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Chicago Librarian Quits To Take 4,229-Mile Bike Ride in Search of New Life

By Justin Breen | April 28, 2015 5:48am
 Chicago's Laurie Chipps (r.) plans to ride her bicycle across the United States by herself. She's an avid cyclist and has many cycling friends, including Bill Merrill (l.).
Chicago's Laurie Chipps (r.) plans to ride her bicycle across the United States by herself. She's an avid cyclist and has many cycling friends, including Bill Merrill (l.).
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Laurie Chipps

CHICAGO — Laurie Chipps loves her Ukrainian Village apartment, her job as a librarian at the Art Institute of Chicago and the friends she's accumulated while living in the city.

But Chipps, 36, said she still wasn't happy — a state that led to her decision to ride a bicycle 4,229 miles across the United States. Chipps' trip — which will take her from Yorktown, Virginia, through 10 states before ending in Astoria, Oregon, — begins Thursday.

"I'm kind of ready to trade all the concrete for more forests and streams," Chipps said. "I'll try to put it simply: I had everything in my life, but a couple of years ago, I felt unhappy and not content with what I had."

Justin Breen says some friends and family are envious:

Chipps is going solo on a Soma Saga steel bicycle that comes equipped with three water bottle holders plus racks to place spare inner tubes, camping gear, two changes of clothes and some small cooking appliances. She'll be riding along the Adventure Cycling Association's Transamerica route, which runs on low-traffic roads with good shoulders, Chipps said. She'll be blogging about her experiences here.

Chipps, a University of Illinois graduate and native of downstate Peru, said she subscribed to the Ernest Hemingway quote: “It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them.”

She's a member of The Chainlink and Half Acre Cycling team and estimates she rode a bicycle about 100 miles a week for her commute to and from work.

"There's something about riding a bike, it's really hard to describe," Chipps said.

She hopes to finish her trip by the end of July and ride about 400 miles weekly during her cross-country journey, which will take her through Yellowstone Park and the Rocky Mountains. When she completes her ride, Chipps wants to find a new line of work in the Pacific Northwest.

"I do want a career change, possibly empowering people to go on trips of their own or race bikes," Chipps said. "I'm hoping there are a lot of jobs in the outdoor adventure or tourism industry there. And if I can't find a job, Chicago will always be here."

Chipps has saved money for a year and gave away almost all of her furniture. Her last day of librarian duties was April 10, and this week she turned in her apartment keys.

She also has switched her mailing address to a friend's home in the city, and another friend will be watching her 8-year-old half-tabby, half-Siamese cat, Jasper, for the next few months.

Chipps said her goal of the trip was: "to encourage others to do what inspires them most, whether the smallest change or a similarly big adventure, not just to be envious. If you put your mind to something and follow through, you can make anything happen."

And from everyone she's told of her upcoming adventure, there's been one overriding theme:

"They're all super excited and super envious," she said. "They wish they could do something like this."

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