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Lorne Adrain (MBA 1983)
(illustration by Gisela Goppel)

For years, I dreamed of crossing America by bicycle for the physical and spiritual challenge, as well as the opportunity to meet people and learn more about what makes our country tick and how we each contribute to making it better. Last September, at the age of 64, the stars finally aligned.

I shipped a bike from my home in Providence, Rhode Island, to Seattle, Washington, and began the 3,000-some-odd-mile journey across the northern states, dipping into Canada at one point. All along the way, I talked to people about what the word “community” means to them and how they make theirs better.

About two months in, my plan was to ride 75 miles from Lockport, New York, to Rochester, some of it along the Erie Canal towpath. Starting off, I felt quite confident, but there had just been five days of massive rain. The dirt and gravel path was soggy and spongy. That reduced my average speed from around 14 to 8 miles per hour.

By the end of the day, I was still about 25 miles away from Rochester, in a little town called Albion. There was nothing there. No train, no bus, no cars to rent. Nothing. But across the street I see a bar called the Shamrock. It looks a little rough, but I need a beer. I have a good chat with the owner. Then a bunch of women file in, spread out some newspapers, and start painting rocks with positive sayings and drawings. Turns out they do this with the idea that the rocks can be carried to places around the world and left as messages of optimism.

We talk for a while and learn more about each other. They come to understand my predicament, and at a certain point one of the women yells, “Road trip!” They load me and my bike into their little SUV and drive me to Rochester. Being the recipient of many, many similar acts of generosity brought me to the conclusion that the American people are pretty kind and thoughtful and that we’ll be OK as a country, regardless of our differences.

“When you ride a bike four to six hours a day, there’s a lot of time for thinking about all sorts of life events, large and small.”

“When you ride a bike four to six hours a day, there’s a lot of time for thinking about all sorts of life events, large and small.”

That was just one insight I had, although taking the country’s political temperature was not really my goal. When you ride a bike four to six hours a day, there’s a lot of time for thinking about all sorts of life events, large and small. Fifteen years ago, my five-year-old daughter died suddenly. You have failed relationships, and you have failed businesses. You make thoughtless, sometimes hurtful choices. They’re all turning points, and hopefully we learn from them and acquire some humility about how lucky we are in every way, even if the luck is sometimes bad.

I have immense respect for the wide variety of ways in which HBS alums do things with their lives. And they don’t all become CEOs. Instead, there’s often an amazing portfolio of smaller activities that change communities and change lives, just as I saw on my ride last fall. It’s the little things we do that add up to a good life and to making a difference in the lives of others.


An active philanthropist and community leader, Lorne Adrain heads a national life insurance practice focused on estate planning and corporate applications.

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Featured Alumni

Featured Alumni

Class of MBA 1983, Section D
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