Pictures below from left to right (counterclockwise):
Just ascended a long 14 per cent climb in southern Utah; Shivering at the top of Cottonwood Pass (12,125 ft.) at the Continental Divide in Colorado; Celebrating on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in
Washington, DC; Ted, with Marlise and Arnoud from Holland enjoying the view in Utah's canyon-country; Posing in Chester, Illinois--home of Popeye's creator--(we both love our spinach!)
September 2006: "Why would you want to do something like bicycle across America?" This question, usually accompanied by looks of curious amazement mixed with a tone asserting my utter insanity, was one of the most asked queries along my 4300 mile route winding from California east to Washington, D.C. I would usually respond with a calm "because I can!" This short answer would usually bring on a silent nod of the head as they simultaneously crossed their arms in a kind of defensive posture. I would proceed to explain that at 56 years of age many of my "baby-boomer" peers have already suffered at least one major medical "wake up call" by now and can no longer participate in physically demanding activities. Many are severely over-weight and are enduring the curse of the post-modern American way of life--that is, a sedentary lifestyle and a high-fat, low-nutrition diet. (My own father suffered multiple heart attacks and underwent a triple coronary artery bipass at age 55, and my grandmother died of a massive stroke at 53.) But God, in His infinite love and wisdom as Creator, has availed us priceless instruction for caring for this beautiful human machinery, and when followed, life can be enjoyed to its fullest for one's entire span of years.
The plan to explore the heart of America by bicycle using the more remote and scenic back roads has actually occupied the recesses of my mind for several decades. However, as a nutrition and lifestyle counselor, I especially wanted this trip to call attention to the vegetarian/vegan diet as an excellent source of sustained energy, promoting strength and endurance for even the most active and physically demanding lifestyles, plus, highlight the importance of daily exercise in maintaining optimal health and vitality. Although I'm an avid cyclist on a regular basis, here was a perfect opportunity to really practice what I've been preaching to my patients.
The sky was a deep azure blue with afternoon temperatures in the upper 90s on May 17, as I launched what would become a truly amazing 4000+ mile journey aboard my built-for-the-long-haul "touring" bicycle. For this journey I would be traveling "self-contained"--that is, all of the necessary equipment and gear for shelter, food preparation, hygiene, warmth, bicycle maintenance, and water would be carried. Items, such as tent, sleeping bag, stove, food, clothing changes, tools, etc., would be stored in special bags, called "panniers", mounted to racks fixed to the bike. The gross weight of the bike and load was 90 pounds. For comparison, the bicycle that I use for daily fitness and exercise weighs in at a scant 17 pounds. This "loaded" type of long-distance bicycle touring provides the most flexibility and ultimate enjoyment, (in my personal opinion), to allow for camping, as well as less rustic housing options, plus lots of food choices.
The scope of a cross-continental bicycle trip is huge, with so many potential variables. The weather, for instance, might offer 100 degree temperatures one day and sub-freezing the next. This was actually the case approaching the mountains in both California and Colorado. It was a scorching 100+ degree mid-June day as I pedaled the arid region surrounding the spectacular Blue Mesa Reservoir west of Gunnison, Colorado. But, the following day would be spent climbing 12,126 ft. Cottonwood Pass, where I would encounter rain, hail, sleet and snow as I ascended higher and higher, all compounded by howling winds and raw temperatures in the 20s. I would descend the eastern slope for more than 25 miles, shivering almost uncontrollably, until I reached the quaint village of Buena Vista that evening. A hot shower would warm my spirits as well as body temperature.
Another aspect that demanded respect were the many long expanses of road with no services, to include water. In Nevada and Utah there were many 60-mile to more than 100-mile sections through the desert where no water, or any type of services, existed. With temperatures in these parched regions well into triple digits, extra food and water would have to be carried, making an already beefy load that much more challenging. On two occasions soaring desert temps and menacing head winds forced me to camp off the road in the middle of absolutely nowhere. A Walmart truck driver played the role of "trail angel" some 30-miles north of Pioche in eastern Nevada, generously offering me a gallon of water so I could continue the following morning.
