Riding My Bike From Capitol to Capitol

By KÜHL Editor on May 07, 2024
6 min read

We sat down with cycling enthusiast Sherry Ott to talk about her journey biking from capitol to capitol. Her travel blog offers insights, practical tips, and guidance for overcoming the apprehensions of solo travel, encouraging others to embark on their own memorable adventures to fascinating destinations. Read on and discover the inspiration behind an extraordinary journey.

1. What inspired you to start biking from capitol to capitol across the country?

This is a story about family legacy, the pandemic, adventure travel, a mid-life crisis, and, as my Dad puts it, a lark.

I’m a travel blogger who has been writing about my travel lifestyle and around-the-world adventures on Ottsworld.com since 2006. During the pandemic, when we could no longer travel, I started biking as a way to explore and continue ‘traveling.’ I loved biking around Denver, exploring the city and the trails. The Capitol to Capitol Quest was born from a project my father started when I was 14. He was 47 and decided to start walking from capitol to capitol in the lower 48 states. As a teenager, I thought my father was weird, and I wanted nothing to do with his quest. 

However, as I entered my 30s and 40s, my interest in his project grew. By that time, he had walked to 23 capitols, covering over 4000 miles. He’s now 87, and he won’t be finishing the capitol project. That always made me really sad, so when I found biking, I decided that I could finish it for him—by bike. 

He gave me his blessing to take on his quest, and I dug into all of his past notes and spreadsheets of what he had left and his routes. I had 26 routes to complete—totaling about 8,000 to 9,000 miles. I had no idea if I could pull it off, but I was excited to have a goal, and something to focus on that could also honor my parents.

2. How do you prepare physically and mentally for each leg of your journey?

I live in Denver, and we are lucky to have hundreds of miles of bike trails around the city—so I train weekly there. I normally try to train by doing multiple 45+ mile days in a row. And sometimes I will go into the mountains and train at higher altitudes over passes like Vail Pass and around Lake Dillon. However, the winter always poses a challenge—but I try to get out any time it’s over 45 degrees!

I don’t think I’m ever really prepared mentally for these routes! Each one is so different and throws new challenges at me. I still feel like I’m new to cycling – so I have so much to learn. I don’t think anyone can ever be comfortable riding on busy roads with little to no shoulder – it’s a harrowing experience. 

Sherry and her parents.

3. Can you share a particularly memorable experience from your travels so far?

When I decided to take on my Dad’s project, he had a few capitol routes that he was midway through but hadn’t finished. One of those was from St. Paul, MN, to Pierre, SD. Since my parents live in South Dakota, I decided to start with that route. I went out and started biking from where my father had last walked in 2009 and started biking towards Pierre. It took me 4 days to get into Pierre. I stopped 1 mile short of the Capitol building, where my parents both had come to meet me.

From that point, the three of us walked together into the capitol building steps. It was a special way for me to take over his project and do an ‘official’ handoff. As we walked the last miles together, we talked about some of his past capitols routes memories we all had as a family. It was a really moving moment for me, one that I will never forget. 

4. How has this journey changed your perspective on daily life?

It has reminded me that having a goal is so important. I love to take on big journeys, and for several years, I didn’t really have any goals I was working on. So this has provided me a new focus which I thrive on. 

The majority of the routes really take me through rural America – and I find that interesting. 

I grew up in the Midwest, so I understand rural communities. But biking through the rural US has given me a lot to think about and soak in. Specifically the current divisiveness in our country. It’s easy to look at the other side and say they are wrong or even inferior – but it’s hard to actually get out and see how other people live and what’s important to them. Then you start to understand the significant divides in this country. In short, it has helped me gain perspective of my culture and country. 

5. How do you stay motivated during the toughest parts of your journey? What helps you dig deep?

I’m wired to compete. And when I plan a multi-day capitol route, I sort of dial in the daily mileage and stop points. Once those are in my head, I focus on just getting to the end point for that day. When I’m struggling with 20 miles left, I think about a typical 20 mile route I do in Denver regularly and think about that. For some reason, it seems to be more achievable then. I also think a lot about my Dad, who walked his routes, and how hard and slow that had to be. It pushes me to get over my hump and keep going. 

6. What advice would you give to others who aspire to take on similar challenges?

Your challenge or quest doesn’t have to be ‘big’. It just needs to push you in some way – make you a little uncomfortable – yet still excited. When I’m on the edge of that feeling of being scared and excited, that’s a great space to challenge myself.

 I also always tell people to put their big goals out there into the universe – tell people what they want to do. Some people may think it’s crazy or silly – but there will be others who think it’s great – and those are the people who will be your biggest cheerleaders. Everyone needs cheerleaders!

And finally – you don’t have to do it all at once; you can break it into smaller, more attainable chunks. If I thought about the fact that I have 26 capitols and 8000+ miles to ride, I’d probably give up. However, by taking on 3 or 4 routes a year – that feels doable. 

7. Beyond the physical achievement, what do you hope to accomplish with your capitol-to-capitol journey?

On a large scale, I hope to bring more exposure to bicycle safety from both the driving and cycling perspective. Bike travel is great – but it is also harrowing – mainly because people don’t always know what they should do.

I also want to bring visibility to rural America and the Capital cities. More often than not, our state capital cities aren’t the largest, most well-known cities in a state.  As a travel writer and content creator, I want to bring more exposure to these capital cities and the buildings themselves. Our state capitol buildings are fascinating, much like European churches. They are full of history, stories of immigrants, art, and architecture. 

From a personal perspective – I just want to finish my father’s unique journey that he started 40 years ago. It’s a way to honor him and my mother for instilling in me a sense of adventure and quest to be different. 

A cyclist standing in the middle of a road on a sunny day

Follow Sherry's journey on her YouTube Docu-series Capitol to Capitol Quest, or Instagram where she'll cover each route live at @Ottsworld!

KÜHL Editor
KÜHL Editor


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