Levin Lessman, 19, stopped in Albany while crossing the United States on his bicycle. The German native left Albany last week, headed toward Savannah.
ALBANY — A 19-year-old man from Germany is currently on his way up the East Coast as part of a mission to see the entire continental United States.
One his most recent stops was in Albany.
After graduating from high school in Germany in June, Levin Lessman decided to take a year off. After obtaining a visitor’s visa, he flew from Frankfurt to Vancouver the following month — and began his ride in August.
“I took the Greyhound to San Francisco,” he said in an interview with The Albany Herald before departing Albany last week. “I decided I wasn’t going to do that again, so I had to choose between a car and a bike. (I got a bike), and just started heading east.”
From San Francisco, he rode past Las Vegas and the Hoover Dam. He took Route 66 to the Grand Canyon and rode through Colorado Springs, Colo., before going into Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He stopped in Tallahassee, Fla., before coming into Albany.
When he got to Albany, he stopped by the Albany Welcome Center on North Front Street. There, he met someone who attends Gillionville Baptist Church.
“On (the following) Sunday, she brought me to church,” Lessman said. “I met a lot of nice people and I decided to stay a little longer.
“I’m impressed with Albany. I came to downtown and saw Riverfront Park. It was completely different from what I expected of downtown.”
He ended up staying in town roughly two weeks. During his stay here, the church members helped him pay for accommodations and food while he was volunteering his time at the church, whether it was by painting or by serving at a senior adult luncheon.
“He has been a big help,” said Danny James, associate pastor of music and worship at Gillionville Baptist. “He has been a big help in the community. He has helped us with several day-to-day tasks and he has connected with all age groups.”
With a desire to see the Atlantic Ocean from the North American side, Lessman departed from Albany on Thursday to go to Savannah. From there, he said, he intends to make his way north to New York.
“I just wanted to find myself and think about what I want to do for the rest of my life,” Lessman said of his motivation for the trip.
Lessman will have to fly home in July when his visa expires. By that time, he expects to have logged in 10,000 miles.
Probably one of the toughest parts about the trip for Lessman has been finding ways to entertain himself, especially in remote areas where there is little opportunity for human interaction.
“You have to speak to yourself 24 hours a day to entertain yourself,” he said. “You have to laugh at yourself.”
Cycling through remote areas also made it tough to get the things he needed to survive.
“During winter in the Mojave Desert, when I came to a car, I waved to get their attention to get water,” he recalled.
He saved a decent amount of money for the trip, trying not to borrow from his parents. In order to get by on limited resources and to lighten his carrying load, he has slept in a tent and has donated clothes he no longer needs as the seasons have changed.
When he is not relying on the generosity of others, he is living off of canned food he carries in a backpack — a necessity for someone who burns 1,500 calories in a day.
Before making this journey across the U.S., his longest cycling trip was to Paris. Once he gets back to Germany, he said, he intends to go to college close to home.
“I met a couple of cyclists on the way who want to make a world trip,” Lessman said. “That might be something I’m interested in doing.”
There are some things he has been able to take from the trip rather than the experience of witnessing nice scenery, or his memories of eating steak and fried chicken.
“What changed me was that I learned about American culture, and that the (American stereotype) was not true,” Lessman said. “The states are so huge ... comparing Russia and Portugal is like comparing two cities like Albany and Seattle.
“I’ve had people invite me to dinner and donate money and they didn’t even know me. It is impressive to see that people don’t just care about themselves.”
When asked what he wanted to study in Germany, he said he didn’t know, but that he felt he was too sociable for an office job.
“We told him he should open a fried chicken place in Germany,” James quipped.
Lessman said his parents who have remained supportive of his endeavor, and he has been keeping in touch with them via Skype or email.
The German teen is not the only one who is taking new experience and knowledge from the relationships he has formed in this country.
“It has allowed me to see another perspective,” James said. “I’ve learned things I didn’t know and I’ve told him things he didn’t know.”
Lessman indicated that he wants to come back to Albany. In the meantime, he will have at least one keepsake from his time in Southwest Georgia — a photo of himself by one of the “Welcome to Albany” signs.