Traveling east across this expansive land, Kansas, Missouri, and Eastern Kentucky often spawned terrifying evening thunderstorms. On one particularly clear night near Toronto, Kansas, I climbed into the tent, tired from another 100-degree ride through the corn fields. Suddenly in the middle of the night I was awakened by fierce gusts of wind seeking to propel the tent and its contents airborne. Huge drops of rain, a few at first, gave way to a deluge as I braved the elements to, you guessed it, put the rain fly over the main tent. This was no easy task in the already fierce tempest. In no time powerful lightning bolts snapped and boomed to the ground, so near that every hair on my body stood on end. The rain was blowing sideways and the lightning bursts were dangerously close, so my riding companions and I fled our tents for the shelter of a restroom. This powerful storm lasted for several hours, and after a night spent in the restroom facilities, we made our way back to our camp site only to discover that a raccoon had sought refuge in one of the tents, creating his own entrance. I was relieved to find that my tent and contents were amazingly still dry and fully intact.
Another severe electrical storm caught me by surprise in the middle of the afternoon near Hazard, Kentucky. This powerful storm hurled bolts of lightning all around me--the thunder was immediate and deafening. The rains from this system came straight down in sheets. The cars, their wipers swiping frantically back and forth, had to pull off the road due to a lack of visibility and flash flooding. Again, this storm didn't quickly subside, forcing me, after more than an hour of fighting the elements, to take shelter in a dank motel that I believe was probably rented by the hour. I was grateful, nonetheless, that it was nearby.
Food was always an issue. Placing such physical demands upon the body, burning 8,000 to 10,000 calories and perspiring more than a gallon in sweat daily, it was difficult to eat and drink enough. Sadly, my suspicions regarding the dietary habits of the great majority of Americans was once again confirmed as I wound through the heart of this great land. Fast food abounds, and where the "golden arches" haven't found a presence, Mom and Pop "greasy-spoons" and diners take up the slack, providing hungry Americans with "home-style cookin'": calorie-dense, nutrition-deficient meals of fried meat and deep fried potatoes. Seldom is food of "color"--with green, red, purple, orange, or yellow hues--offered, or even available. In the remote regions of the country real grocery stores don't exist, necessitating the need for locals to drive 25 to 50-miles or more to a larger town if any produce is to be bought. I often found it extremely difficult to find wholesome fare, making me all the more dependent upon LifeForce to provide precious nutrients. With the demands placed upon my body by the daily rigors of cycling six to twelve hours, good nutrition, to include plenty of bio-available protein was essential. Powered by LifeForce, I consistently seemed to feel stronger than other cyclists that I would come across who were complaining of fatigue, and were half my age! I encourage you to use LifeForce daily to ensure optimal health and vitality.
This cross-country trek was intended to be a solo adventure, but it was amazing to me that along the way, out in the middle of nowhere, I would come across other long-distance cyclists. One morning on the edge of the Nevada desert just 10-miles west of Fallon, I met up with Rick, Jerry and Dick--3 great guys from San Jose, California. They were biking to Denver, 'though they were planning a more direct route than the one I would be taking. We traveled three picture-perfect days together traversing Nevada's rugged mountain ranges and basins before I turned south on Hiway 93 across the Long Valley toward southernmost Utah.
The temperatures were soaring as I pedaled beneath the towering red-rock canyon walls of southern Utah. I have to confess that I was feeling the heat, head winds, and unmercifully steep hills. It was around noon-time, having just ascended yet another long, steep grade when I spotted two fellow travelers somewhat sprawled out along the side of the road, refueling on fruit and Cliff Bars. Arnoud and Marlise, (husband and wife), were from Holland and had started their trek two-years earlier, cycling from the Terra del Fuego, the southern most tip of South America, en route to Alaska! Wow! It seems they, too, were feeling the effects of the heat and extreme topography. So, after introductions and a few brief stories of the road, we pumped each other up for the challenges that awaited us, and we headed off together. Lean and fit, Arnoud and Marlise approached each climb with eager anticipation--the panoramic vista from the top would be the well-earned reward. At the summit of one particularly arduous 14 per cent climb, Arnoud conceded that this one "certainly had some character to it!" There, peering off the overlook and looking fully defeated, was another cyclist, John, a college Phys Ed instructor from New Jersey. John was planning to ride to Pueblo, Colorado, but these Utah hills were taking their toll on his waning spirit. Having walked his bike up that last grade, John was ready to throw in the towel. But, Arnoud, Marlise, and I were so enthusiastic after the long climb that we were able to motivate John to join us for the rest of the day. It's amazing how quickly we bonded as we were all inspired by the breath-taking views of nature around each turn and over every hill. For the next 10-days we would travel and camp together--over Utah's mountains, through the canyons, National Parks, and vast deserts, and into the heart of the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. It was a sad Friday afternoon when we bid each other farewell at Montrose, Colorado.
