Sunday, February 15, 2015

Pedaling across America: June 2007

THIS IS THE STORY of my first bicycle trip across the United States in 2007. It was originally posted on a blog called I thought anyone interested in doing this kind of trip might prefer reading my story in a more compact configuration rather than clicking on fifty different blog posts.

Here, then, is the story of my great adventure, a solo ride across the continent when I was 58 years old.



Emily                                                          (originally posted: June 14, 2007)

In just a few days I begin my trip across the United States to raise money for diabetes research.

Emily, 17, our youngest daughter, was diagnosed as a type-1 diabetic in March, 2005—one of the darkest times our family has ever faced.

Still, we consider ourselves “lucky.” Emily had been healthy all throughout her childhood; and we could feel for those whose children were diagnosed at an earlier age. Emily was old enough to give herself her own shots...old enough to understand what risks were involved ...but not so old she wasn’t scared.

We have been lucky since, too. Our daughter has never once let a complaint slip between her lips. She knew from the start that being diabetic would change her life and might change her future. So she set her mind on making the best of a bad situation. I will have more to say about her in future postings. For now I can only tell you that her mother and I are very proud.

(This is still true, almost eight years later.)

Here are the basics of my plan. I have a family reunion in New Jersey the weekend of June 15-17. The next day my brother will drop me off along the coast. Bicycling tradition says you should dip your back wheel in the ocean where you start—and dip your front wheel in the ocean where you finish. I expect to complete my trip to Oregon in roughly two months.

Loveland community support has been tremendous. I have raised a little more than $10,000 for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.

(I was then teaching at Loveland Middle School in Loveland, Ohio. Students, staff and parents helped me raise funds for the cause.)

Emily, 17, a type-1 diabetic, in 2007.
We love her dearly.

Emily, left, ready to party at Ohio State.
She's now a diabetic nurse counselor in Washington, D. C.

Stress Test                                                                                              (June 14, 2007)

My wife is a worrier. So I can’t just get on my bicycle and ride. Today I have to take a stress test. I teach middle school. I know I have stress.

Part of it comes down to age: I’m 58. My weight isn’t too good, either: 190 on a bad day. Eating habits are an abomination. Twix bars for breakfast, four cookies for lunch. Bad cholesterol is an issue, too.

So maybe a stress test isn’t a bad idea.

I plan to ride my bicycle over from Glendale to Jewish Hospital in Kenwood in a few minutes, about twelve miles. I do find, without exception, that when I exercise my stress abates.

I recommend that middle school teachers exercise regularly.

Only 4,000 Miles to Go                                                               (June 20, 2007)

I'm sitting here in a Virginia library, sweating nicely, on my third day of riding.

So far my trip is about what I expected. That is: a relatively in-shape person of advanced age will suffer to get into shape.

My brother Ned dropped me off around noon on June 18 on the Jersey shore and I dipped my back tire in the Atlantic as required by tradition. Two months later I hope to dip my front tire in the Pacific. A pretty young lifeguard inquired where I was going. I replied, “Oregon,” with a smile. She returned my smile and wished me luck. I suspect she took one look at my physique and thought, “No chance in the world!”

(I began my ride twenty-five pound overweight and twenty-five years past my prime; but my background in the Marine Corps helped me believe I could still do it.)

Fat and old: but still ready to go.
I carry all my own gear when I ride.

Heading south with a good following wind I made 72 miles down the coast. As expected there were no hills, though heat was a factor. I crossed Delaware Bay on a ferry (another 15 miles) and rode through the Eastern Shore to Salisbury, Maryland.

Everyone I talk to has been nice, especially when I tell them I’m riding to raise money for juvenile diabetes research. At a fruit stand in Delaware the owner brought me her special chair and set it down in the shade so I could rest. At 6:00 p.m. I stopped in Millsboro, Delaware at a restaurant serving breakfast all day. When I told the hostess I hoped to ride to Oregon and was raising money for diabetes she shook my hand. Then she called two waitresses over to tell them about what I was doing. After polishing off a pile of pancakes I logged twenty-seven more miles and found a hotel before dark in Salisbury, Maryland.

The second day was uneventful, but roasting hot. I felt like I was riding in a sauna. For those interested in a beach home I can say that reports in the Eastern Shore papers indicate the region is booming. You heard it here first.

I also read in USA Today that 12% of all health spending in the country goes to diabetic care: $80 billion dollars out of $645 billion. I hope JDRF can help find a cure soon.

(That total would also include care for the much more prevalent type-2 diabetes; the difference is that with good diet and exercise, you can rid yourself of type-2 diabetes. Type-1 is, at least for now, a lifetime burden.)

At any rate, I can also reveal another travel tip to those planning to visit the Eastern Shore. DO NOT plan to use the ferry which crosses the Chesapeake Bay from Crisfield, Maryland to Reedville, Virginia. AAA maps indicate it will work; but the ferry carries passengers only and runs once a day. Unfortunately, I missed the trip on the 19th and ground to a stop after only 49 miles.

Today I finally managed to cross over to Tangier Island at 12:30. There you catch a second boat at 2:00 to finish the passage to Virginia. It was a picturesque island and I talked to several interesting locals, as well as a young man who had just finished boot camp at Parris Island.

I will say more about that; but I want to get riding. It’s 7:30 in the evening and I have ten miles to go to the nearest campground.

Slow Progress and Suffering                                                 (June 27, 2007)

I suppose my wife was right. She warned me riding cross country at my age was a stupid idea. But like many husbands before me and many more to come, I ignored my wife’s advice. Now I’m paying the price in sweat and suffering. The first week of my trip has been harder than expected and I have covered only 460 miles.

Hopefully, I’ll be in good enough shape soon to make this work. Yesterday, June 25 (my daughter Sarah’s twentieth birthday) I managed 82 miles, about what I hope to average.

Most nights, so far, I have run out of light before I can find a camping spot. So I’ve stayed in motels. I can offer one good travel tip: if in Fredericksburg, Virginia NEVER pay for a room at the Twi-Lite Motel (it may fall down before you have a chance anyway).

The first hint is the NO REFUNDS sign at the front desk. But it was growing dark the day I arrived and I had been pedaling on busy roads for hours. I took a look at a room, swallowed hard, and paid anyway.

Sometimes something bad rises to the level of an “experience” and such was the case on this night. My fine room had three lights. Two had no on/off switches and one had no bulb. The dresser was American Goodwill; but some previous guest had checked out and taken all the drawers with him. The ceiling tiles in the bathroom sagged with age and the towel must have been included in the linens on Noah’s Ark. Ah...the cable worked…even if the remote didn’t.

Another night I ran out of time to find a place and found myself deep in the countryside. So I raised my tent in a graveyard, butting up against a large wooded area. Around 2:00 am I heard a bobcat howling nearby. I hunkered down deeper in my sleeping bag and checked to see my pepper spray was near at hand.

I’ve been chased by dogs several times, so I reach for the spray (attached to the handle bar) when I think I might not be able to make my getaway. At this point, I’ve pedaled away from trouble every time; but I think some dog will get it in the end.

Actually, the dogs are ahead 1-0. I was on some back road when a dog came snarling across his yard, headed my way. I was coming up a hill, head down, and had time only to look to see where he was. Then I realized he was stopped by a fence—and looked up just in time to see I was headed for a ditch. I managed to stand my bike on its nose and fall gracefully into the middle of the road.

