Though the book may never get written, Bob and Laura Otwell have the perfect title for their nine-month, cross-country bike tour: "The Generosity of Strangers."
The Traverse City couple returned home Thursday after cycling 9,270 miles through 23 states and Ontario. The pair launched their odyssey on Aug. 22 after dropping their youngest daughter at college. They spent the next 256 days on the road, completing a journey that took a year's preparation, daily planning en route and a lot of kindness along the way.
From warm-shower hosts to sharing a meal with fellow cyclists to just talking with people they met along the way, the Otwells' continental cruise immersed them in the nation's hospitality.
"Typically people ask where you are from and where you are going," said Bob Otwell, adding with a laugh: "But in New York City, somebody asked me, 'Are you running away from home?'"
"We really enjoyed the people in the South, really friendly people," he said.
Many people they met were frankly curious, asking questions about logistics, route and planning.
"A lot of people were, 'Go on, get out of here!' People just don't think it can be done," said Laura Otwell. "It really is doable."
The Otwells took four months to travel a northern route that concluded in California for the Christmas holidays. They enjoyed visiting with their three daughters and a few weeks of rest. On Jan. 8, they began a leisurely homeward trek along a southern trail to Florida, then up the East Coast and finally westward to Michigan.
Beginning the second leg of the journey was tough after saying goodbye to their daughters and facing thousands more miles of travel.
"At that moment, we were so far from home with just two bicycles," Bob said. "Then you just get going again."
During their nine-month adventure, the Otwells visited seven state capitals and Washington, D.C., as well as cycled along four Great Lakes. They camped for 130 nights, stayed with either family or friends for 50 nights and filled out the remaining 75 nights at motels.
Ultimately, the joy of the open road never palled.
"We never really got tired of the biking," said Laura Otwell. "Every morning we'd get up and say, 'Yay, let's go for a bike ride.'"
Averaging about 50 miles a day, their cycling pattern varied between the two halves of the trip. The outbound leg, they would cycle five or six days and then take a day off. The second half of the adventure, they often went for up to seven or eight days straight and then took three consecutive days off.
"Maybe because we're both engineers, methodical planners," said Bob Otwell on why the couple, married 29 years this summer, adapted so well to a nomadic life. "The unknown can be daunting for some people."
"A nice part of the whole trip was being able to spend that time together," he added.
Using new steel frame bikes they bought, or in Bob's case, built for the trip, each rider carried four bags. Their gear included tent, sleeping bags, cooking items, some food and water and minimal eating utensils.
A smart phone helped them research daily routes or stops, connect with family and friends and also keep somewhat abreast of the outside world. They mostly relied on local media for their daily updates.
"Traveling around we really enjoyed visiting local libraries and reading the local papers," said Laura. "It's a way to really learn about a town."
Cycling into Traverse City on Thursday, pulling up to their downtown home, was a surreal experience.
By Saturday morning they were unpacked, their bikes out just for short trips around town. The couple is contemplating how to incorporate the streamlined simplicity of a road life into their daily lives, including sifting through possessions as they retrieve them from storage.
"Some people can't even imagine biking two miles much less thousands of miles," said Bob. "Other friends can picture 50 miles a day but not camping and day after day."