Ann Sprague and Liza McQuade

How a Spur-of-the-Moment Trip Turned into the Adventure of a Lifetime

Canyon Creative Vice President Ann Sprague has some pretty interesting friends. Author Liza McQuade is definitely one of them. 

BFFs Liza and Ann have known each other since they were infants. Their parents were friends in the little town of Sheboygan, WI, on Lake Michigan, where they grew up. The life-long sidekicks went to the same grade school, junior high, high school and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. They can almost read each other’s minds now. 

The Free-spirit Adventurer

Liza McQuade holding her book, Spontaneous Revolutions

Liza’s worked in radio, TV and film industries for over 30 years, as a news anchor, reporter, producer, writer, public affairs director and location scout. Instead of getting a real job out of college, she backpacked the Appalachian Trail. Then she was a ski host in Jackson Hole, WY for three years. 

Liza has traveled to every corner of the world and often stays with families to make the experience richer. One time, she accepted a 50-mile car ride in Guatemala where she was joined by six other humans, two dogs and three chickens. 

She’s often compared to a Labrador dog who runs around with a ball meeting new people and seeing who wants to play. Liza’s a people magnet. They just gravitate to her.

You Have to Read it to Believe It

Lisa McQuade and Clark riding bikes by the Pacific Ocean

Now, she’s written a book about the extraordinary bicycling adventure she took with her husband Clark. They traveled from Portland, OR to Portland, ME in four months. Spontaneous Revolutions: Seeing America One Pedal at a Time, is a true-life accounting of what it was like to be over 50, overweight and not have a clue about what a cross-country bicycle trip would entail. In fact, they didn’t know how to change a bike tire. 

The book is filled with stories of hilarity, fear, surprise, struggle, tenderness, frustration, beauty and danger. It leaves the reader with confidence and inspiration: if these two people can do it, you can do it – no matter your dream. 

Spontaneous Revolutions is also a love story. Liza and her husband Clark reconnected in their marriage, learned to let go of judgement and found they loved each other more than they thought possible. The book was written after Clark passed away unexpectedly. However, it’s not maudlin in any way, but rather an uplifting tale of two people who undertook a huge leap of faith and made the journey of a lifetime. 

The Interview with Liza McQuade

What made you decide to take this crazy journey?

Call it a wild hair. We thought, “What outrageous thing could we do this summer?” We’re spontaneous people who loved to find exciting and interesting things to do to keep our relationship fun. So, Portland to Portland was the answer. On bikes. We had no itinerary, no gear, no long-haul bicycling experience and no idea if we could do it. We even quit our jobs.

Portland, OR is inland, so we decided to ride our bikes to the Pacific Ocean, stick our toes and wheels into the water and then backtrack. The logic was that we could just head home if we wanted to quit. But we didn’t. We kept right on going.

What did you want to get out of the trip before you started?

Our primary goal was truly to explore little towns and byways and meet the interesting people of America. When you’re on a bike you can stop and smell the roses (or cow manure and hot asphalt) and get a genuine taste of small-town living, the inhabitants and the social mores in the country. 

How long did the trip take and how many miles did you ride?  

Four (sometimes grueling) months and probably over 3,000 miles when everything was tallied. Our odometer broke after 2,000 miles, but the trip was really about enjoying the journey and not worrying about the number of miles. 

Liza McQuade holding a bike odometer that says 2,000 miles
Liza holding a broken bicycle odometer reading 2,000 miles

How many flat tires did you have?

Nine. We (I mean Clark) got really good at changing them. He even changed one in the pouring rain one day, all while sitting in the mud and whistling a jaunty tune.

Were there moments when you wanted to give up?

Absolutely. But it always seemed that when I wanted to bail, Clark would motivate me to keep going. And vice versa. We never thought to quit at the same time, except once. The day when we both thought it would be nice to be sitting on a beach in Mexico, sipping margaritas instead of sweating our way across the country. 

You traveled unplugged. No cell phone or laptop. How did you survive?

