ELLSWORTH — There’s a saying in Wyoming that the wind only stops when it’s changing directions. Blue Hill resident Bella Cimeno experienced that saying for herself while biking across the country this fall.
“I had some moments where I was yelling into the wind,” said the 19-year-old, who once fought a daylong battle with a side-wind that kept blowing her into the road.
Cimeno had plenty of other wild moments during her 68-day, 4,210-mile solo bike trek across the country. By the time she was yelling into the wind in Wyoming, the recent George Stevens Academy graduate had already traveled around a wildfire, across a desert and past a rodeo — all in eastern Oregon.
On the way, she met plenty of other bikers, many of whom made for great traveling buddies. At one point, Cimeno and another biker wandered into a bar in Jeffrey City, Wyo., population 58, looking for a place to crash for the night. Inside were several cowboys and a working jukebox.
“I felt like I walked into some Western movie,” said Cimeno, who also walked into many a gas station during her journey to find customers still smoking cigarettes indoors. “In a lot of the towns it feels like you’re walking into the past, like at least 50 years ago.”
The cowboys talked about their long hours chasing cattle for little pay. A former cowboy among them had some space for the two travelers to place to stay. It was one of many occasions where Cimeno was surprised by the generosity of strangers.
“Probably the best part of the trip was the wonderful people who I met,” Cimeno said.
In Kansas, a woman helped Cimeno for two days as she tried to find a special pair of screws for her bike. In Virginia and Kentucky, churchgoers and firefighters opened up their worship halls and fire stations to let her crash there for the night.
“Kindness is everywhere,” Cimeno said. “In the news we only hear the bad things that happen, and there’s a lot more good people out there.”
Meeting strangers across the country was the highlight of Cimeno’s trip, but one of her least favorite parts of the journey was the unpleasant weather she encountered. In Oregon, she biked up hills in over-100-degree heat; in Yellowstone National Park, she endured freezing rain and had to camp out under it at night.
But a little rain and heat wasn’t going to stop Cimeno from achieving her goal.
“One thing I realized about myself is that when something becomes really difficult, I just want to do it more,” she said. “When I was in flat Kansas, I was not very motivated because there wasn’t much of a challenge.”
The flatness of Kansas was an exception to Cimeno’s journey, which was otherwise quite mountainous. The former cross-country runner chose a route across the country that took her up and down the Cascades, the Rockies, the Ozarks and the Appalachians. Cimeno said the Ozarks were the most challenging, due to their sudden steepness. But she was ready for it.
“My mindset changed so much,” Cimeno said. “In the beginning I had this fear of hills, but by the end I thought ‘If it goes up, then you got to go up’ and it’s totally fine.”
Cimeno’s mindset wasn’t the only thing that changed during her journey. Between listening to audiobooks, taking in the view and planning what she would eat and where she would sleep that night, Cimeno began to lose track of time.
“In normal, day-to-day life you’re thinking about the future or the next day,” she said. “But when you’re riding, you’re just thinking about what you need to do today to keep going.”
The towns, the weather, the landscapes and the accents varied wildly across the country, but one thing remained the same.
“A line that I heard from several men I met was ‘I could understand myself doing something like this, but a woman?’” said Cimeno. She recalled how several male cyclists she met said they were never asked about their choice to bike the trail, or whether they were carrying a gun or how they could protect themselves.
“It did become a bit frustrating since I often had to explain that I believed I was equally as capable as a man,” Cimeno said. “Perhaps I was lucky to not be faced with a situation where I needed to protect myself, yet I still believe women are just as capable.”
Before Cimeno began her journey, she started a fundraiser for the Maine Women’s Fund, a foundation that raises money in support of women’s education, health care, leadership and safety across the state. Her goal was to raise $4,500, more than $1 for every mile of the trip.
After a couple months of riding, Cimeno achieved both her fundraising and her mileage goals on the last day of the trip, which made for a very happy dip into the Atlantic. It will probably be the first of many similar challenging adventures.
“I was glad to be done,” she said, “but I’m already brainstorming what I want to do next.”