When I’ve told people I am riding my bike across the country, I get many reactions that range from “That sounds really cool” to “Are you crazy or just plain stupid?” Ultimately, the question is why do this? Certainly you can fly from San Francisco to Boston, drive a car, ride a motorcycle, take a train, or even ride a donkey. There are simply a lot easier ways to see the country. For me, the “why” do this is driven by a few key things:
1) I think it’s in my blood. My grandfather, Carl Pritchett, was an avid bike rider. He got into cycling when he was an adult and I remember visiting him as a kid and seeing his beautiful Gitane racing bike with italian sew up tires and Campagnolo components and for some reason being simply in awe. We went for rides on the C&O canal when we visited my grandparents at their home in Bethesda Maryland. I was hooked and so was my Dad. My dad got into cycling and I distinctly remember being 13 years old and seeing how excited he was when we found out we were moving from Virginia to Northern California and he discovered there were bike lanes all over the bay area. As I grew up in the Bay Area, cycling became a regular part of my life. It was my transportation to school and work, it was a way to connect with my dad when we would get together with friends for a Sunday morning breakfast ride, ride a 100 mile century or ocassionally commute together to his work. When my dad retired from work, he and 2 of his riding buddies, Kirby and Roger, decided to ride across the country from Astoria Oregon to Boston, MA and my mom, MaryAnna, drove the car with their gear as their support wagon. Yes, she is truly a saint. My wife, Cindy and I got to join them for a leg of their trip in Wisconsin and I was hooked. After being on his trip, reading about it in the book he subsequently wrote about his adventure and hearing his stories, I knew it was something I had to do as well at some point in my life. In the end, cycling has always given me a sense of adventure, accomplishment connection and freedom. Riding across America is a way to experience all of those things
2) Because I expect it to be hard. I don’t know why, and I can’t explain it but I am drawn to things that I think will be hard to do. Particularly when it comes to riding a bike. Weather it’s riding a double century (200 miles in a day), racing in a 100 mile mountain bike race or doing the Markleeville Death Ride (130 miles and 14,000 feet of climbing in the Sierras), there is nothing quite like the feeling of accomplishment I get from doing something that truly stretches my limits. Cylcing across the country will be 3900 miles, 112,000 feet of climing in about 60 days and we will face, rain, relentless wind, heat, dehydration and pure exhaustion. It will be my version of completing the Tour de France.
3) Because I get to do it with a great friend. I’ve been riding bikes with Chris Dittmore for about 17 years. We met when our boys were both in Kindegarten and joined Indian Guides. We discovered a mutual love of cycling and have been riding together and talking about riding across the country for years. Now we get to share the adventure.
4) Because I hope it will inspire others to pursue and make their dreams happen. We all have our bucket lists and things we wish we could do but life oftern gets in the way because of work, family obligations, financial constraints etc. Life is short and unpredictiable and I want to live it without regret and with a sense of direction, power and purpose.
Because life is short and you never know what it brings. My dad’s ride across the country was one of the key things that inspired me to do this myself. I always hoped when I decided to do this that he would be able to participate in some way with me. He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s a few years ago and while he is doing well, it was a stark reminder that things can change in a moment. Over the last few years, I have also had several people close to me have to battle significant illness, injury or loss in their life. The opportunity to do this with a great friend was here, my health is good, my youngest is now in college and my dad will be able to be at the start and finish with me, what better time than now!
Why this route?
There are certainly shorter routes with less hills/mountains than the one we have chosen. Organizations like Adventure Cycling even have tried and true routes that have been scouted and mapped so you can be assured of good roads, lodging and amenities. But that would be easy. And remember, easy is not really part of the equation. Chris and I decided to construct a route that incorporated places and friends we wanted to see and things we wanted to experience. It’s not just about the goal of crossing the country, it’s about a great journey and a way to experience some great parts of our country. We had to start in San Francisco and ride over the golden gate bridge because it’s where we are from and it’s one of the iconic cities of the west. Lake Tahoe had to be included because it’s spectacular and one of Chris’s favorite places on earth. Jackson Hole, The Tetons and Yellowstone are simply magnificent and I’ve always wanted to see the famous carvings at Mount Rushmore. Chris and our friend Ken Mozek had done RAGBRAI (Registers Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa) previously and always had a desire to do it again. It’s also the largest cycling event in America with 10,000 crazy cyclists riding across Iowa for a week so it had to be included in the itinerary. Our friends the Blackwells offered to host us at their lake house in Indiana so that was a must. Then on to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, along Lake Eerie to experience Niagra Falls and then finishing up at Revere Beach in Boston where we have family, friends and it also happens to be the place my dad finished his trip. In the end, the route just emerged from the people and places we wanted to see along with experiences we wanted to have. It’s going to be quite a ride!