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It was much more than just some trip of a lifetime.

It was a grueling physical and mental challenge for two people approaching middle age. It provided an unparalleled opportunity to experience the scenic beauty that this country has to offer. It was a leap of faith and a test of trust.

But most importantly, it was an experience that enhanced and enriched their marriage and their personal relationship with each other like nothing that had ever come before it.

Recently, Amber and Bruce Althouse completed an incredible journey across the continental United States. The Schaefferstown couple rode their bicycles for 76 days, from the shiny shores of the Pacific Ocean to the shimmering coast of the Atlantic Ocean.

Along the way, their lives were transformed forever.

“It was two-and-a-half months of being together 24 hours a day,” said Bruce Althouse, 44. “The number one thing in life for us is our relationship with Jesus. And our first prayer every morning was to become closer to God and closer to each other. There were times when we didn’t get along, but it wasn’t often. Our relationship definitely got stronger. It’s an interaction we miss now.”

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is ContinentalDivide-1024x740.jpg
Bruce and Amber at Continental Divide.

“We’ve been married 18 years, and it was a great way to learn new things about each other,” said Amber Althouse, 48. “Afterwards, I knew him better, and I knew which buttons to push and not to push. He was working hard for me. He knew it was a dream of mine. It was a very different experience. It was stressful in a different way.”

The Althouses’ trip began in Seaside, Oregon, on July 20, and 4,098 miles and 13 states later, it ended on Oct. 3 in Cape Henlopen, Delaware. Of the Althouses’ 76 days on the road, 65 were spent bicycling and 11 were used as rest days – an average of 63 miles per day.

Although the Althouses did not follow a prescribed route, about 25 percent or 1,050 miles of their trip was traversed on bike paths.

Bike paths provided a respite from traffic on the journey.

“At the beginning, if you would’ve asked me what the most challenging part was, I would’ve said the physical aspect,” said Amber. “But even greater than that was the whole mental stress of the trip. There were a lot of close experiences with cars. It was kind of a relief to get on bike paths. Dealing with traffic wore you down mentally, a lot.”

“If you take a road trip in a car across the country, you’re going to drive interstates,” said Bruce. “For us, the goal was to get off interstates and get on back roads. When we did that, we saw America. We got to experience Americana at its fullest. Those were the kind of things we wanted to see.”

All things considered, the Althouses’ journey went better than they could’ve planned. During the trip, the couple experienced no flat tires, zero close encounters with dogs, just a single day of rain, and at no point did they discharge their bear repellant. Despite consuming ice cream on 31 days of their journey, Amber and Bruce each lost about 15 pounds.

“One of the most rewarding parts was meeting all these wonderful new people,” said Bruce. “We were blown away by the fact that churches are alive and well. There is so much good in this world, and we experienced it. Just the sheer number of people who showed us radical hospitality was overwhelming. It is more blessed to give than receive, and we experienced that. People want to be nice.”

Amber and Bruce Althouse’s cross country trip concluded at Cape Henlopen, Delaware.

“I think there were times when we were questioning ourselves — ‘Why are we doing this?’ — but not to the point where we wanted to quit,” said Amber. “We’d do it again in a heartbeat. There were definitely times when I said, ‘We need a rest day,’ because my body needed it. Before we even started the trip, I knew it was going to be hard. I had to keep telling myself to keep going. This is something I really wanted to do. But after a day or so of rest, we were ready to get back out there.”

Avid outdoors people, the Althouses had been considering a cross-country bike excursion for about four years, before instituting a plan of action this spring. Incorporated into their plan was a purposeful element of spontaneity.

“We didn’t know what to expect along the way,” said Amber. “The trip kind of took on a life of its own. We met so many people along the way. It was pretty remarkable, especially the hospitality we received. We would call churches ahead and ask if we could camp in their parking lots. Then when we got there, they’d ask if we wanted to sleep in the church. Then they’d make us dinner and give us breakfast in the morning.”

“’Why?’ was a question we were asked a lot, even when we were biking,” said Bruce. “The answer is that we wanted to do it. We wanted to experience America at 10 miles per hour. That’s the way you see it. If we saw something, we could take a look. We could also smell things. Another reason is that we wanted to push ourselves. Just that sense of adventure, that sense of the unknown.”

Now more than a month removed from their adventure, when the Althouses look back on it, it is with a sense of fondness and great accomplishment. But the destination only became more important after the journey had been completed.

“At the beginning, it’s daunting to think about the trip as a whole,” said Bruce. “You think, ‘What’s going to happen? Are we going to make it?’ You have to take it one day at a time, enjoy today and not think about the future. We looked at it like 76 adventures, 76 days of the unknown. We have more stories from this trip than anything we’ve ever done. That makes it one of the most special trips we’ve ever done.”

“It’s almost a surreal feeling to think about the trip as a whole,” said Amber. “At the end, we even had a hard time looking back and remembering the beginning. It is really hard for us to wrap our brains around what we did. It was a pretty amazing thing that we did.”

“Obviously, we felt a great sense of accomplishment being able to finish this,” she added. “But the greatest rewards were the relationships we made, and experiencing the love people poured out to us. It was nice to be able to slow down our lives, just meet people and listen to them. It gave us an opportunity to hear other people’s stories. We just put ourselves out there.”

“About a half an hour into the trip, your butt starts to hurt, and it never stops hurting,” said Bruce. “If you’re going to do a trip like this and you want to be comfortable, it’s not for you. But if people desire to do anything like this, I would encourage them to do it. Follow your dreams, even if it’s uncomfortable. It’s worth it. Push through it. Don’t be comfortable.”

Because if you do, not only learn will you learn something about yourself, you’ll learn something about your partner, too.

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Jeff Falk is a seasoned journalist based in Lebanon, PA. He's a graduate of Cedar Crest High School, Penn State University, and a lifelong resident of Lebanon, born and raised. Currently, he is a feature writer for Engle Publishing in Lancaster, the editor of LebCoSports.com, sports director at WLBR...