On a June day in 1977, at the age of 14, my close friend Alan Rotman and I bicycled just over 100 miles. We started in Framingham, Massachusetts, passed through Woods Hole, from where we took the ferry, to Martha’s Vineyard and ended up at the HI Martha’s Vineyard hostel. Not only was it a full day but it was our first “century.” After several days of biking around Martha’s Vineyard and visiting with friends, from the Burlington High School Outdoor Club, who were staying at the hostel, we biked back home. Al and I completed the same trip the following year and started to realize that long distance riding was becoming part of our young lives.
Always up for a challenge, in June 1980 Alan and I bicycled 1,000 miles from Alan’s house in Worcester, MA to Niagara Falls and back in 15 days. We stayed in campgrounds and with friends along the way. Once at Niagara Falls, we enjoyed a ride on the Maid of the Mist boat that circles near the bottom of the American and Horseshoe Falls. I remember wearing the black raincoat that kept me dry as we boated through the casting water from the falls.
This trip convinced us that we were strong enough to bicycle across America.
And so the journey began the following June, in 1981.
We dipped our front tires into Boston Harbor near the New England Aquarium and set our goal of running into the Pacific with our bikes over our heads signifying our successful trip.
When we left Boston we took the northern route and followed roads through Massachusetts, New York, Ontario, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, and California.
We climbed over the Berkshire Mountains, the Rocky Mountains, the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and California Coast Range.
We pedaled through the Bonneville Salt Flats in the middle of a 100 degree day.
We completed our longest single day of 185 miles from Winnemucca to Reno.
49 days and 3,800 miles later we raised our bikes over our heads and ran into the Pacific on the beach in front of Ghirardelli Square in San Francisco.
When I reflect on this trip, it makes me laugh that Al and I were fearless and at the same time clueless. We had no cell phones or GPS, no real master plan other than heading west each day. We relied on AAA paper maps and by asking lots of questions to locals.
We were so fortunate that those we met were engaging and for the most part supportive and kind. A family in White South Dakota let us stay in their guest room despite only having met us hours before. One night we slept under an overhang of a shopping center and in the morning a nice couple brought us donuts and coffee from a local shop. We were also welcomed with open arms from strangers in Ypsilanti, MI, Jackson Hole, WY, and Salt Lake City, UT.
My takeaways from these trips are America is BIG, exploring new placing is fun and exciting, and for the most part people are thoughtful and kind.