My best camping experience has been at the Small Country Campground near Troy, Virginia. The Small family has owned the place since 1971 and can accommodate hundreds of campers on any given night. I talked to the owners and it turns out they have a daughter with diabetes. She was diagnosed at 11 and is now 17 and a high school senior to be, as is Emily Viall. Miss Small, however, is interested in massage therapy and not likely to go to college.

Her mother worries what will happen when she hits 18 and can’t be covered on the family insurance policy.

I spent one morning at the birthplace of Robert E. Lee, an impressive southern mansion, built starting in 1748. Lee spent only three years there, -partly because his father fell on hard times, financially. A museum attached had many interesting items, including some of Lee’s personal letters. I noticed in 1834, when he was 25, that he wrote to one of his cousins to describe women in the Fortress Monroe area as “the most beautiful creatures” the Lord ever created, enough to “make the mouth water and the fingers tingle.” I like details which reveal the human side of history.

The next day I visited the battlefield and museum at Chancellorsville. It was here that Lee won his greatest victory, pulverizing a Union army twice the size of his own. The National Park Service places dozens of pictures of young men and women who were tied to the fighting on the walls. I was struck by one: Samuel Sager, who joined the 96th Pennsylvania Infantry in March, 1864. Less than two months later he was killed at the Battle of Spotsylvania (also covered in the museum), when he was sixteen. A Louisiana soldier was shot in the face and blinded but returned home to marry his sweetheart, had seven children (all daughters), and managed to live to 76.

The day after that I pedaled up the mountain to Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson. If you have never been there you should make the trip. The place is an architectural masterpiece, filled with interesting features to make life easy, easy for Mr. Thomas Jefferson, that is.

Much as I admire the man, and much as I love the ideals laid down in the Declaration of Independence, I wonder how he missed the obvious. Jefferson was a genius, our most brilliant president ever (and I include the present occupant of the White House), but on the question of slavery he was obtuse.

He loved books and had a library of thousands. He loved fine wines and imported hundreds of bottles yearly. He surrounded himself with fine paintings and busts, one of Voltaire. Yet he never put the ideals in the Declaration into action when it came to his own slaves. Couldn’t he have sacrificed some wine—some books—some paintings—and set some slaves free?

George Washington, a less brilliant man, but a man of far greater character, freed every one of his slaves, 388 in all, in his will. Jefferson freed five when he died, some of whom were probably his own children. (Jefferson, in all likelihood, had had a long-time love affair with one of his mixed-race slaves, Sally Hemmings.)

In any case, if a brilliant man like Jefferson can miss the obvious, I suppose we all must admit we can too.

As I strolled through the gardens I noticed a striking black woman, very dark, perhaps born in Africa, but figured it would be rude to ask. She was standing beside a young white man, clearly her boyfriend. As I passed, he leaned in to kiss her and I heard the sound of lips on lips. I couldn’t help but think: this was a state that lost a legal battle in 1967, the year I graduated from high school, at the U. S. Supreme Court level in an effort to uphold its laws against interracial marriage.

I have noticed several interracial couples in Maryland and Virginia, once strictly taboo. I have also noticed how many Hispanics there are and stores and businesses catering to them. America continues to change, as it always has. Three motels where I’ve stayed were run by families from India, who I think are willing to put in long hours to keep small motels alive. I think our nation can absorb them all and come out stronger in the end, as millions of Irish were absorbed after 1846, including my ancestors.

As for riding: in the mornings riding cross country seems like a good idea. By afternoon I am sunburned, caked in salt-sweat, with lips cracked and leg and shoulder muscles aching.

The hardest miles, so far, have been a steep three-mile ascent at Rockfish Gap, leading into the Shenandoah Valley, then a five-mile uphill push this morning just west of Salem, Virginia.

As I type, I am sitting in the library at Pulaski, Virginia. I have covered fifty miles so far today and the next twenty take me into forested country and over two big mountains. I am procrastinating...should I push it this evening or should I take the wimp’s route and quit early and find a motel?




Pictures from June 2007

Thomas Jefferson's home at Monticello, Virginia.

Pedaling through the area where the Battle of Chancellorsville was fought in 1863.
Robert E. Lee and the rebel army kicked Yankee butt.

Magnolia in bloom, Virginia.

Boyhood home of Robert E. Lee.
The family lost it when his father went into debt as a result of shady business deals

Rotunda at University of Virginia in Charlottesville.

The first really hard climb I had on the trip came at Rockfish Gap, which took me up to the Blue Ridge Parkway.
I was glad to see the old time pioneers had cars.

Pedaling across America: July 2007

Home Sweet Home—for Three Days

(July 2, 2007)


I have done better than expected since last updating my blog. I decided to push myself to get past the soreness of the first week and did 537 miles (not counting ten in back of a red pickup truck in West Virginia) in my second week on the road.

For the record that makes just over 1,000 miles traveled.

People have been universally friendly, discounting one or two morons who yell, “Get off the road, asshole,” somehow convincing themselves they have someplace important to go and something important to say to spice up their brain-dead existences.

After stopping to write at the library in Pulaski, Virginia, I decided to push into the mountains, although a local man warned I faced “twenty miles of nothing” ahead. Pedaling out of town, I happened to see an African American woman watering her flowers. I asked to fill my water bottles to be safe and was rewarded by the kindness of Mrs. Angie Conners, who could not have been more considerate. After talking about where I was headed and where I had come from, and plans to raise money for diabetes, she noted that she and her husband, Willis, a retired army man, were type-2 diabetics themselves.

Then she insisted on providing ice, hustled up the walk and into her house, and came back moments later with a large chunk protected in plastic zip-lock bags. I thanked her and she said she’d pray for my safety.

“May the blood of Jesus protect you through your journey,” she called after me as I pedaled away.

In the next two hours I was happy to have ice, sipping the melt water when I hit hard spots and sticking the bag on my neck to cool down as necessary. Around 7:00 p.m. I ran into three local riders who cautioned me I would be headed up Little Walker Mountain soon and Big Walker Mountain right afterwards. The first was two miles up, with several switchbacks and the second three miles up and steeper.

I climbed over Little Walker with relative ease, then decided to camp on a stream in the valley between the two mountains. “Showering” consisted of jumping in the creek, where two deer had been drinking moments before.

The next day (6-27) I had to go over Big Walker first thing in the morning and it took an hour to climb to the top. Much of the remainder of the day was spent heading down the South Holston River Valley, a beautiful stretch, and then climbing two tough mountains in succession to reach Tazewell, Virginia. Near the top of the second an elderly woman driving a black Ford Ranger offered a lift. I explained I was determined to pedal cross country. So she cackled a bit, revealing a few battered teeth, and went on up the mountain. An hour later, entering Tazewell, I happened to pass her house. From the front porch she shouted cheerfully, “Glad to see you made it!”


Earlier, near Bland, Virginia, I crossed paths with a young man hiking the Appalachian Trail. I asked how he got interested, and he said a college buddy convinced him to go and keep him company. I smiled, looked in both directions, and threw my arms wide, palms up, as if to ask, “Where is your friend?”

The bearded hiker laughed, “That's a story in itself.”

