Student cyclist treks across the country

By: Tim Wilmes ~Staff Writer~

For many Xavier students, the end of the school year always marks a long and strenuous uphill battle of papers, classes and exams. These strenuous activities, however, must seem simple for senior Emily Boutilier, having faced every sort of terrain and landscape imaginable. Boutilier, an art major with concentrations in painting, drawing and art education from Cincinnati travelled with her mother, father and sister across the United States last summer. But this trip was far from ordinary: over a 69 day period, the Boutilier family rode their bikes from Yorktown, Va. to Astoria, Ore.

The nearly 4,300 mile journey took Boutilier and her family across 10 different states — Virginia, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho and Oregon — and highlighted some of the most beautiful spots around the nation, including the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia, the Ozarks in Missouri, the Rocky Mountains and Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. Even more impressively, the family took one rest day out of the 69 travel days.emily 2 copy

“We found that when we took the rest day, we were really antsy and just wanted to get going again, so it was better to do a little bit of riding one day than to take the whole day off. We were just (always) on the go,” Boutilier said.

The Boutilier’s were certainly impressive in the way that they were able to keep going throughout the journey, and an eagerness to complete the trip was a big motivation for the family long before the trip-planning process.

“My mom rode her bike from Virginia to Texas about 25 years ago, so it was always her dream to ride across the country but she’s never been able to complete the trip … In the next 25 years, she met my dad, got married, and he happened to be into cycling,” Boutilier said. “My sister and I grew up on the back of trailers, on the back of tandems and then on our own bikes, so cycling has been a part of my life since I was born.”

Boutilier’s father had open-heart surgery a month before the family left on its trip and had no real training prior to the long journey. The family was able to keep everyone motivated to continue on, particularly in the early riding of the trip.

“The Appalachians were probably the toughest because it’s a steeper grade, whereas in the Rockies you’ll have a 6 percent grade but for 15 miles. You just get in a rhythm,” Boutilier said. “The first week was rough just getting used to riding every day. So once we got out to the Rockies it was just like we had been training along the way for a long time. We never all had a bad day at the same time, so there was always at least another person keeping us going. And I think it was doing the trip as a group with my family that quitting was never an option.”

Enduring the physical and emotional strain of cycling every day shows the family’s cohesiveness and love for one another, but the joys of accomplishing their goals bit by bit and encouraging each other brought the Boutilier family even closer together.

“I think in college your relationship with your parents changes anyway, and it was awesome getting to spend that much time with each other to really solidify that next phase in our relationship. I know that I’ll be close with them and with my sister and this will have affected our relationship for the rest of our lives. We will always have had this incredibly close experience with each other,” Boutilier said.emily 1 copy

Since her life-transforming summer has ended, Boutilier has spent much of her year painting pieces of the landscape of her trip for her senior art presentation.

Her work, along with three other senior art majors’ pieces, will be displayed starting from 6-8 p.m. on May 2 in Cohen Center.,and the exhibit will remain open until May 17.

“It’s kind of like a summation of our trip and my experience with the landscape. I hope I was able to capture the spirit of our trip and also the spirit of our country, because we saw a lot of it,” Boutilier said of her work.

This spirit of the United States, she said, is amazing in both its beauty and its ever-changing terrain, something she hoped to evoke in her paintings.
“The landscape is as diverse in this country as the people that live here … I think there are some people who don’t even realize how expansive our country is, and it’s so huge and so diverse. Going from the Appalachian Mountains to flat prairie lands through Kansas, to the Rocky Mountains to the coastal region in Oregon, it’s all so different,” Boutilier said.

While her art is a physical representation of her family’s journey across the country, Boutilier took away a new sense of understanding from the trip, something that will surely inspire her fellow students viewing her paintings.
“If you can dream it, you can do it,” Boutilier said.

“That sounds so incredibly cheesy, but after doing this, I feel like I can do anything. I guess we were just crazy enough to do it, but (I learned) just to go for it and you won’t regret it. And I’m still young, so I think I’ll have a lifetime of adventures ahead of me.