at least in part, he says.

“Talking about The Off-Season Project is very easy for me. When it comes to, ‘Why are you on the road?’ I still don’t have a good answer. I kind of meander through a lot of different ideas.”

Yet for the traveler himself, the why isn’t all that relevant anyway. It matters only that there once was a why and that why led to how and when and it got you out the door and so here you are, doing it. For Peter, it mattered most that he set a date: September 29, 2014.

“You can spend two years planning your trip and getting ready, but you’ll never really be completely ready until you get on the road. And so with that in mind, it was a lot easier for me to just set a date and say, I’ll figure these things out as they come.”

And once your bike is your home and all your belongings are on board, the most important question becomes where next.  

“You literally don’t have any room for any baggage. So if something’s bothering you or something bad happened, when you move on, you just move on, you don’t really think about it anymore. I think that’s a helpful lesson that I’m taking for life, not to be weighed down by anything that’s happened in the past. The easiest way to get past it is to keep going.”

After a month in San Francisco, working on the project and spending time with family and friends, Peter is heading north. Follow him via his blog and Instagram and learn more about The Off-Season Project here.

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