It was easy and we felt free! We made regular stops at payphones (yes, they still exist) and called family and friends to let them know where we were and how we were doing. A laptop would have been extra weight and when you’re already hauling 60 – 70 pounds on each bike (depending on the day), five pounds would be a lot. 

We started out carrying more weight, but ended up sending things back home – like the cook stove and cooking gear. We also did small things to lighten the load, like cutting the edges off maps. That didn’t do much to make a difference, but it was satisfying psychologically.  

Clark and I also stopped at friends’ homes here and there. We called them “friendly outposts.” We would have mail forwarded and supplies shipped to them. It would be like Christmas to get a new outfit to wear or a letter from home. 

What life lessons did you learn along the way?

There were so many. We learned that most people are good and kind. They opened their hearts and homes to us, offering a place to stay, food, drinks and allowed us to share in their lives. Even though we knew we’d never see most of those folks again, the impression they made on our lives is lasting and profound. The experience reaffirmed our faith in humanity, proving how many good people there are across America.

You also have to believe in yourself. Trust your gut and don’t let naysayers get into your head and deplete your positive energy. 

Surmounting a challenge is really a mind game. Don’t psych yourself out, whether you’re making a big decision, scaling a mountain or deciding on a life-changing experience. Tackle the challenge head-on, even if you have to metaphorically get off your bike and walk up that steep incline. 

Try to enjoy life close up. Savor the minutiae and immerse yourself in the moment. Study the petals of a flower or the feathers of a bird. Listen to the wind rustling through a cornfield or the sound of water splashing in a brook. When you’re in a car, on a train or flying in a plane, you can’t savor the little things. Being on a bike changes everything.

As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Life is a journey, not a destination.” This is so true. On our trip, we lived in the now, staying present with our surroundings – traversing the country, taking risks and roads less traveled, celebrating the milestones and recharging our spirits. 

Most of all, Clark and I learned we were great partners. In the end, we knew without a doubt, we were soulmates in this great journey called life. 

How did you get home?

Good question! We spent some time exploring Portland, ME, which is a fantastic little town. After a few days of debauchery, we buckled down and made a plan – which was unusual for us. We considered all the typical options: flying, bus, renting a car, and even bicycling back. Ultimately, the romance of a train ride called our names. 

We had spent so much time getting across the country, we wanted the glow of success to last a little longer before returning to the “real world.” We packed most of our gear and the bikes and shipped everything back home via UPS. 

Our train tickets allowed us to hop on and off and visit towns along the way for the five-day trip.  Trains take you through larger cities, but the majority of the time you’re rolling through beautiful routes along rivers, woods and mountains. We even spotted a few of the streets and trails we took on our bikes. 

Liza McQuade next to a "Welcome to Maine" road sign
Made it to Maine!

Are you going to write another book?

Absolutely! Especially if I do it with Ann. In fact, we’re already talking about it. 

Old Friends are the Best Friends

Ann worked for many years at a major publishing company before founding Canyon Creative with Dale Sprague. She acted as editor, sounding board and motivational coach as she and Liza talked about the book for almost a decade. They laughed and cried all the way through the editing process, but because life happens, there were lots of starts and stops along the way. But, they never gave up. 

Liza thanked Ann in the credits of Spontaneous Revolutions, “I could never have completed this project without her encouragement, patience, brilliance, sense of humor, kindness, love, understanding and support. It was healing for me to relive this journey alongside someone who knows and understands me. I can never adequately thank her for all she did to make this possible.” 

Dale Sprague received accolades for his inspiration with the design elements, creative ideas, enthusiasm and support. He also got a shout-out for allowing Liza to “monopolize so much of Ann’s time and energy.” 

You can learn more about Liza and Clark, their amazing journey and buy Spontaneous Revolutions: Seeing America One Pedal at a Time on her website. It’s available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other fine retailers in hardcover, paperback, Kindle or as an ebook. 

The cover of Spontaneous Revolutions