There were other long-distance cyclists whose paths would intersect with mine--Marie-Eve (also vegetarian) and Alexander from Quebec were great company and helped me with my French as we endured the thunderstorms, corn fields, Ozark Mountains, 100 degree heat and soaking humidity, and occasional sunny days through Kansas and Missouri. There was Reed from North Carolina--we stayed at the hostel in Ordway, Colorado; the Lantz family, (Eugene, Brandon and Heather), from Broadway, Virgina--we spent July 4th in Eades, Colorado; Charlie and Sue, riding a tandom bike, were from Iowa--we were camped at Cassoday, Kansas; William and Sandra from Hawaii--we met up a couple of times in Utah; Susan Greenwood, a journalist for the London Guardian in the UK--we hid from the severe thunderstorms in neighboring motel rooms in Ellington, Missouri; Tim from Nevada, Conrad from London, UK, and Karen from Scottland--we spent a night in the fire house at Utica, Kentucky; Dan Bowman from Oregon (also a vegetarian)--we spent a rainy night camped behind the Presbytarian Church at Booneville, Kentucky; Dan, a 23 year old bike messenger from Richmond, Virginia--we met up at the Mount Rodgers Outfitters' Hostel in beautiful Damascus, Virginia. There were countless others from all over the world that I passed along the way, stopping for only moments to share greetings and a word of encouragement.
On an odyssey such as this one faces many challenges, and in turn, enjoys many, many rewards. If you afford yourself the opportunity to explore this country slowly, off the main arteries, through the no-name hamlets and rural back roads, you will discover a diverse and splendid and beautiful landscape often taking away your very breath! You will glimpse into the grandeur of the Grand Canyon and marvel at the simplicity of a bubbling spring near Abraham Lincoln's Kentucky birthplace. You'll stand in awe beneath the majesty of the "Great White Throne" towering above the Virgin River valley in Utah's Zion National Park and smile at the fields of Kansas sunflowers basking in the warmth of the sun's rays. But more than anything, you'll be enamored by the people far and near. People of means and no means. Folks with decades of formal schooling and those with more experiential educations. I discovered the kindest of people who, for a few brief moments, allowed themselves to become a part of my experience—who selflessly gave of themselves in friendly conversation, some offering shelter from the rains, others providing succulent fruits and produce, and still others who extended the warmth of their homes and families—(thanks so much to John, Charlie, and little Jake Veague in Sonora, Kentucky; Pastor Bob from the 1st Baptist Church in Sebree, Kentucky; Dr. Thadd, Sarah and Sam Lee in Radford, Virginia; and of course, Mrs. June Curry, the "Cookie Lady", in Afton, Virginia). I have been truly blessed by the kindness of so many, who asked nothing in return.
As I approached the end of this truly amazing three-month journey, cycling the last 45-miles on the W & OD Regional Trail leading from Purcellville in northern Virginia into Washington, D.C., very conflicting emotions emerged. A great part of me didn't want the journey to end. I felt totally cleansed, very much in touch with God and man. Physically, I felt as if I had the strength and energy of a 25 year old! Yet, I felt humbled by my own smallness--that, indeed, my own character is in need of much continual refinement.
As I neared the city late in the afternoon commuting cyclists heading home from their daily jobs, formed a parade-like procession of bikers behind me, while still others cheered as we passed by, taking note of my heavily laden bike and recognizing that a long distance trek was nearing its climax. It was so amazing! Chris, a commuting cyclist from the United Kingdom, (living in Arlington, Virginia), went out of his way to escort me to the Memorial Bridge, which would lead me across the Potomac River into Washington. It was a fitting conclusion to an amazing journey. Once again, the kindness of everyday people was demonstrated.
I paused deliberately on the Virginia side of the bridge in order to cherish the moment and to offer thanks to God for sustaining me on this journey. I could feel the emotions welling up inside as I began to cross the bridge. Chris and the procession looked on and cheered. Finally, with exactly 4,300 miles on the bicycle's odometer, standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., tears of immense joy poured down my face as I realized for a moment just how privileged I had been to share in this once-in-a-lifetime journey. Not many are so fortunate. I know that the experiences and lessons learned this special summer need to be shared with any who are so inclined to listen.