Q&A: A copywriter’s quest to cross America


There's a very real chance that you will never ride a bicycle as far in your entire life as Janeen McCrae is about to travel in one ride. A freelance writer who spent time at both Agency.com and Poke New York, McCrae is preparing to set out on a 4,262-mile bike trek from Virginia to Oregon. Why? As an Australian who's spent almost all her stateside time in New York City, McCrae wanted an epic challenge that would test her limits and help her experience more of America. She's also hoping to land a book deal and raise $1 per mile for the Lance Armstrong Foundation. The plan is to set off in late May, filing video and blog updates all along the way. (She's already started an impressive video collection at her cycling blog, No Direction Known.) Before she begins her journey, AdFreak wanted to learn a little more about what she's doing to prepare, what she expects to accomplish, and most of all, what the hell she was thinking. Below is our e-mail conversation, with photos by Adweek's Manuela Oprea.

—Posted by David Griner

  Q. Last time we saw you, you were the blogging voice of Poke New York. What have you been up to since then?
  A. I left Poke in early 2008 so I could take the idea of writing a book a bit more seriously. People who know me are rolling their eyes right now as they read that because I've been talking about this damn book for years, but I've been working on that.
  Then there's the economic reality that goes along with writing a book—it's called rent. So I've been freelancing on and off to keep my nerd core juiced and the gas connected.
  It doesn't help that I'm easily distracted by travel, personal projects and, for past the 17 months, cycling. If you follow me on Twitter, first of all, I'm sorry, and second, you can probably tell that my life has been completely consumed by all things bike.


  Q. Where did this transcontinental bike ride idea come from?
  A. From the idiotic idea corner of my stupid brain. After the initial thought raised its hand, the Internet egged it on. Initially, I was looking for something that challenged me to ride a long way in one go. I started noodling around online, looking for a double century or something, and stumbled across the Adventure Cycling Association maps for the TransAmerica Trail. Finding that was like dousing the idiotic idea with high-octane awesome-gas and lighting it. Whoosh!

  Q. What are you doing to get ready?
  A. Riding my bike as much as I can. I put a lot of miles in the legs last year and kept riding all through winter, but I've only recently started focusing on bumping up the long hours on the weekends. There's a lot of, um, arse prep involved. It's not about speed; it's about time in the saddle.
  I'm also reading. A lot. Mostly blogs of people who've done it already and seeing what I can learn from them. I've also reached out to a few seasoned bike tour veterans. One of my Kickstarter backers took four years to ride around the world. My trip isn't as epic, but I'd be nuts not to pick his brain.
  And then there's gear. I find I'm actually enjoying the process of researching gear, and finally spending the money I've been saving for this trip. There's a certain thrill to coming home and finding little packages on your doorstep, and I had no idea I could get so excited over a dry sack, or a tent! At the same time, I'm also conscious of just how much stuff I am accumulating, weight wise. A lot of people seem to send a bunch of gear home after a week or so, simply because they're not using it. I'm hoping my practice run will give me an idea of how manageable my gear is, and what I can jettison.


  Q. How will you be chronicling your trip? What kind of tech gear will you take with you?
  A. Since I'm now doing it solo, one of my key goals is to share as much of the journey as I can so I don't feel so … solo. I have no doubt I'll find others to ride with during the trip—it's a popular route—but I really want to include my friends and family in the proceedings so they don't stress so much.
  There's the basic stuff, of course: GPS tracking, people can follow and talk to me on Twitter, and I'll be updating the trip blog at No Direction Known as I go. I made some of the Kickstarter rewards participatory so that I have some little assignments to do on the road. I've also been talking with my buddy Andrew Zolty (who's just started his own venture, Breakfast NY), and those guys are helping me with the tech and connectivity side of things. Plus, they're also working on a fun digital toy to play with along the way. I can't say what it is yet, but I'm excited to try it out.

  Q. What else are you bringing along?
  A. The basics: clothes, camping stuff, a camera or two, food, phone and some spares/tools for roadside emergencies. I also picked up a foldable solar array, which I'm very curious to try out to see how flaky or awesome it is.

  Q. People keep asking if you'll be taking a gun. Would this be a common question in Australia?
  A. I want to say no, but I'm not sure. I haven't lived there for nine years, but before I left there were quite strict gun laws, and ownership is not incredibly prevalent. It's funny, but two of the people who've asked me that question were Australians, which I think comes out of the general perception that all Americans own guns.


  Q. You've talked a lot about fear motivating you on this project. What are you scared of?
  A. I'm mostly worried about not being able to complete what I've started. 4,262 miles is a big number. Originally, I was less concerned because I had convinced a friend to come along, and that halved the burden of planning and staying motivated. And now it's just me.
  Then of course there's actual fear of a different kind—cue the pile-on of people who've expressed their fears for my safety. That plays on my mind a bit, but as I said on my blog, people are too afraid of everything. You can't let that stop you doing stuff.

  Q. One of your goals is to turn this experience into a book. There have been a few books about riding or walking across America. How do you think yours will be different?
  A. I'm not going to kid myself—it might not be. And I think that if writing a book were the sole purpose of this trip rather than a side project, it would actually be a very misguided endeavor.
  Also, I'm a realist and I know getting published is very difficult. We'll see what happens. I'm going to take the pressure off myself, enjoy the journey, and let the story come to me. I'm not really keen on setting up a "In a world where she went looking for one thing, she found another" construct, but it helps to have a starting point. Which is why I set up a rough premise for the Kickstarter video.
  When it's all said and done, there will be a nice book for my Kickstarter readers, in my voice, with semi-competent photography to boot. If that's all that comes out of it, I'm OK with that.

  Q. Can you see yourself going back to an agency job after something like this?
  A. Sure. I didn't switch to freelance because I was sick of working, but I'm more than aware of what this looks like. "Oh, another casualty of the industry, off to find herself."
  I'm not lost, I'm pretty happy with who I am, and still get jazzed about digital and great ideas. I've spent a good part of the last two years finding a good balance between work and life, and using the down times to recharge my creative batteries. Think of this as an extended pedal-powered charge with digital doodads attached. The real question should be where I'll go next and if I want to consider going back to full time.
  Confession: I may have also looked at some bike shops for sale. Just curious.

  To learn more about Janeen McCrae's ride across America, visit her blog, No Direction Known. To make a donation toward her Lance Armstrong Foundation goal of $4,272, click here.