Annalisa van den Bergh had ridden her bike across the country before. But when the 25-year-old life-long New Yorker was laid off, she decided to embark on the treacherous journey yet again. She packed her bags, got her bike—an REI Novara Randonee—and set off on her over 4,000-mile trip on the iconic TransAmerica trail. But this time, she had a camera in tow.
Her mother had died from leukemia a few years earlier. “Seeing her bedridden made me want to take advantage of my own health,” van den Bergh said. But her Type 1 diabetes added an extra hurdle to her cross-country voyage. “I learned a lot about [my own disease] on the trip,” she confessed. She had to figure out how to manage her pancreas that “doesn’t work” while pursuing such an exercise-intensive voyage (a frequent cause of low blood glucose levels). On her travels, she crossed paths with another type-1 diabetic. “We even traded some medicines,” she said with a chuckle.
Her typically seven or eight-hour days began as early 5 a.m, so she could beat the cruel summer heat. “I tried to get to my sleeping location by noon,” van den Bergh said. Her single evening bedrooms ranged from people’s couches to churches to gymnasium floors, many of the locations found via WarmShowers—a cyclist-specific network of volunteer hosts.
As she made her way across the country with close to 100 lbs. of supplies, she found herself approached by several curious onlookers. “Every interaction was a possible portrait,” she said, calling the collection “almost entirely based on chance and possibility.” The strangers she has met along her bike trips—and the conversations and revelations that came from—were a favorite part of bike touring for van den Bergh.
“I feel like you meet so many people as you go through the backroads of the country,” she said. With merely a high school photography class in training, she was inspired to share her experience of the TransAmerica Trail through portraits.
“It was a great way to show, amidst all the division in the country, all the warmth in the United States.”
Here, some of Annalisa van den Bergh’s 4,000 Miles of Portraits: