Lena Faber is on the first part of an epic journey from Calais, Maine to Key West Florida depending on nothing but the power of her legs and the hospitality of strangers.
Her route on the East Coast Greenway Alliance (a bicycle friendly network of roads and trails) is over 2,100 miles long and would take her 180 hours of non-stop cycling to complete. Although this trek would prove too daunting for many, this isn’t the first muscle powered adventure Faber has ventured on.
In fact, her time in recent years has been rooted in international travel, extreme self reliance, and tests of endurance.
Faber, a journalist from Moscow, lives in the countryside of South Africa outside Johannesburg. In 2009, she took up long distance running, and her life took a dramatic turn away from a sedentary lifestyle.
“I just started running, and I couldn’t stop,” said Faber. “I wanted to push myself farther and farther. To get from point A to point B with your own power is so gratifying.”
After winning a silver medal in the World Masters Athletic running championship in California, she decided to test her stamina through hiking. In 2013, she traveled to Peru where she hiked the holy mountain of Machu Picchu (elevation 7,972 ft.) completely alone. But she couldn’t leave South America without also boating down the length of the Amazon river.
And then in 2014, she hiked the entire 2,181 mile Appalachian Trail, starting in Georgia, and ending up on the top of Mt. Katahdin in Maine. Her solitary hike earned her the trail name “Brave,” from other hikers.
But then, after returning briefly to her home in South Africa, where she teaches Russian language and literature, cabin fever quickly started washing over Faber again.
“I just wanted to leave South Africa again,” said Faber. “Instead of sitting in a restaurant or on a boat drinking beer, I took off cycling.”
She made this decision in 2015 when she hopped on the first bicycle that would serve as her primary vehicle and integral part of her athletic lifestyle. Her first foray into extreme distance cycling? Faber cycled the entire 2,415-mile length of Route 66, which she described as an “outdoor museum of Americana,” starting in Illinois and ending in California. That same year, she flew to London so she could cycle 800 miles north to the mysterious Orkney Islands in Scotland.
It was during those trips that Faber realized that she could craft an entire lifestyle around traveling, camping, and exchanging work for hospitality.
“When I cycled Route 66, I wanted to give the people I met something, however much I could,” said Faber. “It’s not about money. If you think too much about money, you’ll be miserable. So I worked for my stay. It’s the only way to truly see and understand a country and its people.”
Faber said that she tries to make the exchange between her and a potential host as easy and comfortable as possible. She carries a tent on her cross country travels and often asks locals for permission to pitch it in their backyard. Sometimes she’s offered a chance to sleep indoors, but no matter the sleeping situation, Faber makes sure to repay her host by babysitting, cleaning rooms, gardening, fixing fences, or washing the dishes.
“You can find many ways to make yourself useful,” said Faber.
According to Faber, she doesn’t have many anxieties when she’s traveling alone in strange lands, but the biggest stressor is finding accommodation.
“It scares me still because I don’t know where I’m going to sleep tonight,” said Faber.
So when Faber arrived in Calais, Maine for her latest adventure, she launched a website that might help ease her anxiety. It’s called StayOnTrailHelpOnTrail.com, and it aims to create an online network where hikers, runners, backpackers, and cyclists can connect with locals who are willing to host them in exchange for work. Think of it as the CouchSurfing, or AirBnB for adrenaline junkies.
The first testimonials on her new website are written by Mainers who have hosted Faber on the first stretch of her journey from Calais to Portland.
“I have no problem if registered travelers pitch a tent on my grass,” wrote Percy Robinson, a lobstermen from Midcoast Maine. “Maybe they'll help me on my boat when we go lobstering.”
Several Mainers hosted Faber during her 245-mile ride from Calais to Portland, but perhaps the most interesting night was when she arrived in Freeport, where she slept in a display tent inside L.L. Beans 24/hour flagship store.
Faber said she’s unsure of where she’s going to sleep as she continues forward on her next big stretch towards Boston, or if her website will take off and become successful, but regardless, she’s determined to try.
“I don’t know what I’m doing this for,” she said. “I just want to pedal. I can’t stop.”
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