Zilong Wang cycled 3,400 miles west across America to San Francisco on his bike, the White Dragon Horse. At Bicycling, John Brant recounts Wang’s enlightening adventure: how he befriended kind strangers along the way, found an appreciation for life in his solitude, and lost — but later found — his bike at the end of the journey.

The cycling itself proved harder than he expected. During the first few days, crossing the Berkshire Mountains in Massachusetts, he often had to dismount and push his rig uphill. Zilong kept plugging. He got used to the bike and eventually learned to love the White Dragon Horse. His muscles hardened. If he felt strong, he cranked. If he felt especially sore he would slow down or take a day off. He discovered that the trailer was unnecessary and got rid of it in Chicago. He decided he didn’t need to carry a heavy lock, and mailed it back to Alderson in Amherst.

Zilong pushed west, his mind wheeling on three levels. He paid attention to the wind, weather, dip and rise of the road, and passing traffic. But he also reflected on his experiences, and he listened to the words streaming through his earbuds.

The Bible took him through the Eastern states, the Koran through the Midwest, and Moby Dick through the Great Plains and into the Rocky Mountains, the Book of Mormon through Utah and Nevada. Some passages he followed word for word. For others, the music of the sentences formed a soundtrack. At times he couldn’t tell where the book ended and the road began: Listening to the story of the ocean, of whales and whaling, in the midst of huge mountains. . .The fisherman’s life stories were projected onto the screen of the Rockies. Sometimes I can even see the backbone of a sperm whale emerging from the landscape of the mountains.

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Cheri Lucas Rowlands

Cheri has been an editor at Longreads since 2014. She's currently based in the San Francisco Bay Area.