Coast To Coast Across America -
By Frosty Wooldridge
“The long distance touring cyclists pedal all over the planet without causing any environmental stress to Mother Nature. Therefore, the cyclist becomes an intricate part of the natural world. Not only that, he or she shares a magical connection that transcends the mechanized world. Every cell in a cyclist’s body charges around thinking that it conquered the world. You might call it “pedaling bliss” or for lack of another word, the transcendent joy of being alive.” FHW
(Standing astride our iron steeds on the Pacific Ocean at Newport Beach, Oregon for our coast to coast bicycle adventure. Howard, Wayne and Frosty ready to ride.)
April showers create spring flowers.
Newport Beach, Oregon: Before us, looking west, the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean erupted from liquid blue giving way to an azure sky. A few cirrus clouds dotted the horizon to bring a magical countenance to the waves crashing on the beach. Seagulls glided above the breakers while crabs popped out of their tunnels in the sand. One hundred yard long rollers peaked 50 yards out until they crashed upon the white sands that spread north and south for as far as the eye could see.
Kids played in the sand while beach combers dipped their feet into the waves that rippled up after being spent. One child chased a flock of seagulls causing them to take flight. They squawked as they flew over our heads.
Standing astride our bikes, looking at the endless expanse of water, we glanced eastward toward another ocean called the Atlantic some 3,400 miles in the distance. How do you get your arms around such a venture? How can the human body pedal a bicycle over 10,000 foot passes, through torrential rains and into heat waves hot enough to sweat-drench a cyclist from the neck down all day long?
Wayne, sporting silver hair, at 70 stood astride his Long Haul Trucker with a sense of pride in his ability to pedal on such a long bicycle tour. He featured a wide smile and great expectation in his boyish grin.
My brother Howard, 61, fresh off a stroke from an arrhythmia attack that paralyzed him and robbed him of his ability of his speech for a week, luckily recovered 97 percent of his body mobility. He spoke, walked and pedaled as before. His lifelong iron determination suffered not in the attack on his heart.
After recovering from his stroke, he said, “Brother, we’re running out of time-turf. What do you say we pedal across America to create some memories, pictures and make some friends?”
“I’m with you Howard,” I said. “Let’s run from New Port Beach, Oregon to Washington, DC. We’ll cross the Cascades through the Ring of Fire, follow the Oregon Trail, across the mountains of Idaho, into burning desert of Utah, then, over the Rocky Mountains to Denver. We’ll pedal the Great Plains that will lead us into the Appalachia Mountains and on to DC. Lot’s of history, folk heroes and famous places.”
“I’m with you,” Howard said.
The route followed Howard’s horseback trip across America in 2005. This trip would make Howard the only man in history to ride a bicycle and horse coast to coast across America.
When I invited my long time friend Wayne Oberding from Landis, Wyoming, who had cycled down the Continental Divide in 2011 with me for a spell, he said, “When do we start?”
As we stood astride our bikes, a lady snapped our pictures for the beginning of our epic ride.
“Why are you guys bicycling across America?” she asked after handing the cameras back to us. “Wouldn’t it be easier in a car?”
After a lifetime of cycling around the world, hundreds of people have asked me that question. To travel on a bicycle steps outside their comfort boundaries. As a different species in the modern world, humans ride in motor-driven cars for everything in their lives. It seems uncomfortable to go so slow and with great physical output to travel on a bicycle. It’s hot, it’s cold, it’s hard and it’s sweaty.
On the other hand, cycling allows me to blend into the adventure like the ingredients mixed into a batch of chocolate chip cookies. You know the end result of that combination: culinary joy, emotional bliss and your taste buds do summersaults across your tongue.
The easiest way to help others understand the “spectacular thrill” of bicycle touring stems from the meshing of the combination of body, mind and spirit. Bicycling engages all three into a crescendo of music matched only by the New York Philharmonic Symphony.
If you meet with a long distance touring cyclist, you will see someone smiling, incredibly physically fit and with a deep spiritual gleam of joy in their eyes.
Another way to share the bliss: I ask someone what turns them on the most. What makes them so happy that they jump for joy? They might answer softball, bowling, macramé, their kids, a rocking chair, painting or swimming. Some activity turns everyone on to some degree. When they can relate what they love to do, then, they understand why we love cycle touring.
In the end, life presents each of us with a great adventure, a grand journey and a fantastic opportunity to express ourselves. Howard, Wayne and I love to express ourselves with the “Zen of the Crank.” By that, I mean a spiritual “meditation” that transforms a cyclist’s spirit into a form of ecstasy. While we face tremendous 10,000 to 16,000-foot climbs, you won’t hear us groaning, complaining or wishing.
One veteran coast to coast across America cycling friend, Dave Turner of Dublin, Ireland, talked about pedaling up high passes. He said, “Nobody feels sorry for you so you might as well get on your pedals and get yourself to the top of the pass. You’ll feel incredible when you make it. And, you always make it because you decide to keep pedaling.”
“You guys ready?” Howard asked.
“East bound and down,” Wayne said. “Let’s git ‘er done.”
“I’m with you guys,” I said.
We walked the bikes up to the Main Street in New Port Beach. The beginning of the tourist season showed a plethora of flowers, beach outfits and characters in that coastal town.
Our fully loaded touring bikes featured four panniers that carried our tents, sleeping bags and air mattresses. We carried enough water, cooking gear and food for several days. We carried tires, tubes and tools. Several changes of clothing and lots of gear gave us the ability to travel across an entire continent under our own steam.
After filling our water bottles, checking our packs, we headed east on Route 20 toward Corvallis, Oregon.
The bikes rolled slowly into the gathering deep woods of the Oregon coastline. Our journey began!
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