He said they flew to Atlanta from their home in Maine and headed out for the trail. After one week his friend couldn’t do it anymore and quit. So he had been hiking alone for the last forty days. He hoped to finish the trail from start to finish during the summer and fall; and if not he will go home for the winter and complete the journey next year. I told him I thought it sounded like a great adventure. He said the same about my plan to bicycle all the way to Oregon.

As I have admitted, however, if I hadn’t told students I was going to make this trip I might not have lasted through the first week.

The morning of 6-28 was spent in a laundromat, talking to an old fellow, whose history reflects the changing fortunes of America’s workers. As a boy he helped round the family farm, but noted it “was too damn hard.” So he joined the army and did a tour as a military policeman in Korea during the war.

He returned home thinking he might catch on with the state police. One bad decision led to another and he started hanging with friends from high school and “got to actin’ wild” and next you knew he was under arrest. That put the end to his plans in the line of police work. He hired on with Chrysler and had a good paying job till the slowdown of the early 70’s. After that he went to work in the coal mines as a foreman and lasted for twenty-three years. By 1999 he was earning $5,000 per month and doing well enough for his wife to stay home and raise their three children. But it was soon clear he had black lung disease and he had to retire.

Riding that afternoon, I stopped for a drink and a rest. A fellow with a thick mustache pulled his car into the parking lot, noticed my bags, and asked how far I was riding. “To Oregon. At least that's the plan,” I explained. Then I mentioned I was riding for diabetes. He wished me luck and drove off and I continued to work on my 32-oz. Glacier Freeze Gatorade. A few minutes later he pulled back into the lot, got out, and handed me $10. He explained, “Me and the missus got to talking and decided we ought to donate for a good cause.”

By raising money for two rides, one in 2007 and another in 2011, 
and painting a house and donating to JDRF, 
I've given them checks for a total of $35.000.

Entering West Virginia, I worried about the mountains ahead and stopped one night in the town of Justice. Failing to find a camping spot, I booked a room in a motel. Then I ate breakfast at the “Justonian” across the street. Eating alone, you tend to listen in on others’ conversations. Four women nearby were talking about modern teens and their strange piercings. Then they turned to a time when they first had their ears pierced. One admitted she fainted when her sister pierced her ear. “When I woke up, though,” she continued, “the other one was done, too.”

The ladies (and I) all shared a laugh.

Julie Hatfield, who waited on my table (and I think owned the restaurant, but maybe wouldn’t have seated a McCoy) talked to me about my plans. As usual, I mentioned diabetes. When I tried to pay the bill, she shook her head, explaining, “It’s been taken care of.” I offered again but she said she wanted to help a good cause. So I set eight dollars aside for my JDRF fund.

Many of the areas I passed through have seen better days. In Logan County a local told me they’ve lost 25,000 people since the 1970s; and that loss has “devastated the economy.” The region is coming back a little as coal rebounds lately; but there were a lot of empty homes along the roads.

People in this area work hard and often look tired and beat down. You see fellows with dirt on their t-shirts and up and down their work pants. Even their ball caps are smudged and tattered. But these are friendly men, quick to laugh, and all seem to know each other. These coal miners, lumber workers, mechanics and truck drivers are the nuts and bolts of the American economy. My father would have said they were people “who don’t mind getting their hands dirty.”

He would have meant it as a form of praise.

That afternoon I stopped for my usual Gatorade. (I could do a commercial for those folks.) Three fellows in soiled clothing, just off work, questioned me about my journey. One commented, “You picked a hot day to travel.”

I agreed, but replied, “You look like you’ve all been working harder than me.” They laughed and I added, “Go home and have a cold one!”

My ride on 6-29 took me along Highway 10 and for the most part I made good time, putting in 87 miles from the seat of my bike. But one stretch was too dangerous to ride—and a kind-hearted couple, Ray and Frieda Napier, stopped to give me a lift in the back of their red Ford F150.

“We weren’t sure you knew what you were getting into,” Ray explained while I enjoyed the ride. He said they had passed me earlier down the road and turned around to offer a lift. It turns out that Highway 10 between War and Logan, West Virginia is narrow and twisting, with coal trucks thundering past in both directions and no place for bicycle riders of any kind.

Frieda has been involved with citizens groups and has traveled to Washington, D. C. several times to lobby for funds to widen the road. I found her grassroots approach to democracy refreshing. So I promised I would add this line to my blog:


I spent the night at a Ramada Inn in Huntington, West Virginia. In the morning I dawdled over breakfast, and got to talking with Cindi Acree-Hamann, who lives in Cincinnati like me. She works at Children’s Hospital and I told her how thrilled we were with the care provided there for our daughter after she turned up diabetic in 2005. Ms. Acree-Hamann explained that her husband, Captain Gene Hamann, was sleeping in late, and on medical leave from the Cincinnati Police. He was injured by a drunk driver in January and may retire as a result.

Cindi explained that he was a former Marine (like me) and interested in teaching (also like me). He spent time in combat during Vietnam, however, while I sat at a desk in California for two years fiddling over paperwork.

I think it’s safe to say Hamann is the hero in that tale.

By 6-30 I was back in Ohio and feeling confident. I had a short day (riding 67 miles) then found a camping spot in Shawnee National Forest, where I met a group of Boy Scouts led by Frank Duran. It was an impressive group. Duran has them active with scuba diving round Pelee Island in Lake Erie, rock climbing across the state, and practicing for a 70-mile stretch of the Appalachian Trail in July.

July 1 was spent riding hell-bent for leather. I wanted to be sure I got home and logged 105 miles—blisters—sore buns—and all. I assure you too, southern Ohio has LOTS of hills. I had to be pedaling uphill a mile or more at least ten times during this one day’s ride.

Coming through Milford, Ohio, I looked in my helmet mirror and spotted two gear-laden riders coming up behind me. It turns out they were recent college grads, Steve Cash and Ben Kelchlin, who started from Eastport, Maine a month ago and are aiming for California later this summer. It was fun to share stories and give to and receive advice from two kindred spirits (though their combined ages would be two kindergartners short of my own). We exchanged addresses and hope to cross paths somewhere during our long journeys ahead. They were staying at a friend’s house overnight and headed to St. Louis the next morning.

I headed crosstown to Glendale to spend the next three days at home.

Back on the Road

(July 9, 2007)


It was fun to be home for a few days but no fun to leave at all. Riding all day tends to focus your thoughts: and I realized how anxious I was to get home a few days ago. My wife is one of the finest individuals I’ve ever known and it was good to see Emily, our youngest daughter.

The morning I left for the second leg of my journey Emily was unusually subdued. I think she worries about me. I know I worry more about her than anything. She means the world to her mother and me.

Weather has been tough the last four days, nineties and humid. At least once a day I ask myself, “What were you thinking when you hatched this plan?” Other bits of wisdom include, “I’m WAY too old for this!” “If a bus hit me, I’ll be out of my misery!” “Maybe someone will steal my bike!”

You get the idea.

The people I meet continue to be kind. Passing through Brookville, Indiana, I stopped to eat at the China House where locals told me the buffet was outstanding. (Correct.) As I chained my bicycle to a pole a gentleman named Ken Litchfield approached. “Are you the guy I saw on the news last night?” he asked. Like a defendant on a television drama, I admitted I was. Ken reached in his wallet and pulled out $20 for JDRF. Then he ran down the street and got his camera and took a picture for the local paper. He said he’d try to get a story posted and drum up donations.

