It was 7:00 in the morning, and the temperature had already reached 88 degrees. We were at the top of the Appalachian Mountains, having just crossed the state line into Virginia. The end of our journey was in sight (at least metaphorically speaking). We had about 400 miles in front of us to reach Yorktown, Virginia, our “finish line” in biking across the United States. It was an exciting day for a lot of reasons, not the least of which was we’re out of Kentucky. I am sure Kentucky has a lot of beautiful places and nice people, but somehow we did not run into them when we crossed the state. Kentucky in fact is known as a biker’s nemesis. As one of the few remaining states to not have a leash law, dogs run free, and of course, love to chase bicyclists. We had gotten warnings from literally every person on a bike coming eastward for the past two weeks—“get pepper spray, and sticks to protect yourself.” We skipped the pepper spray, but got 3-foot sticks, which we strapped to our bikes. So as we crossed into Virginia at 7:00 a.m. (and we thought back into civilization), we ceremoniously threw our sticks away. A few hours later, we found ourselves biking down a small lane in the Virginia countryside, and sure enough, a German Shepherd comes running our way. Bad luck, I thought. Then a second German Shepherd came, followed by a third, and a fourth dog. Pretty soon we had eight Shepherds chasing us. This is like a scene out of a bad dream with eight dogs chasing us, and we had no way to defend ourselves. We pedaled as fast as we could, and somehow made it out of there without a bite.
That was one of several interesting adventures we had along our 3,600-mile journey. We started in San Francisco and finished in Yorktown, Virginia. The trip took 45 days, which means we averaged about 80 miles a day. My two sons and I did the journey together. Cameron (21, a senior at Stonehill College) joined me from San Francisco to Telluride, Colorado. He then went back to start his summer job. My younger son Connor (18, a sophomore at NYU) joined me in Telluride and went on to Yorktown, Virginia. It was a great chance to bond with my two sons. We spent quite a bit of time together—figuring out the logistics of each day’s journey, and dealing with the inevitable problems that crop up along the way. Our ride was unsupported, which means we took all our own gear, and had to plan the journey ourselves. Most cyclists ride “supported,” which means they are part of a bigger group, and someone brings their luggage from place to place and organizes hotels, etc. We packed lightly, each of us carrying about 15 pounds—a few changes of clothes, maintenance and spare parts, nutritional supplements, and a lot of sunscreen!
None of us were big cyclists. We started planning the trip initially as a bit of a lark, to see if we could do it, and also to spend some time together. We also did the ride to raise money for a nonprofit organization, Wateraid (www.wateraid.org), an organization that helps communities in developing countries get access to clean drinking water and sanitation. We also kept a blog to document the trip (http://bike-across-america-hill.blogspot.com/).
Our route from San Francisco took us eastward, over the Rockies and through the deserts of Nevada. We stopped at a Pony Express station one night in Nevada, which was a pretty cool experience. By the time we crossed the Continental Divide past Sargents, Colorado, we had already crossed 20 summits/ mountain passes. We were beginning to think of Pueblo, Colorado, as the “promised land,” since it was the start of the flat lands. The eastern part of Colorado had its surprises in store for us as well. Just outside of Eads, Colorado, we ran into a tornado! The weather changed more rapidly than I believed possible. We were in an area that had no trees, for almost as far as the eye could see. One minute we were in 95-degree heat with a few gusts of wind. Then, a huge tailwind started propelling us; we were going 30 miles an hour without really pedaling hard. The sky became black to the point where we could only see about 500 to 1,000 feet at most, and the temperature dropped rapidly to the high 60s. Then we saw a tornado form—and thank goodness—just as quickly dissipate in front of us. After the tornado, the heavens opened up with hail. We found out quickly that biking helmets come in handy in the case of hail! We were lucky we made it to a farmer’s shed to get cover. Had the storm hit us 30 minutes earlier, we would have had no cover, other than crawling in a divot next to the road.
We ran into a lot of interesting people along the way. One group of cyclists had come from Beijing, on the way to making the closing Olympic ceremonies in England. They biked through China and Korea, flew to and crossed Japan, flew to LA, heading east across the U.S. to Washington, D.C. They then were flying to Ireland and on to England. We had heard about them from several people since Colorado, at first not believing the story, as it seemed a bit too crazy. But sure enough it was real. We finally caught up to them in a little bar/restaurant outside one of the levees by the Mississippi River (another 100-degree day). Most of the guys who were part of the group were in their 70s. They were all using old sturdy bikes. One fellow bought his at a bazaar in China. So much for thinking you need a fancy racing bike! We also ran into a lot of Europeans who were cycling across the United States.
It was a blast to finally get to Yorktown. The last day was July 3, 124 miles in the saddle, one day ahead of schedule. We finished at the Yorktown Victory Monument, which commemorated the American and French forces defeating the British in the Revolutionary War. Our arrival was greeted with not quite as much pomp and circumstance, but we were very happy to see our family again and be off our bikes and done with our journey!