By Lou Melini
Riding across the U.S. has been on my to-do list ever since I completed my first transcontinental ride in 1975. On August 22nd of 2018, Julie and I completed our ride across the United States via Adventure Cycling Association’s, TransAmerica Bike Route. We rode 4,230 miles during our 70 days of riding plus we took one rest day. We had hoped to complete the ride on August 21st, our 36th anniversary, but as we say, it is what it is.
Our rest day was in Missoula and entailed visiting with a college friend that I met during freshman orientation in 1969. Bob was excited to have us stay at his house. “I’ll have breakfast for you bright and early, 9 AM OK?” I broke the news to Bob gently that we normally left at sunrise to beat heat and traffic, so we compromised at 8:30. Bob, like hundreds of others along our travels were friendly, helpful, and generous, cheering us along even though they did not have a clue to what is like to do an overnight bike ride let alone a transcontinental ride.
We had a great ride, though there were more than a few days of mountain climbs in the west, masochistic steep terrain in the Ozark Mountains of Missouri, heat that forced us to stop for the day, and the uncertainty of the quality of where we camped or slept for the night. Julie kept telling me how angels helped get her over the mountains, helped us through the heat, and made our nights comfortable despite some disappointments. I sometimes had to agree that maybe she was right more than a few times. Then there was the final day of our ride. Going back to 1975, it seems that on every big trip there is one day that will stay in my mind forever. Like our Appalachian Trail thru-hike, the day waited until the end.
Julie kept procrastinating about obtaining plane tickets until our final day, primarily because we didn’t really know what day was going to be the last day. We assumed it was the 22nd of August but we didn’t know for sure. One never knows what may happen. For example her rear derailleur cable broke on the 20th of August and I couldn’t thread a new cable in, presumably because the head of the old cable was jammed in her shifter. (There is a longer story to this) Fortunately the last 95 miles was relatively flat. By adjusting the setscrew on the rear derailleur, I turned her 27-gears into 3. Despite “only” 3 gears she was able to comfortably ride the rest of the way.
During the final week of our ride, the plan was to complete the TransAmerica bike route in Yorktown where there was a bike shop. We would box up the bikes, have Bike Flights pick the bikes up, maybe stay the night to visit historic Yorktown and fly out on the 23rd. I had contacted the bike shop early in our final week and boxing the bike was all set, all we had to do was contract with Bike Flights, but again we procrastinated.
We made good time on the 20th despite Julie’s broken cable so I called the called the shop to finalize our plans. The woman on the phone was somewhat distraught and said a “sudden incident” has occurred with the shop and they would not be open on the 22nd. She was very nice and said that she would leave 2 bike boxes outside and that there was a UPS store about a block or so away. At this time I was ready to end our ride in Williamsburg and make our arrangements at a different shop. Williamsburg is 13 miles shy of the official end in Yorktown but Julie wanted to do the entire ride with or without me, “trust the angels”. The day before our arrival I again called the shop in Yorktown asking to buy a pedal wrench to be put in the bike box. The guy I spoke also was a bit distraught. He said the registers were closed so I couldn’t buy anything but he would put his personal wrench in the bike box for me to use.
On the 22nd of August we rode the final 33 miles into Yorktown, stopping at the memorial monument, the official end of the TransAmerica bike route. I went to the nearby visitor center to buy a book for the upcoming flight home while Julie searched for directions to the bike shop on her phone. Now she looked distraught stating; “Siri is telling me the bike shop is 13 miles away”. I replied it must be another Siri mistake as we had many of them during our travels. Upon asking a local person, the shop indeed was 13 miles away. Apparently Yorktown is geographically a large town for the given population.
We ate some of the food we had on our bikes, filled our water bottles and rode off to the bike shop that was closed hoping that the boxes would be outside and behind the bushes as promised. We mostly followed a back road but for a less than a mile we were on a rather busy road. A small car pulls up along side of us and the driver yelled, “Hey pull over, I need to talk to you”. My first reaction was to ignore the jackass that wanted to chew us out for being on the road. The driver then pulled into a Starbucks lot waving to us to pull into the parking lot, which I did. He approaches us with his hands over his head saying, “I’m Ron, from Ron’s House with Adventure Cycling”. I knew who he was as his home is used to house traveling cyclists. After my amazement wore off that someone like Ron would coincidentally be driving past us on this one-mile stretch of road I was then able to state what our short term plans were. We told him about the closed bike shop and the bike boxes. He said he was also going to the shop.
I searched all over as did Julie, no boxes. No, this can’t be happening, I said to myself! In the shop were some people so I jumped up and down outside the store to attract attention. The people in the shop were Trek employees doing inventory, as I then found out, Trek bought the shop. I explained the situation and in short time I had 2 bike boxes marked “boxes for bikers”, plus they gave me some tools to use to pack my bike, and in one box I found the pedal wrench. By this time Ron showed up and went to UPS to buy strapping tape to seal the boxes. His car is small so he put one boxed bike in the trunk as best he could and took it to the UPS store. He then took the second box along with Julie and I and our panniers to UPS. Our bikes were turned over to UPS albeit at a considerably higher cost then Bike Flights.
Ron then asked, “What’s next”. Julie replied that either we get a flight or a place to stay to which Ron replied, “I’ll take you to the airport”. Julie quickly tried to get plane tickets but didn’t receive a confirmatory email. We went to the airport and explained our situation to the American Airlines agent. He said he had our information but no ticket, “no problem”. He helped Julie finalize the transaction saving us the $70 agent fee and we had a flight home. Still in our bike clothes we then went to the restroom to wash up a little, change into “normal” clothes and headed for a restaurant as we had a not eaten much that day. At midnight we arrived home. The next day I received a phone call from the bike shop, profusely apologizing for the mix up with the bike boxes. I had to think that Julie might be right again about the angels, so I made sure she texted Ron to thank him.
I came across your article of your TransAmerica bicycle trip today (2 years after you posted it). Great article and comparison to your trip in 1975. And what an incredible accomplishment to do such an epic event again after 44 years! Just curious – what is your 1975 trip similar to the Bikecentennial TransAmerica trip that started in May 1976? I would expect A fair amount of changes since then