Meanwhile, Anne called me to say that one of our neighbors donated $500 and so I’m fast approaching $11,000 raised.

I logged 80 miles on July 6, 83 on the 7th and 82 on the 8th. One night I camped in a cornfield after washing up in a stream.

The next day a preacher named Lester Solomon talked to me in a Dairy Queen in Seymour, Indiana. After hearing my story he took my hand and said a prayer for my well-being. That’s the first time I ever prayed over ice cream. I appreciate Reverend Solomon’s kindness and prayers can’t hurt.

One morning I passed a field and noticed all the cows were watching. Cows don’t get out much and I imagine they’re bored a lot. So I was something to watch, to give the brain something to work on, sort of like watching television for humans. I wonder what they were thinking. How sophisticated is the bovine brain?

Cow #1: Creature with shell on head. Not threat. Need to poo.
Cow #2: Human moving fast. Hope he crash.
Cow #3: I envy that rider his freedom. These other cows are morons. Oh well, nothing to do, except chew the cud.

I slept at a motel my second night out of Cincinnati. They had an exercise room and an elliptical machine. I decided to pass.

On July 8 I met a fellow named Jack L. Hamilton, who asked a lot of questions—what was I carrying—any mechanical problems—what did I do for food—where did I stay—was it hard riding alone? Jack's fiancĂ©, Theresa, was with him and she has a diabetic daughter, now 34, diagnosed senior year in high school.

“I tell her all the time I think there will be a cure in her lifetime,” Theresa said. I agreed, and thinking of my own child, choked up.

The next couple of hours I rode hard—thinking about Emily.

That same afternoon I ran across a nice couple from Bloomington. They mentioned a friend who rode cross country with his sons, to raise money for cerebral palsy. This was years ago and one of the boys suffered from the disease, and used a recumbent bike. Again, when I’m plowing up some hill and feeling sorry for myself, I remember a LOT of people have steeper hills to climb every day.

Right now I’m a mile from the Wabash River, and about to cross into Illinois. A fellow in the library tells me it’s 97 degrees with humidity at 77%. Based on how I’ve been wilting today, I believe him.

You’re not in Kansas Anymore

(July 17, 2007)


I couldn’t update lately because I have been putting effort into pedaling westward. I am now in Overbrook, Kansas and just had lunch at Conrad’s Bar and Grill. The food was great and I had a long talk with the owner, Mary Boos, who has a diabetic daughter. Sadie, now 21, was diagnosed at four, attends college, and has decent control of her disease. Mary donated $100 and gave me a free meal. 

Sitting in the library just now feels good...but outside it feels...not like Saudi Arabia. Lord, it’s hot!

Most days, I bike about eighty miles (531 in my first week back on the road). Sometimes not in the right direction, though. Once I got lost and pedaled in giant rectangles around various corn fields, trying to figure out where I was. Another night I went ten miles out of the way to find a state campground. The campground hosts, Mickey and Patty Smith, gave me coffee the next morning, and we ended up discussing Abraham Lincoln for an hour. I think Mrs. Smith said she dropped out of high school when young. But they both picked up an interest in our 16th president on their own and seemed to know as much as I did.

Another night, near Muscoutah, Illinois, I ran out of light and found myself riding into town as darkness fell. A gentleman on a motorcycle pulled alongside, put it in low gear, and asked where I was headed. When I told him I was riding to raise money for JDRF he reached in his pocket, pulled out a huge wad of bills, and reached them out to me. “Pull off two tens,” he said, “for a good cause.” I thought about grabbing the whole wad but knew I wouldn’t be able to make a getaway. So I took the money without stopping and he told me to have a safe trip and roared away. That night I had to camp in a cornfield again—but felt good about the kindness of strangers I’ve met during this ride.

Probably my best camping spot was one I stumbled on while riding the Katy Trail, not far from Columbia, Missouri. The KT is an old rail line (Kansas and Topeka) paved with gravel and good for bicycling. For twenty miles or so it follows the Missouri River, past cliffs pocked with caves. It was a pleasant ride and I was able to pitch my tent ten feet from the riverbank when night fell. Once again I did the “pioneer shower” by jumping in the Missouri.

Everything looks good. I am in touch with nature. I can hear fish leaping and falling back in the water. I hear geese overhead. A nice couple (who shall remain nameless for obvious reasons) comes over from another campsite and offers beer, informing me their family and friends are out on a boat and will be pulling in to shore soon. Sure enough, the boat comes in not long after and fifteen young men and women disembark. (They have a floating trampoline they are towing behind their vessel, which looks like fun.) But it quickly becomes apparent their main cargo is BEER. Not counting a LOT of beer they have already polished off!

The group offers me a second beer, which I accept, and later a steak off a grill they set up...but soon it grows dark and I need to rest. So I decline the steak (having eaten at a buffet in Columbia, Missouri earlier) and turn in to sleep. At midnight my neighbors are still partying...and the sounds of nature are drowned out by, “F- this,” and “f-that.” Indeed, the drunks apparently know only one adjective. As in: “f-ing beer! f-ing river! f-ing boat! f-ing steaks!” Thankfully, a storm rolls in with enough rain to chase them away. Or so I imagine. A few of the “f-ing pussies” pack it in and go home. The dedicated drunks ignore the downpour and keep on f-ing drinking. Finally, round 2 a.m. everyone runs out of alcohol and f-ing enthusiasm wanes and everyone (including me) drifts off to sleep.

Riding the next day was hard. And not to seem petty: but I hope the knuckleheads who kept me up had hangovers to die from.

Alcoholics aside, people could not be more considerate. I camped one night at Pere Marquette Park, near the confluence of the Illinois and Mississippi rivers. There I met Ted and Jan Werner, who invited me to their trailer for breakfast. Jan wrote out a donation to JDRF and went further, packing lunch. Ted pumped up my tires; and I’m embarrassed to admit how low the pressure in both was: 25 pounds in the front, 34 in the back. Almost, like riding on flats!

Missouri was beautiful and I enjoyed crossing the state. In fact, as soon as I passed the Mississippi (on a ferry near Grafton) I felt better, like I was making real progress.

Yesterday, July 16, I rode 90 miles. I was excited at lunch to cross paths with a group of bicyclers headed east from Colorado to homes in Milwaukee. Leader was Ron Haggard, a middle school teacher like myself, and the group included another adult (whose name I failed to catch) and four young men, Ron’s students. He has led several rides and had as many as fifteen kids in his groups, and I think he said one year they rode from Florida to Maine. It was a pleasure to talk to people who could relate to what I’m doing. The four young men looked like they were in fine shape and I was impressed with their attitudes. They were wiry fellows, like Pony Express riders. No unnecessary ounces on these young men! Ron wished me luck, paid his bill, then came back and handed me $20 for JDRF. The second leader paid, came back, and donated, too.

I admit I also stopped one afternoon to visit a riverboat casino. A state law requires you to show ID and get a card which is inserted in the slot machines. This limits all losses to $500 in any two-hour that the addicted gambler is...what...protected? Yeah, from losing the house all in one day!

