In 2009, Elea Acheson hopped on her trusty 20-year-old mountain bike, “Old Blue,” and hit the road. She had $3,000 in her pocket and one goal: to get lost and not be found. She was gone for two months.
Seven years later, the Freeland woman is eyeing Old Blue again, a mountain bike modified for the road, and hit the trail again. She’s about to embark on a 12,000 mile cross-country bike tour that circles the entire country in a clockwise manner. Starting from the Pacific Northwest, Acheson, 41, will cycle down to the mountains of Colorado, through the plains of Kansas, up to New York, down to the swamps of Florida, across the entire south to California and back up to Whidbey Island.
It’s a trip that will take roughly 14 months, Acheson said. There is a big difference, however, this time around. The point isn’t to get lost, but to go on a journey of self-discovery, welcoming transformation along the way and sharing her story to the followers that she has accrued over the years through her writing. Acheson’s writing on life, death and personal transformation can be found on her personal website and has also been featured in the Huffington Post.
“This trip is not about looking forward to the end, but how it will transform me along the way,” Acheson said. “At the end of the ride, I will be a different person with different experiences and I don’t want to be afraid of that.”
Prior to her first journey down, which followed the Pacific Coast Trail Bike Trail to Big Sur, Calif., Acheson experienced incredible hardship. She was the mother of Vasu Ludwig, who was diagnosed with kidney cancer at 18 months of age. Hopes were high though, as the Wilm’s tumor in his kidney was one of the most curable forms of cancer, according to Acheson. Vasu was given an 85 percent chance of survival, so Acheson’s worries weren’t focused on Vasu, rather her mother, who was also battling cancer around the same period. She died only shortly after Vasu was declared in remission.
Acheson went into a state of agoraphobia following her mother’s death. She didn’t leave the apartment for months, and it was the first time she realized she may have a problem, Acheson said. Eventually she overcame her condition, but was faced with heartache again when Vasu’s cancer returned. This time the prognosis was bleak.
“We went through nine months of cancer treatment, and I wouldn’t recommend it for anyone, especially with a 5 year-old,” Acheson said. “Once the tumor returned, it was easy to stop the treatment after seeing Vasu suffer throughout chemotherapy.”
Vasu died Aug. 19, 2009, at age 6. Acheson didn’t want to lose years again like she had after her mother’s passing. She knew it was possible to live again, so she changed her life — drastically. She and her husband divorced, she sold nearly all her Earthly possessions, and 42 days later began her bike ride down the Pacific Coast Bike Trail. The journey was profound. She not only discovered herself, but also a newfound meaning in life.
Acheson had little experience road biking, yet she was taking a multi-month journey head on. It was a personal challenge as much as getting away from it all.
“One of the first things I learned while on the first bike tour was the inherent love and kindness of people,” Acheson said. “I realized there was always somebody there in life. I hardly had to ask for help when I needed it most because the people I met along the way always offered me their kindness and help.”
According to Acheson, the weight of a bike equipped with all the camping necessities for a long ride is comparable to grief; it’s hard to get going but once momentum gains, the bike picks up speed. Everything about the trip symbolized what she was going through, and in the end she emerged triumphant.
“I am so proud of Elea, her ideas, thought process and accomplishments,” said Dana Moffett, a longtime friend and owner of Rubatano Center on Whidbey Island. “What she does [goes] beyond normal accomplishments, they are quests for deep knowledge and understanding of people and life. Elea’s talent for writing and telling her stories are a gift to all who read them.”
Acheson’s tale and the journey that followed has been an inspiration for those who cross her on her bike tours and those who follow her story from the comforts of home. Acheson said the people she meets on the road always end up talking to her about their stories of loss and how they carry their pain. It is as if her pain gives them permission to feel theirs, she said.
“I relate to so many of her words as if she were writing about what is inside of me,” said Moffett. “Elea has helped me understand who I am through her writing. She has shown me how to live in the moment with passion and creativity, how to love, how to care, how to live with loss and how to live with determination.”
What lies ahead for Acheson is roughly 14 months of perseverance and self-discovery. When she returns home in the distant future, she plans to put her storytelling abilities to good use with a career in podcasts or philosophical writing. Acheson is currently seeking financial help from her followers to help fund her journey across the country. You can donate to her cause at https://www.gofundme.com/eleaacheson and follow her journey on her website, https://eleaacheson.com/