Below is Pauly's original article as featured in the 2015 M22 Fall/Winter Catalog:
THE DIRECTION IS SOUTH and although he knows he’ll at least ride to Tijuana, he’s leaving the end open. And he’s heading out alone.
His official name is Paul Hurlbert, but everyone calls him Pauly. This summer, he put his belongings in storage, quit two great jobs, and decided to spend the next few months on his bicycle traveling the west side of the country from Canada to Mexico.
A flight instructor, a bartender, a musician, Pauly’s always been the adventurous type. He jumps out of airplanes as often as possible. At a bar last March back home in Traverse City, Pauly met a guy from Delaware. This guy would tell him about a bike ride from New York to San Francisco. It blew his mind. “To be honest, I had never heard of bike touring before. The seed had definitely been planted and I said that night, ‘I will absolutely do that, someday.’”
Someday quickly turned into September.
When often asked why he chose a bicycle, he affirms that it offers him a thrilling amount of freedom. “The ability to create whatever pace you’d like. Fast enough to see cities, states, and countries. Slow enough to experience every moment in between. Constantly alternating between extreme challenges and incredible rewards.” Every grueling hill, every difficult stretch is contrasted by a gorgeous view or pleasant coast downward—and totally worth it.”
While planning this trip, the most common questions he was asked were about fear. If he was afraid of being alone, traveling unknown territories, or trekking congested roads on a bike. “The truth is, these are all challenges I embrace on a daily basis. People tend to not do things because they are afraid of them, but in my experience every day is overcoming challenges. You always come out of the tip of the hill stronger. Now, instead of fear, I choose to put myself in challenging situations because I can’t wait to see what’s on the other side.”
Pauly understands fear Two years ago, his wife, Kelly, died in a traffic accident while riding her bike only a quarter of a block from home. She was 29, and the love of his life.
“We both rode our bikes every day.”
For her memorial only days later, Paul led 1,500 bicyclists on a one-mile ride through several Traverse City streets. “She was a very strong person. She wouldn’t have wanted us to stop riding our bikes.”
Pauly doesn’t really attribute his trip to the death of his wife, but says she is always on his mind. “I do have some tough moments when I’m on a small shoulder or when a car passes me, only inches away. It’s impossible not to think about what happened to her, but I just keep riding. It’s what she would have wanted. She was the best, hands down—living to the fullest and loving as much as possible. I feel like doing anything less would be the greatest injustice to her legacy.”
HIGHS AND LOWS When we were interviewing Pauly for this article, he got a flat tire and had to call us back. When we finally caught up with him, we learned his forced break caused him to stop into a random diner where he discovered the best French toast of his life. “Homemade bread and jam,” he said. He seemed happy, and he told us about his other adventures since hitting the road.
He’s enjoyed stretches of sunshine and seemingly endless days of rain. He’s spent nights in hammocks, tents, and on the couch of strangers. He’s had days where his legs gave out after only 35 miles, quickly finding a place to sleep off the side of the road. He’s had days where 80 miles felt like a mere warm-up, only stopping because a friend offered him a comfortable place to rest. Once he walked into a bar in the middle of a precarious scene—bikers dressed in leather and rave wear dancing to electronic beats—only to end up joining them and making a few new friends. Another night he stayed with a family in Astoria, Oregon. He vividly remembers watching as the father, a burly ship carpenter, gently sang his 6-month old child to sleep in an armchair. Both of their arms slowly fell to their sides and their eyes shut.
One kind stranger Pauly met on warmshowers.org (a resource for long-distance bikers much like couchsurfers.org) had a bike accident years ago. In a coma for 16 months—complete with a scar to prove it—he had spent years relearning how to talk and eat. He now hosted other cyclists as a way to stay connected and be reminded of his gratitude.
Pauly’s adventures have taken him along the rugged coastline of the Pacific Northwest, among the tall redwoods, and the winding scenery of California. No matter how gorgeous it is, he still misses the fresh water of home. “101 reminds me of 22. It hugs the coastline. People take pride in it. But it’s not nearly as beautiful as back home. I don’t know why. It just isn’t the same.”
He’s not entirely sure when he’ll finish, or where he’ll end up. “Ultimately, I’m spending each day as it comes. If I like a town, maybe I’ll stay for a while. I’ve traveled alone many times before, and have realized that the fewer plans you make, the more you open yourself up to spontaneous encounters that become unforgettable.”
NO PLACE LIKE HOME No matter how far he is from home, Pauly’s heart remains here in northern Michigan. “I know this is something Kelly would want me doing. If she were here today, she would give me a huge high five for doing this. That’s all the comfort I need.”
To pay tribute to Kelly Hurlbert or donate to the benefit fund, visit her memorial website at remembertolove.org.