I sat down at a quarter slot, put in my card, fed in a twenty and started gambling. There were no tokens to insert and no jangling when winnings came raining down in a tray. Only a little red light signaled any “wins.” So I started with a credit of 80 and kept hitting “play 3.” Every so often I hit big, for 2 credits. My gambling career was soon ended. It went like this. Play 3, lose. 77 credits left. Play 3, lose. 74. 71. 68. Hit 2. 70. 67. 64. 61. 58. Hit 2. 60. 57. 54. 51...rapidly dwindling to zero. It was as much fun as putting quarters in a Coca-Cola machine and watching nothing come out. And then doing it twenty-five times.

Heck with that...I wasted twenty dollars and was soon pedaling across America again.

I Hate Headwinds

(July 21)


This will be a quick post because the library where I’m sitting closes in twenty-seven minutes. It’s 96° outside and the winds have been blowing hard against me most of my time in Kansas. On top of that my cell phone quit working today after I dropped it in a river while shaving. So I’m going to have a hard time keeping in touch with my family for the next few days. SW Kansas isn’t exactly a place with a lot of cell phone stores.

I am now on the American Cycling Association trail; so I have run into six or seven bicyclers, all headed east, mostly young and thin. One gentleman was close to my age, 52, but had his wife following in an RV. It has been fun to share notes on what to expect, problems and pleasures, aches and pains (at least I have aches and pains).

People continue to be friendly. I ate breakfast at the Copper Oven in Osage City, Kansas a couple days ago. They had breakfast burritos and cinnamon rolls that were among the best I’ve ever eaten. It was worth fighting Kansas’ perpetual head winds just to eat there. On top of that, the owner heard I was riding for diabetes and gave me my meal free.

As always, any savings go into the JDRF fund.

Kansas has a stark beauty I enjoy; but many towns are dying. I passed through Hillsboro and found out their McDonalds shuttered its doors a few months ago. Same thing happened in Lyons—but Lyons is experiencing a boom these days with a new ethanol plant and other construction.

Most mornings I start late because I talk too long at breakfast with locals. Extra bacon and conversation seem more appealing than hopping back in the saddle. At one stop I fell into discussion with a gentleman named Lyle Foureau. He mentioned he liked reading history. So I recommended 
Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose, 1776 by David McCullough and a couple of other works.

Lyle took notes and donated to JDRF.

I’ve camped out in the woods a couple of times and bathed in “Kansas bathtubs” (lakes along the road). Many areas are still green due to heavy rains and Chase County had beautiful bluestem grass prairies. I spend a lot of time grungy and hot; but I can say I’m proud of getting this far.

Tomorrow I enter Colorado and hope to get my phone fixed in Pueblo.

A 78-year-old truck driver told me one morning about some of the sights in Kansas. It used to be you could go see the embalmed remains of a Civil War veteran, Samuel Dingle (I think was the name). “When I first saw him, he had a full beard and all,” said my informant. “Then I went back a few years later and all his hair had fallen out. The parasites or somethin’ got him.”

Well, I guess I didn’t want to see Dingle anyway.

I am now a little more than halfway done with my trip (in miles anyway) and right about on schedule.

Still no flats, no mechanical problems, just hot and tired a lot.

I love my family and miss them very much.

Met these two somewhere in Kansas. They were heading east, having started in California.
I lost the notes I took and cannot remember their names.

Kansas, heading west.

Colorado High

(July 26)

My ride continues. I am now in Buena Vista, Colorado and will take Route 24 north to Leadville after this posting (and a stop at the local ice cream emporium). The mountain pass coming up will be my biggest challenge so far, rising from 8,000 feet to over 11,000. So I expect to take all afternoon to reach the top.
Scenery is routinely beautiful now and should be for the next thousand miles. Western Kansas and eastern Colorado were so empty that they had an eerie appeal—at least in the mornings. In the early hours each day I could say, “This is great...I’m really doing this ride!” By afternoon, when it was in the mid 90’s, and the wind was kicking up against me, my meditations tended more in the direction of, “What were you thinking when you planned this ride.” 

And of course: profanity!

I rolled into Colorado along Route 96. Twice, before Eads, and right after, were stretches of 50+ miles with NO place to get food or drink. I was nervous about running into trouble but got through in good shape and gained confidence as a result. I also started seeing more riders, all headed east. It appears to me this is a business for young people. Most of the guys and the two girls I’ve seen are fresh out of college and riding before they settle into the working world for forty years. I met two brothers traveling east, Dan Devos and Mike (I think); they seemed to get along better than most brothers, and I enjoyed talking to them both. I lost my map after I jotted down their information. I remember most of their blog address and will try to check it out if I can.

On July 23 I picked up a steady trailing wind and sailed along like a clipper ship, covering 114 miles, the longest one-day ride I’ve ever done. This carried me to Pueblo, Colorado. There I stayed in a motel used mostly for long-term stays. It was across the road from a Payday Loan office, which is never a good sign. I think I was the only person there who could have proved legal status as a citizen. But my immigrant “neighbors” looked like hard-working gentlemen and so have my respect. I was sleeping nicely, too, when the front office delivered an unexpected wake-up call at 5:00 am.

“Juan?” the clerk inquired.

“No. Wrong room,” I answered. 

Moments later—a second call for Juan. “Wrong room!” I said a little more emphatically. And that was that.

I hope Juan made it to work on time.

On the 24th I rode through Canon City and up into the Rocky Mountains, camping near the Royal Gorge Bridge.

The next day I spent the morning checking out the bridge and the adjacent park. This is the highest suspension bridge in the world, 1053 feet above the Arkansas River. It was fun to see but I was surprised to find it isn’t really a useful structure in any normal sense. It’s little more than one lane wide and shakes when a golf cart passes over. Both ends are blocked by tourist attractions, a carousel, an ice cream parlor, a gift shop and more. So there really is no place to go, except on foot across the bridge and back again to the parking lot and then on with vacation! It was impressive, though, and I recommend it.

Royal Gorge Bridge: beautiful but kind of useless.

Yesterday, I followed Highway 50 along the Arkansas River. The Arkansas is the fifth longest river in the USA and there were hundreds of rafts from dozens of companies. A gorgeous ride all the way; and my progress was slowed as I stopped again and again to look around and cool off occasionally in the water.

I was also beginning to have serious concerns about my back tire which showed heavy wear. So I took a different direction and rolled into Salida, Colorado in the afternoon. The people at Absolute Bikes treated me like riding royalty, switched out my tire, gave me three water bottles for free, and supplied a patching kit and two spare tubes.

Salida is a booming town. A local woman told me house values have gone up 400% in the last ten years. I had my fanciest dinner yet at the Dakota Bistro and the food was excellent (I only wish my wife Anne had been with me). The salad was fabulous and I recommend the Steak Sundance and the Fat Tire beer. Salida is a town full of bicycle riders, especially mountain bikers, artist types and boutiques, and reminded me of a smaller Boulder.

At dinner I spoke briefly with a family at the next table and told them I was riding to raise money for JDRF. They were kind and complimentary. When I finished eating and stepped outside to unlock my bicycle, Nancy Gould followed and pressed a donation into my hand. “I’m just so impressed with what you’re doing. Really,” she said. I thanked her, noticed the bill was a hundred, and thanked her again with emphasis. As has been true many times during this journey, I was touched.

The willingness to help shown by strangers and supporters back home in Ohio has been awe-inspiring. Worth riding itself to see!

