by Kevin Dicciani
Dorian Anderson had never biked a day in his life when he decided to take a yearlong ride across the United States. His reason for doing so? Birds.
Anderson, 35, who grew up in Chestnut Hill and attended what was then Chestnut Hill Academy, has been interested in birds since a very young age. As his interest grew, so did his passion for wanting to raise awareness – and money – for bird conservation. So, on January 1, 2014, Anderson left Salisbury, Mass., in 10-degree weather and began “Biking for Birds.” His trip will conclude in Texas at the end of December, by which time Anderson hopes to reach his goal of $100,000. He took time out of his busy riding schedule to answer a few of the Local’s questions.
How long have you been biking?
I had done ZERO serious biking before this trip. I have always been an active runner though, and I figured that if I could run 10 miles every day, that I could bike 40. Biking is also less wear-and-tear on your body than running, so I figured doing it for an entire year was plausible.
What inspired you to bike across the country?
I was tired of being a post-doctoral fellow and spending so much of time in the lab. I also wanted to have a real adventure during which I would be able to do lots of birding. This was the basic genesis of the trip.
You’re raising money for various bird conservation groups. Why and how did you discover this was something you wanted to do?
Humans do such a fantastic job of trashing the planet, that this is my small contribution to help at least stem that tide. People can donate through my blog at bikingforbirds.blogspot.com. All the money goes to The Conservation Fund and the American Birding Association. None of it touches my hands since I am paying for the adventure side of things myself. So far I have raised about $25,000, but I am hopeful that donations will approach my $100,000 goal as the year draws to a close.
What sort of logistics did you have to consider before taking the trip?
There is no end to logistics. Which roads to take, how far is it between lodging, where to get food, where to get water (huge in the southwest), what is the wind doing (now, in 2 hours, in 6 hours, etc.), how much elevation gain/loss is there for a given ride, where can I find the birds I need to find.
Did you do anything to prepare yourself – physically and mentally – before you undertook this journey?
Not really. I have always been in really good shape, so that was taken care of already. I actually did not do that much biking before the trip since I did not want to burn out. A marathon is four hours of running over one day. Training for that specific day is thus required. I am doing four-to-ten hours of biking a day for 365 days straight. I really tried to use the early weeks of trip as training and build up miles as I went. Going “Rocky” for the few months before the trip would have assured burnout.
What items did you bring with you?
Minimal clothes (once I got out of the Polar Vortex anyway!), stuff to do minor bike repairs, binoculars, telescope, tripod, DSLR with 400 mm f/5.6 lens, hiking boots, laptop. My whole bike and all my gear weighs around 80 pounds.
What is your daily schedule?
Depends on what birds I need to find. Some days are moving days when I just want to pump out 120 miles. Other days required careful coordination of my lodging and route to ensure I can get to birds at certain times of day. The route changes by the minute depending on what birds I find easily and what birds require more searching.
You stay with hosts during the evenings – how did you find them, and how has that experience been?
I have stayed with birders from all over the country. They read my blog and email me saying they want me to stay with them. I also use the warmshower.com website. This is a network of traveling cyclists willing to host one another. Lastly, I have corporate sponsorship from Best Western. I can stay with them for free for the whole year. This has been incredibly helpful in people-thin areas such as West Texas and Southern Idaho.
What is the most interesting thing you’ve encountered on the road?
No one thing really stands out. I’ve seen loads of birds right from my bike though!
What has been your favorite part of the country to bike through so far?
Colorado was great, but really challenging. My ride across the Cascades Highway in Northern Washington yesterday was incredible. Monument Valley was also a highlight.
How much longer do you have to go?
My adventure lasts a calendar year – from 1/1 to 12/31. I have biked 11,000 miles so far (as of 8/21), and I estimate I will bike another 4-5,000 before the year is finished
Are you still planning on finishing your journey in Philadelphia?
I will actually end the trip in Texas at the end of December. However, I will recover at my parents’ house in Philly for at least a few weeks in January of 2015. Then I need to figure out what’s next!
How would you sum up your adventure?
I can’t – at least not yet. Maybe once I have a bit of downtime to reflect after the whole year is done, I will have a more precise answer. I am so happy I took the risk to do this though. I have seen an incredible amount of the country, and I have met many fascinating people who live their lives in ways that I may have never imagined had I stayed in the safe confines of my former life. I have also learned that no matter how crazy an idea might seem to others at first pass, that if a person possesses the right intellect, drive, and communicative ability, almost any idea can be executed.