Kari Loya’s story ‘Conversations Across America’ shares his magical journey of cycling across the country with his father, despite his Alzheimer’s diagnosis

By Kari Loya, Texas, USA

For decades, my dad and I dreamed about cycling across the United States on the TransAmerica Bike Trail, 4,200 miles along mostly backroads from Yorktown, Virginia to Astoria, Oregon. The TransAm was originally set up in 1976 to help celebrate the nation’s bicentennial. Pedaling eastbound that first year, four thousand cyclists from all 50 states and 13 countries completed the journey.

My dad and I had enjoyed several mini-adventures over the years, including a three-day, 300-mile ride around Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming and a five-day, 300-mile ride around the San Juan Skyway in southwestern Colorado. Additionally, I’d pedaled with a buddy for two weeks down the California coast to Tijuana, Mexico. 

On all these trips, what I found most fascinating was the people who came up to us along the way. When you are on bikes, you’re vulnerable and approachable. And what starts with a “Where you headed?” or “Where you comin’ from?” often leads to interesting conversations with locals and fellow travelers along the route. With that in mind, I had always thought it would be cool to capture those conversations if we ever managed to pursue our cross-country dream.

So in early 2015 when I accepted a new job that wouldn’t start until July, I quickly realized we had a rare window of a few months to seize the day. It wouldn’t be easy. Besides some logistical concerns, my dad was now 75-years-old, though still in solid physical shape. But more importantly, he had early-stage Alzheimer’s. Friends and family were already raising growing concerns about his day-to-day activities and well-being.

Would we be crazy for even attempting such a trip? Or, on the other hand, would we be crazy not to?

What followed was one of the hardest and greatest adventures of my life. As I had envisioned, we met hundreds of people along the way from all walks of life – and I transcribed these conversations, took their photos, and documented what became a wonderful snapshot of America, especially rural America. I intended to turn this into a coffee table book that would be easy to leaf through.

But after my dad passed—four years after completing the trip—I realized there was an even more powerful story to tell. Our father and son story. Our story of facing Alzheimer’s on our terms. Our story of not focusing on what my dad couldn’t do any more, but instead choosing to focus on what he COULD do. And the magic that came from that decision.

I hope that by sharing our journey with Alzheimer’s—from start to finish—others may gain helpful insights and perspective on their own dance with the disease. And most importantly, I hope they will be reminded of the power of focusing on what we CAN do . . . then seize the day with someone they love, whatever that means to them.

About the Author

Kari Loya is an educational leader, executive coach, storyteller, and adventurer. He has worked nearly three decades at a range of innovative educational institutions, beginning with Teach For America in 1993 and serving most recently as headmaster at the Good Hope Country Day School in the U.S. Virgin Islands, when he received a Klingenstein Fellowship from Columbia University. He is also an Emmy-winning bilingual voice talent, musical artist, and author of My Top 40 at 40: Making the First Half Count, and now Conversations Across America: A Father and Son, Alzheimer’s, and 300 Conversations Along the TransAmerica Bike Trail that Capture the Soul of America. He spoke at TEDx UC Davis in April 2022 on the theme of “Metamorphosis.” He holds a BA from Dartmouth College and an MBA from Columbia University. He currently lives with his wife and daughter in Sugar Land, Texas.

TED Talk:


Book Trailer :60


Book Trailer :40


Connect with Kari:

Twitter: https://twitter.com/iamkariloya
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/iamkariloya/
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/kariloya/

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