Riding in a Tutu

(July 31, 2007)


The last few days of riding have been awesome. The 26th I followed Route 24 to Leadville, Colorado, two miles above sea level. I was worried about the climb and altitude but had no trouble and felt almost euphoric, enjoying the scenery and physical experience of being in the mountains. I managed to find a book store and bought two volumes of women’s letters and diaries from the Oregon Trail. (That seemed fitting somehow, considering my own travels.) To finish off a perfect day I camped near a beautiful mountain stream. It was 55 degrees when I pulled into town; a pleasant change from the heat of Kansas and southern Colorado.

Strangers continue to be generous and kind. At the Buena Vista visitors center a woman gave $10 for JDRF. Then the ladies who worked there sent me to the Chafee County newspaper office and they wrote up a brief story about my trip.

When people see my picture circulation will double!

(Or maybe not.)

The next day I dawdled before getting started. I tend to eat gigantic breakfasts and read the paper instead of getting out and riding. I followed Route 24 to the point where it strikes Interstate 70. Then I took a bike trail for several miles, meeting three teachers out for a ride. They were in Colorado for a conference on teaching environmental issues throughout the curriculum. All three were friendly and I rode along slowly, happy to have someone to converse with. Robert, 39, and his wife are expecting their third child. Etna has worked in the private sector, usually for food/chemical companies but got tired of it and tried teaching—and loved her first year. Margaret was a third-year teacher from West Virginia. All seemed dedicated and we made an interesting quartet: one African American (Robert), one Hispanic (Etna), one white woman (Margaret), and one geezer. (That would be me.)

Rain stopped me that day. So I holed up in a motel. Since then I have been rolling. I rode 103 miles on July 28 ending up at Walden. Part of the route was gorgeous, following the Blue River. Then I hit a stretch of 62 miles with no stores—and made the mistake of carrying only two full water bottles.

I treated myself to a terrific prime rib dinner at the River Rock Cafe. Then I camped out in the city park.

The next day I did 97 miles and camped beside the North Platte River. I still haven’t seen a soul going the same direction as me. But I met Robin Geary, a teacher from San Francisco, out for a 990-mile ride. Like me, she was going solo. She says her parents don’t like it. So her brother suggested she tell them she was riding with “Bob and Ed,” two “guys” she “met” along the way. We both laughed at the idea. I’ve been tempted to tell my wife the same thing.

Yesterday and this morning were a challenge. I had to cover the distance from Rawlins to Lander, about 130 miles, with care. To sum up the terrain I can do no better than to quote a traveler on the Oregon Trail who passed the same way: “These everlasting hills have an everlasting curse of barrenness.”

Frankly, I was nervous about this part of the trip. The entire route is sagebrush and without shade. You can stop at Grandma’s Kitchen (32 miles from Rawlins), a store at Muddy Gap (46 miles) or a cafe at Jeffrey City (88 miles) and that’s it. Them’s the choices if you want food or drink!

I happened to get a flat along the way, and as I was fixing it, up rode a young girl, Sarah Brigham, 22. She was heading down to Durango, Colorado, with her bike loaded and wearing a red and black tutu (which she told me she made herself).

Now I’m in the library at Lander trying to get this posted. They have a ½ hour limit on the computers.

So I will have to take a break and add pictures later. 

Sarah was heading south when I talked to her near Jeff City.
She made the tutu herself; but I wanted to tell her to wear a helmet.
It wasn't my place to play "dad," however.

But if YOU ride, wear a helmet for sure.


Pictures from July 2007

In Kansas even some of the churches have closed.
The good news: large stretches of Kansas are flat and easy pedaling.
The bad news: high winds, high heat.
You can also see grain towers from twelve miles away.
Proof: I pedaled all the way to Colorado.
The Arkansas River Valley is gorgeous. The Arkansas is the fifth longest river in the United States.

Colorado scene. That mountain range up ahead will prove a bitch to pedal over.

Sandstone pillars beside a Colorado road.

One of my favorite free camping sites, just outside of Leadville, Colorado.
Elevation: almost two miles above sea level.
Morning view from tent.

Heading north from Rawlins, Wyoming.
Barren piece of real estate.

Look how thin I am. I lost 25 pounds on this trip.
Wyoming scene.

Looking back down the road in Wyoming from near Jeff City.
Again, I liked this hill for a free camping spot and the night sky was bursting with stars.

One reason I enjoy going from east to west when I ride across the United States is that most of the great scenery comes at the end. Also, the riding in places like Wyoming is amazingly relaxing. Wyoming has basically five people per square mile.

Beth Mitchell, 12.

I met Beth (above) and her family at a Pizza Hut in Lander, Wyoming. She is a type-1 diabetic herself but has very good control. She was diagnosed in 2004 and was visiting the area with her brother Dan and grandparents, Judy and Ron Hartwigsen.

Pedaling across America: August 2007

Lake at the top of Togwotee Pass.

Montana and Beyond
(August 5, 2007; 7:57 p. m.)

I am presently sitting in a hotel in Butte, Montana, after a grueling eight-mile climb across the Continental Divide on I-90. That’s right: in Montana and other western states bicycles may use the Interstate.

I have loved the last few days for the scenery and the people I have met. One night I ate dinner in Dubois, Wyoming with Judy and Ron Hartwigsen and their grandchildren, Dan and Beth Mitchell. Beth has been diabetic for three years, as I mentioned when I posted her picture, but she is a top student and her grandmother calls her “a warrior” because of her attitude in handling her disease. Dan is an avid reader and had interesting takes on many different issues.

Ron retires occasionally. Then he starts a new business and off to work he goes again. A fine family—and they paid for my dinner. Then they sent a present to my motel room. As always, any money I save goes to the JDRF fund.

The next day I rode over Togwotee Pass and down into Grand Teton National Park. Just at the top of the pass was a beautiful lake and I spent an hour relaxing there. I also enjoyed a stretch of 17 miles, coming down from the pass, requiring almost NO pedaling.

Grand Teton was beautiful; but in the afternoon it rained. I camped in the park and had the good fortune to share a bear box with the people in the next site. Bob Garcia invited me to share a steak and a meal with his family and it turned into two hours of absolute enjoyment. He was celebrating his 45th birthday and got spanked pretty good. Bob and wife Teresa have three children, Katie, 12, Jessica, 9, and Phillip, 6. They were accompanied by Teresa’s sister, Dr. Lydia Rose and her daughter Sabrina, 10.

All were hysterical to talk to. Sabrina noted that it makes her mad to be shorter than her cousin, a year younger than her. Then she added, “I’m the second shortest fifth grader in my school. And the shortest kid has a genetic problem and can’t grow any bigger!” Jessica is kind, however and doesn’t rub the size matter in. Phillip handles life with all the girls with aplomb and you could NOT find a nicer family.

More Updating
(Sunday, August 5, 2007; 11:32 p.m.)

As I was saying (when I ran out of computer time at my motel) the Garcia family was a joy to get to know. Bob worked on the B-2 bomber for a time; but the idea of delivering nuclear weapons bothered him. So he took a job as an economist with the U. S. government. Both Teresa and her sister, Dr. Rose, have taught or do teach college classes. Katie and her cousin Sabrina told me they were voracious readers.

My kind of kids.

Unfortunately, Katie let her enthusiasm carry her away and she revealed to me (and TO HER PARENTS) her secret for reading late at night. She shoves a blanket in the crack under her bedroom door.

Now Mr. and Mrs. Garcia will be checking regularly.

