The summer following my sophomore year in high school my brother, my father and I set out on a four-thousand mile bicycle tour across the United States. Our journey was what might be called a trial by fire. My brother and I had minimal training and no experience.
On June 3rd we left my grandfather’s house in Reedsport, Oregon in the pouring rain. Within a few miles we were soaked to the bone, and experienced mechanical difficulties. The first day was rough to say the least. If difficulty and adversity were going to be companions on this trip they wasted no time in showing up. For the first few days my mom drove our van to support us as we worked out the kinks. The van was nice, but this trip was about going into the unknown, never knowing where you might sleep at night and most of all being self sufficient. So as diplomatically as we could we sent mom home. I still remember the tears in her eyes.
The Pacific Northwest received severe weather that Spring, our progress became a daunting test of will and muscle. I will admit there were times when I wished I was somewhere else. Day four found us in some of the most brutal conditions we faced during our journey. We climbed Santiam Pass just East of Waterville, Oregon. The climb to the summit was thirty-four miles. The first twenty-five miles we rode non-stop through a driving rain, and then as we approached the summit it began to snow. Cycling over a mountain pass is usually cause for celebration but we had difficulty finding the actual summit because all the road markers had been covered in snow which was now coming in sideways. It was so cold that during our eleven mile long descent I could feel the heat from my breaks on the insides of my ice covered thighs. A few weeks and four states later the high passes of the Rocky Mountains ended, and as we began our long roll across the plains, the temperature soared. Despite beginning our days before the sun crept over the horizon we still endured weeks of one-hundred plus degree weather.
I learned more with my own eyes about my fellow Americans than books had ever taught me. I shared a campsite with a Native American, a park bench with a Kansas wheat farmer and conversed with the people of Appalachia and the Ozarks. Everyone was very nice and unique and colorful in their own ways. I saw rich America and I saw poor America, and I enjoyed discovering both. There is a hospitality in the Mid-West that has been lost in California. For example, in Tribune, Kansas we were staying in the city park and there was a community pool across the way. The pool staff seeing us camped here, came over after they had closed the pool and told us they were going to leave the bathrooms and showers unlocked for us. We stayed in religious camps, hostels, city parks and firehouses all allowed by the kindness of the people.
Our journey ended on August 1st on the shores of Chesapeake Bay, in Yorktown, Virginia. I was not only proud of our accomplishment but what I found more satisfying, is the pride and happiness it brought my father. I know that he had dreamed of this day for many years. This journey tested me both physically and mentally, and yet I persevered, and through unwavering determination and steadfast commitment I rode my bicycle across the nation. I’m a stronger person now. As Dad says, “Mission accomplished.”
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