Lauren Johnson is a runner, cyclist, soon-to-be audiologist, lifelong volunteer, and epic haver of adventures. No matter what she does, she sprawls her gigantic smile, crude jokes, and enthusiasm for life out across everyone she meets. She’s someone you need to know, so we interviewed her.
Where did you love of the outdoors come from?
I grew up in a house on a lake in Michigan at the end of a long dirt road that the school bus couldn’t make it down (though a few drivers tried and experienced what was likely immediate regret). I assume my enjoyment of the outdoors began during walks home but am certain I was quite “into it” by the time I had become a runner with my favorite routes in wooded trails.
How did you get involved in cycling?
Growing up I never rode more than 7 miles one way on what was likely a plush cruiser to or from ice cream. I was solely a runner until my first year of college when two things happened: my roommate told me about “Bike & Build” and I signed up for a sprint triathlon. When we looked up more about the group cycling across the country for affordable housing, I was immediately hooked on the idea after a glimpse of the 8 different colored routes squiggling across the map. The triathlon also went well and I realized I actually enjoyed cycling. I have since completed a Bike & Build route from Providence to Seattle and the “Odyssey”route from Maine to Michigan with the American Youth Foundation. I have dreams of more trips but am currently focusing on finishing graduate school.
Tell us about your experience with Bike & Build.
My experience with Bike & Build was defined by frequent exposure to the unexpected. On my route, “P2S12”, I rolled through strange corners of towns I could never have imagined, up and down mountains I would never think I was capable of, and found myself in the company of the greatest people I would never have thought to ask for. I got a rare taste of the country and still daydream of particular segments from the journey. It brings me joy to think about how many Bike & Build alumna I have since crossed paths with and to see the ongoing collaborative effort of the organization and its riders towards the affordable housing cause. I also met my boyfriend on the trip who lives with me and our cat, Gobi, in North Carolina, so in a way I feel like the experience never ended.
How do you think an active lifestyle has contributed to you as a person?
Though I definitely still experience feet dragging and fall victim to procrastination, my active lifestyle has given me what I would call an “opportunity lens.” My experience with physical and mental discomfort allows me to feel a sense of decision in dreading something or approaching something to overcome it and feel proud of it.
Tell me about your experience leading youth on summer cycling trips. How did you get involved? What is it like? What have you learned?
Camp Miniwanca of the American Youth Foundation is where my experience started. The Four Trails program leads campers grade 8-12 on extended hiking, canoe, kayak, and cycling trips. As the campers get older, the trips get longer. I latched on immediately to the program after finding out more about it since it was my last summer before four years of grad school without notion of when I might spend another summer outside.
I had the privilege of leading “Odyssey”, the final Four Trails trip. We cycled from Maine back to camp on Lake Michigan. My campers had an observable synergy after attending camp together for many years and were some of the most capable nearly-eighteen year olds I have met whose outstanding personalities and incredible spirit for adventure shaped our trip in the very best way. They were also fantastic and very creative trail cooks.
It sounds like common sense, but when you are in a leadership role there are so many things you keep tabs on, so a huge lesson for me was learning to address issues immediately. It was easy to feel like I was constantly harping about broken spokes, untrue wheels, dangerous traffic navigation, etc. but they exacerbate and can compound in the worst way in the company of tired and hungry riders.
What inspires and motivates you?
I am motivated by the sense of an opportunity and am inspired by the many people in my life who are doing things I would never think of.
What is the one thing can make the worst day rad?
A good run. There is nothing more freeing than launching out my front door into a run that can be anything I make it. My worst days are often resolved or at least better understood out in the open. I think movement helps me see a bad situation as more dynamic, one with a lesson and resolution.
What question should we have asked?
What my next adventure is! Things are falling into place for a summer that starts off as a road trip from Michigan to New Mexico, a visit to the Four Corners, Lake Powell, Grand Canyon, Zion, Big Sur, Tahoe, and ending with a visit to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and my best friend’s wedding. I am stoked to visit the Southwestern United States, a huge chunk of the country I do not have much familiarity with but have always wondered about. I am also looking forward to finally sneaking up to my previous state’s attic to see what can be seen! Of course, some kind of cycling will be worked into the plans.