Phillip said he had seen a bear at Yellowstone while the family was there—but no one else was sure. Jessica was funny, too, and obviously a bright young lady. Bob should be happy every birthday. He has a fine family.

The next morning I took a picture of the Garcia’s before I left. Dr. Rose and Sabrina were not yet in sight. Dr. Rose then arose (bad pun) and wished me luck. Last I heard as I cycled away, headed for Yellowstone, everyone was teasing Sabrina for sleeping late.

 “I’m not sleeping, I’m cleaning up the tent,” she responded in an animated tone.

I spent part of the morning enjoying the scenery at Lake Jenny. Then I pedaled north to Yellowstone, crossing the Continental Divide twice, both climbs proving strenuous and long. I stopped at one stream and discovered a beautiful waterfall just off the road. A lot of young people were swimming there, some in bikinis. My wife reads this I shall pass on to another subject.

I spent two days in the park, watching Old Faithful erupt, taking pictures of geysers, the usual tourist agenda. As I was leaving by the west exit on August 3 I saw my first buffalo. So did a hundred cars filled with travelers. We stopped to gawk and take photos. That bull was photographed like Paris Hilton on release from prison. There’s one big difference though: the buffalo was probably smarter.

I pedaled out of the park and into West Yellowstone about 6:00 p.m. that night. I tried to find a motel room after three days camping (one night in the woods near Grant Village, which I settled on when all regular campgrounds were full). No deal: except one place which offered accommodations for $129 per night!

I’d rather be eaten by a bear.

So I began asking around, and ran into a bicycler, Doug Toctropf, who had ridden south from Glacier National Park. He was talking to a local man, Bill (whose name I totally failed to get). Doug and I discussed options...and Bill explained that he had a piece of wooded land five miles north of town. Said we could camp there. Then he thought a minute and offered beds at his house.

“My boys are with their mother. You can have their rooms,” he said. Then he added, “I’m not much of a housekeeper. So it’s one step above a frat house.”

Still: that’s three steps above a tent.

So we took him up on the offer. Bill isn’t a cleaner, but he was fun to talk to and a philosopher. He and I shared notes on divorce and how it affects kids. He filled me in on local environmental issues.

Doug trims trees for a living in Virginia and loves the climbing. He has a tattoo of a chainsaw blade round one bicep. Doug is a hippie trapped in the wrong decade. He once spent a year hitching round the country. Then he got picked up by a recently-released convict headed north to see his girlfriend and enter rehab. Unfortunately, the ex-con had the brilliant idea of stealing a car to make the journey. A police chase ensued. The car spun out and rolled. Doug rolled with it, but suffered only minor scratches. After that he decided to end his thumbing career.

Doug and Bill were a pleasure to talk to. And if Bill reads this: good luck with the two boys, ages 12 and 14. He is committed to being a part of their lives. His license plate reads: TWO CUBS.

It reminds him of his sons.

The last two days have taken me north. I passed Earthquake Lake on Route 287. It was created by a landslide of 80,000 tons of rock in 1959, triggered by the fourth strongest quake ever to hit the United States. I stopped to eat lunch at Cabin Creek Cafe and mentioned to the waitress I was riding to raise money for JDRF.

She smiled and asked with a hint of hesitation, “Can I contribute?”

Almost before I could say “yes” she was off to find her purse. She returned with $20, half hers, half from another waitress. The gift was so spontaneous I was touched almost to tears.

Once more I camped that night in my own “roadside campground.” That is: I found a good patch of trees along the North Meadow Creek, seven miles north of Ennis, Montana. So I slumbered peacefully to the sounds of the bubbling brook.

Today I rode north on 287 and 359, through gorgeous country. Twice I had to climb three miles or more. I hit Interstate 90 and rode west for fifty miles. I had to climb eight tough miles to get to Butte. But in Butte I am.

I’ve completed 3,300 miles. Only 900 to go.

Gene Myers carried gear to cook meals.
I was too lazy and usually stopped at restaurants along the way.

Getting Close
(Saturday, August 11, 2007)

I’m sitting in the library at Walla Walla, Washington. The last three days I’ve been riding with Gene Myers, a 47-year-old computer tech worker from Pittsburgh. Gene took a leave of absence from work and started his trip in Washington, D. C. on June 4. Riding across country has been a dream of his since he was 20; and yet, like me, he finds it hard to believe how close he is to the end. I think when we crossed the Snake River and entered the state of Washington it hit both of us that we not only said we were going to ride coast-to-coast, now we are going to DO IT.

Well...I guess that depends...Gene had three flats in two days. I did my part by racking up FOUR.

Since last updating I decided I had seen enough beautiful country. So I hopped on the Interstate in Montana and rode I-90 for a day-and-a-half to gather speed. On August 6, with a strong tailwind, I managed 120 miles, from Butte to Missoula. There were several large forest fires then burning across the state. So everything was masked in a gray haze. But still no trouble riding.

I think at this point my strength and endurance are excellent.

The next day I left Missoula and pedaled south to Lolo, then took the road to Lolo Hot Springs, up over Lolo Pass. I was worried about this stretch because I knew Lewis and Clark had trouble in the area when they crossed in 1805. The pass, however, was not bad at all. It was a gradual uphill for thirty miles and then a good climb of four miles to the summit. Then it was downhill to Powell Junction, where I ran into Gene and stopped early for the day. Gene and I killed part of the evening at a campground lodge playing checkers. Neither of us could remember the rules and I said I thought you could jump your own men. Using this novel strategy, I thumped Gene soundly, three games in a row, until another camper set us straight.

On August 8 we rode down the Lochsa River, which carries a “wild and scenic” designation. It was fabulous. And the bonus: from Powell Junction to Kooskia, where we stayed that evening, it was 93 miles downhill! We enjoyed a swim in the clear, cold waters and this proved to be a great day.

It was fun to ride with someone else who could appreciate the joys and difficulties of this undertaking. Gene has been riding with a variety of people, himself. For a long time he paired up with Laura “Big Red” Santiago. Laura (who I met briefly when we all stopped at the same place for a meal) joked that her diet on the trip consisted of “lard, sugar and alcohol.” Margaritas, she freely acknowledges, are her weakness. But she has ridden from North Carolina and you have to credit a woman in her 40s for the determination to even make the attempt.

As evening approached, Gene and I found a comfortable camping spot at the Kooskia City Park. The grass was soft and lush. The Middle Fork of the Clearwater River ran alongside. Our tents went up easily and soon we were fast asleep, dreaming of....what the....I awakened all too seemed to be raining!! Gene could be heard rummaging around with his gear, cursing softly.

It was clear sky when we went to bed. What the hell?

Suddenly a huge blast of water hit my tent. A downpour seemed to be beginning. (Fill in the bad words here if you know me.)

I unzipped my tent flap and suddenly realized the park sprinklers were pumping away only a few feet from my camping spot. Gene and I did some quick singing in the rain and moved our tents, bikes and equipment to a drier location.

After hooking up with Gene I changed course so we could ride along together for a few days. We took Route 12 across the Nez Perce Reservation and fought our way against headwinds to Lewiston, Idaho. Yesterday we got off to a late start, both fixing flats before we began, and I fixing a second inside of five miles. By the time we hit Lewiston we had dropped to 500 feet above sea level. Then we paid the price for our easy ride the day before. We climbed back to 2785 feet at Alpowa Pass, just a few miles inside the Washington State border. But what made this a real killer climb was the wind. The Pass served as a giant wind tunnel and we got knocked back most of the way by 30-45 mph blasts. In places the wind almost stopped our forward progress. It was probably the two hardest hours of riding I’ve experienced in the entire trip.

