At night my atlas lay open on my bedside table: "The United States of America", 45 cm by 85 cm in colour. It is so easy to travel across the smooth paper with you finger, from East to West and West to East. From the Atlantic to the Pacific and back in under one second.
Simply travel across America by bike. Why not? Others have done it. Top athlete Sepp Resnik, for example. What's more, America is just a country, like Austria, only a little bigger. According to the atlas on my bedside table, more than one hundred times as big. And that was luckily inconceivable; otherwise this tour of America would probably never have been accomplished.
I often sat in bed with my map before going to sleep, drew an imaginary line from Boston to San Francisco and marvelled at the many names of towns that I had never heard of: Decorah, Rapid City, Sheridan, Boise. Soon they would no longer be anonymous dots on page 178/179 of the atlas, but towns full of life, America's "sticks", a completely different world in which tourists rarely surface.
Bike across America just for fun. It was so absurd, so completely insane, that I had got used to telling friends and acquaintances before I got too scared.
"All by yourself?" they asked. No, not completely by myself, I replied. And then came the well prepared answer, which people laughed at every time, and which at the end of the journey I would no longer find funny: "I am going with my brother Stefan, didn't you know? If I were to go with a good friend, we would certainly fall out, separate and we would become enemies instead of friends. But it can't go so pear-shaped with my brother! I know him too well, and after the trip he will still be my brother, whatever happens. . ."
We both forgot about the finer details of the adventure for so long, that we still hadn't put together a complete kit list a week before our departure ("Can we buy everything out there or not??"). The physical training for the monster tour consisted of a few weekend cycle trips from Vienna to K÷nigstetten ("We'll get fit along the way!") We just had the flight tickets, and every remaining day we had we stared incredulously at them, the only proof of our actual departure.
Everything that we had resolved beforehand about America and our journey turned out differently. We actually wanted to behave like real tourists: see Niagara Falls, Mount Rushmore with the four stone heads of presidents, Yellowstone Park and at the end of the tour proudly ride into San Francisco over the famous Golden-Gate bridge.
When I finally sat in the plane after 67 strenuous days on a bike, and had the pleasure of closing my eyes as the aircraft took off and being forced back into my seat by the engine thrust, quite different pictures popped into my head. Not the typical sightseeing pictures, but very foreign people that had welcomed us into their towns and homes, had given us a glimpse of their American lives and thus made our journey into a string of endearing short-stories.
The most beautiful parts of this enormous continent lay not in Yellowstone Park or at Niagara Falls, but somewhere in a village with just 200 inhabitants in the boundless cornfields of Iowa or in an old post station in the torrid rocky deserts of Oregon.