For Kevin Nee, the journey is the destination.
Over the past 30 years, Nee, 59, has spent his vacations touring North America by bicycle with an eye to the countryside.
“Life at 10 mph is pretty awesome,” Nee said. “You see a lot of things you wouldn’t have the opportunity to see in a car whizzing by.”
A state-champion gymnastics coach at Baton Rouge Magnet High School, Nee spends his summers — and some of his winters — on a bike loaded with 35 pounds of food and gear in search of adventure.
“It just makes you so much more aware of nature,” he said. “I don’t mind being by myself at all.”
Nee loves to describe all the places and things he sees biking down the road, such as magnificent views of the Blue Ridge Mountains and Canada’s St. Lawrence Seaway. There’s the moose he saw by the roadside this summer and wild turkeys and along with a family of gray foxes.
Growing up in Tullahoma, Tennessee, Nee, like most children at that time, rode his bike everywhere. He delivered the local newspaper in the mornings and crisscrossed the small town after school with friends.
Nee took his first bicycle tour in ninth grade when he rode 60 miles from Tullahoma south to Huntsvile, Alabama, then spent the night on a baseball field and turned around the next morning.
While on the gymnastics team at Jacksonville State University in Alabama, he rode his bike less as competitions and practices took up his time.
After Nee finished a master’s degree in health and physical education from Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond, he started his teaching and coaching career in Baton Rouge in 1979. Living off River Road, he took long rides to the Plaquemine Ferry.
Then he discovered the Natchez Trace Parkway.
A 444-mile scenic roadway tracing the historical trail used by travelers in the 1700s and 1800s, the trace is a world-renowned bike route, with bike-only campgrounds and limited car traffic.
“It’s like riding through a textbook,” Nee said. “You have history … and there are over a hundred points of interest on it where you can pull off and read something. There’s a lot to do and see.”
With his family and his in-laws living in Tennessee not far from the trace, Nee started riding there to visit. He would leave five days before his wife, Cindi, then ride to Tullahoma and meet his family, who drove him home.
He has toured the Trace more than a dozen times. When he first started, he could ride the Trace in five days.
“Now with all the experience I have, it takes me seven,” he said, laughing. “I’m getting a little older.”
Everything Nee needs he carries on the bike.
A sleeping bag, tent, food and extra clothes are carried in specially-made bags called panniers attached to racks on the front and rear. His current bike is a Surly Long Haul Trucker, a machine designed to handle low speeds and loads of gear.
Of his 30 self-supported trips, Nee has two favorites. In 1999, he traveled the Natchez Trace with his son, Joshua, who was getting ready to start high school.
The other favorite was this past summer. After seeing pictures of a huge stone monolith in Quebec, Nee planned a 1,155-mile bike trip to see the rock formation, called Percé Rock, in person.
Nee pedaled a bike path along the St. Lawrence Seaway, tackling the steep climbs and stiff winds of the Gaspé Peninsula before seeing Percé and riding on through New Brunswick and Nova Scotia to Maine.
“Seeing Percé Rock rivals anything I have seen,” he said. “Geologically it rivals Niagra Falls and the Grand Canyon.”
One moment, before Nee reached Percé Rock, reminded him why he travels by bike. He awoke about midnight with the moon illuminating his tent. The sound of the ocean drew him outside where he climbed a sand dune and walked out to the beach.
“The ocean is just crashing, crashing, crashing, and you’ve got the moonlight over the water,” he said. “Those types of moments are just awesome. It becomes way more intimate.”