Fortunately, we recovered in Pomeroy at the Sagebrush Cafe. The food was fine and the “Brownie Delight” made the labors of the morning worthwhile.

Last night, after 75 tough miles, Gene and I camped near Dayton, Washington, still on Route 12. This morning he took Route 124 toward Seattle and I followed 12 south, aiming for Portland.

Gene was a humble, soft-spoken man and a pleasure to ride beside.

(Thursday, August 16, 2007)

I rode a lot of hard miles during my journey; but nothing I did was as hard as handling diabetes, as my daughter Emily must, or as any type-1 does every day. I think she is tougher than me. I know she never complains.

Anyone interested in donating can make out a check to JDRF. Send donations to:

John J. Viall
750 Woodbine Avenue
Glendale, Ohio 45246

I keep a total and send them in afterwards. As of now I am approaching $13,000.

I am proud of having finished my ride. I am MUCH prouder of Emily and how she handles her disease. Her mother and I and her sisters and brother hope to see a cure for this illness in her lifetime.

Thanks to all who supported our cause. My most lasting impression of this journey across America is not the scenery, but the great beauty of the human spirit. I could not have met more good people nor have been treated with greater consideration.

As for the few drivers who shouted and called me “a......” and the like, I hope you can get some creativity into your rantings. Spout some Cartesian logic when harassing bikers, for example: “I think, therefore, I shout stupidly, and I am.”

That would be cool.

I got real lucky when I married Anne.
Sarah is at left, now a nurse practitioner in Washington, D. C.
Emily, right is now a diabetic nurse counselor, also in D. C.

Safe, Sound, Done
(August 16, 2007)

It seems hard to believe: but I have finished my ride after 55 days and 4,088 miles. And I can finally admit I was worried at times—feared I might have promised to do more than I could actually do. I can also admit that I had one close call with a car when a gust of wind blew me too close to the road and one worrisome brush with the creatures of the forest.

My wife need no longer worry, because I have promised not to take another ride like this as long as she lives.

Then again...maybe I’ll take up whitewater rafting.

Gene Myers and I split up and went our separate ways on August 11 and I hope he is soon finished and as thrilled as I am today. I believe he will take great pride in having completed his route, just as any of us spandex-clad fanatics do. (Actually, I don’t wear spandex riding shorts. I don’t have the figure for it.)

As for me, I decided to cut back south into Oregon to save time and headed for Walla Walla, a pretty, prosperous college town. Then I pushed on to Umatilla across the wheat fields of eastern Washington. I saw a lot of local riders and enjoyed talking with them all. You don’t find many depressed, negative people on bicycles, by the way, which is one good reason to ride. As always, I got excellent directions from locals and was able to locate a bike shop where I could stock up on spare tubes.

And cursed I was by the gods: I racked up eight flats in a three-day period!

On August 12 I headed straight down the Columbia River Gorge, despite warnings that winds in the area come “howling up the river.” It was the straightest route to the coast and I wanted to get home. By that point, 51 days into my ride, the only scenery I wanted to see was my wife.

Sure enough the winds blasted me all day and I averaged nine miles per hour and spent nine hours cursing into a gale. I camped free again on Army Corps of Engineers land near John Day Dam. Stars were out in full and the breeze continued till morning, lulling me to sleep.

The next day I was planning to swing south out of the Gorge and out of the wind. Then I heard the weather report on the radio. There would, said the announcer, be no real wind that day. So I kept going, down the Columbia, and was rewarded with spectacular scenery all the way. Sometimes I rode along I-84. But there are large sections of Old Route 30 paralleling the modern road and 30, built around 1916, has great tunnels, challenging climbs, hairpin turns and fantastic views. Rowena Crest requires a climb of several miles but the panorama at the top is worth every drop of sweat. Crown Point, which I reached the next day, also requires a climb of several miles, and is crowned with a wonderful visitor’s rotunda. I talked to a variety of local riders and like a missionary touted the joys of a trip coast-to-coast. I also had an enjoyable conversation with Rabbi Deborah Schloss and her husband, who were kind in their comments about my ride and my desire to raise money for JDRF.

I should also mention the help provided by my brother Tim. The last two days he trailed me or got out ahead and took pictures and helped finalize details of my plane ride home. Last night we stayed in Forest Hills, Oregon, on Route 8. Then I got up early and rode the last sixty miles, through rich, rolling farmland and heavy forest, across the Coastal Range on Route 6, into Tillamook.

Suddenly, I was out of the last mountains and could smell the ocean—or the cow manure near the ocean. Tillamook is the heart of Oregon cheese country. So there are a lot of cows. And a lot of cow wastes. And a lot of cow odors.

Unfortunately, the town sits a mile inland. So that meant riding three miles north to Bay City before I could dip my wheels in the Pacific.

And that, suddenly, was that. The ride was ended. I said I could cross the United States and I did it.

One of my good friends asked before I started, “Why would you even WANT TO?”

Others recommended I carry a gun. My wife feared I would be robbed, by bikejackers, I guess. Almost everyone agreed going solo was a mistake. If a car nailed me and I went flying into the woods, who would find me??

Well, how about bears?

I can now reveal (since I am done riding and my wife no longer need worry) that when I was in Yellowstone I camped in unauthorized territory. I began looking for lodgings around 2 p.m. but camp sites and hotel rooms were already booked. It was raining and cold. So I flaunted rules and pitched my tent a 100 yards from the road in a thick grove of pines. I knew I might be in bear country. So I bagged my food and toiletries and hung them in a tree. Then I lay me down to sleep. Round 10 p.m. some small woodland creature skittered across a corner of my tent and startled me awake. Like a true pioneer I soon fell back to sleep.

About midnight, however, a LARGE creature could be heard snuffing outside my front door.

I grabbed my pepper spray (which I carried to ward off human pests) and clicked the red button to “fire.” I also gripped my bicycle helmet like a frying pan and prepared to whack at any claws that came ripping through my tent. I waved my flashlight about, inside the canvas, but thought better about opening the flap and antagonizing my visitor. Daniel Boone would have handled it differently, perhaps.

But I’m a sissy.

The beast soon wandered away and after overcoming my nerves I eventually went back to sleep. The next morning I found fresh “scat” three feet from my tent. I have described this poop to several knowledgeable individuals and have consulted books about animals, their habits, footprints and bowel movements. Elk and deer leave pellets when they answer nature’s call. And what I saw wasn’t pellets. Then again, elk don’t always leave pellets in the summer. So it could have been an elk. Or it could have been a bear.

If it was a bear I’m glad he was a peace-loving or vegan bear. And if I had looked out and seen a bear three feet from my tent I KNOW who would have been defecating in the woods!

So the bad drivers in big SUV’s didn't get me.

And God’s woodland creatures didn’t get me, either.

Now I am happy to fly home to my family. I feel lucky and give thanks to Anne for allowing me to have my adventure and for being a steady companion and friend and fantastic mother all these years.

I also thank the many contributors to JDRF. It has meant a great deal to our family to have such support.