The bike ride from Oregon to Mobile began with this post on Facebook: “It’s that time again, time to hop on the bike and take another long cycling journey. Circumstances are different from my last trip four years ago along the Pacific Coast, and they may slow me down a bit (foot surgery; a knee-scoping procedure; broken ribs, the result of being hit by a car; and a cancer diagnosis), but I am still excited about the opportunity and feel blessed to have the strength to even consider such a challenging venture. With this trip, which begins on July 5, I would like to support one of the great organizations in our area, Camp Rap-A-Hope.”
“I usually bike around Mobile. Four years ago I did a 1600-mile ride along the Pacific that took five weeks. I like challenges, being outdoors, and relatively safe adventures. Biking across parts of the country is all three at the same time. I grew up with seven brothers and there was a lot of sports competition and doing athletic things together. The trip from Astoria, Oregon to Mobile was 3,500 miles and almost eight weeks. Before I retired in 2014, I went through an illness and struggled for three months with headaches. The days I could go to work, I came home and collapsed from the headaches. One day, I said the heck with this. I got out my will and threw it on the counter. If I didn’t make it, fine. If I did make it, great. So I went out and ran. I was going to do this bike trip.
On the first ride through California, I realized there needed to be a purpose. This time, I made it about Camp Rap-A-Hope, a free camp for kids with a cancer diagnosis, and dedicated the ride to the people I love who died from cancer. I found out over a year ago that I have stage four prostate cancer. Thinking of the camp and the cause kept me going on the hard days.
The bike weighed approximately 35 pounds and I carried about 60 pounds because I was camping. It took time to get used to the weight and the bike has a mind of its own, especially when you are going slow. There was no plan, but the one rule was to stay in tents all of the time unless there was no way I could. My wife handled logistics at home and helped me find camps and places to stay. I stopped by 5:00 in the afternoon to wash clothes and give them time to dry. I had two pairs of cycling shorts and more tops, but I got rid of a lot of them when I started ditching things to make the bike lighter. There were some things I caved on. I never drank chocolate milk, but I looked forward to having it every afternoon. That cold milk was a motivator.
Soon into this, I realized I was going east and all of the other bikers were going west, but I wanted the trip to end with me pedaling into Mobile. It was riding the white lines, tailwinds, headwinds, climbing mountains, then squeezing the handbrakes until your hands hurt all of the way down the other side. Some mountains were so hard that I would aim for a pole, make it to that, take a breather, then aim for the next one. One day, I did 120 miles in Wyoming. I knew it was going to be a long run and thought I would have the wind behind me. I never thought it would rain because it was high desert, but it did. I battled the wind and the drafts from trucks and semis the whole time. I had three feet of shoulder, but traffic is going by at 70 or 80 miles an hour. It was tough. but I pushed through that stage because of Camp Rap-A-Hope. I discovered the challenge was to make sound decisions when my body was exhausted, that was my responsibility. There was a reality of being out on the bike and everything else faded away. You don’t worry about the rest of the world, only about where you are going next, where to stay, and what to eat. I went through Missouri, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Alabama. In Yellowstone, I crossed the Continental Divide three times in one day. I had one crash when I was looking at a farm and had suddenly hit something. I learned to pay attention to what was happening.
I woke up early in my tent and wrote each morning. I was just going to describe what I saw and move on, but then it became bigger than that because of the people I met. They welcomed me like I mattered to them. It wasn’t like this on the trip to California, but this time I went on back roads through small towns. America is so divided, but out there all of that disappears. The people were so kind and it easy to talk to. I saw beautiful places, but the trip became about the people.
I ran out of water multiple times and pulled up to people on the side of the road, or walked up to houses and asked for water and they were generous. Some handed me water bottles as they passed me on the road. They gave me supper, donated to Camp Rap-A-Hope, and prayed for me on the side of the road. They talked with me at convenience stores. One lady stopped everything and prayed for me as she was checking me out at Walmart. An Indian family who owned a motel asked about the purpose of my trip and gave the money back on the room as a contribution.
Wayne was an elderly man who pulled up beside me in Nashville, Arkansas and asked if I was lost. He led me to a campground and we talked about our cancers. He invited me to stay at the RV at his house. He let me shower in his home, washed my clothes, and took me to dinner. The next morning he took me to breakfast and dropped me off at the highway. Wayne was a blue collar guy and I would have never expected him to take care of me like that. He became a friend and will come down to visit me next year.
By the time I hit Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, the roads were so bad, I was doing 90 miles a day just to get home. In a convenience store outside of Magee Mississippi, I realized I was the target of a man’s profanity and he threatened to get a bat out of his truck to ‘beat my bald head in.’ He eventually got into his truck, warning me that if he ever saw me on the road, he would kill me. A few miles down the road, I saw the sign that said “Sanatorium” and I understood. A few miles south of Magee the shoulder ended suddenly and without warning. It became a rumble strip and a white line and stayed that way to Hattiesburg. I was forced to ride on the opposite side of the road against the traffic and the buffeting winds of trucks for hours.
After 53 days on the road and surviving Bloody 98 in Alabama, I arrived home at 6:30 on August 31, wet, exhausted, and sore from several consecutive days of high mileage cycling. There wasn’t much time for celebrating the end of the journey. Only minutes after pulling into the driveway, I learned of the recent death of my neighbor Mary, ninety-six, a retired teacher and good friend.
I raised $2,800 for Camp Rap-A-Hope, but I don’t feel like the journey is over yet, or that it will ever be. I learned I need to be kinder to people because I now know how it feels to have so much kindness shown to me. I recently saw a cyclist from Korea biking through Mobile and gave him a place to stay. I also need to be more patient to people.
I miss being out there. I don’t know the next time I will do it because the cancer is year to year, but I will go again.”