I traveled 3,467 miles, by bicycle this summer (2007), from Upper Saddle River, NJ, to Los Angeles.
I think what makes my story unusual is that: I have a semi-paralyzed left foot; I have chronic lymphocytic leukemia; I made the trip solo; and I am 70 years old. Further, I have not heretofore been a cyclist, except for some extremely occasional puttering around town.
I left NJ on June 25, at 3:30 in the afternoon and arrived at 8:05pm on August 12. There were the equivalent of 9 days when I did not ride: I spent a total of 3 days on visits with my brother in Ann Arbor, MI, and with my eldest son, in Denver. I also lost the equivalent of 3 days to bike-related issues necessitating repairs and parts, and the equivalent of 3 days to lightning storms and heavy downpours that took me off the road. Thus, I had 40 days in the saddle.
Also significant is that the prevailing winds are west-to-east, adding much time and effort to the trip. There were many days when the wind was 20mph against me with gusts higher. Often I had to pedal as hard as I could in the lowest gear and struggle to simply to remain upright, at under 6mph, on level ground! And because I towed so much weight in a trailer (until Michigan, where I ditched it and the camping gear and went to saddle bags), I had to walk 9 out of 10 hills in NY State (at least the top portions of those hills).
I chose to traverse the states from NJ to Port Jervis, and NY to Buffalo, across Ontario, into Michigan, then through Wisconsin, Minnesota, and the northwest corner of Iowa into Nebraska, then Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona, to California. Thus I avoided the highest mountain passes and took on the Mojave Desert instead.
To my surprise, I discovered what “high desert” means, as the road rose 2,700 feet. That was not the challenge I anticipated there and it had a greater effect on me than the heat, which ran around 112 degrees!
That covers the who, what, when, where and how (without mentioning all the nice things that happened en route), but not the “why.”
At first, it was simply a challenge. A friend (Dr. Joseph Chuman, the Leader of The Ethical Culture Society of Bergen County), had ridden from Seattle to the GW Bridge, 11 years ago, and I was jealous, half-promising myself to do that myself “some day.” It took a while. Because I had to attend a wedding in L.A. in mid-August, this year, and be back in time for my almost every day substitute teaching duties at The Bergen Academies, in Hackensack, I had to go east-to-west.
My friend had a few advantages on his trip: he was 49 years old … and had the wind with him. My advantages were that I trained for 6 months, and had good new equipment and gear (he had a $300 bike, was rather overweight, and wore sandals and shorts). We both lost a lot of weight on the trip and though I was fit at the start, I still lost a bunch … one is supposed to eat about 500 calories per hour to maintain weight. Despite eating fried whatever, full-fat ice cream and otherwise unhealthy food, I went from 161, when I started training, to 148 when I started the trip, to somewhere under 140 when I finished (I had no access to a scale until 9 days later, after much partying).
But the ride became more than the challenge of it. It served as a fundraiser for four disparate organizations and constituencies, chief among them, the Ethical Culture Society of Bergen County. Thus the membership and others were solicited to make donations.
The other groups were:
* The Interact Club, perhaps the most impressive club at The Bergen Academies. This high school club works to the benefit of the hungry and homeless in Bergen County, but also, on two occasions, has paid the airfare for children from the third world who come to the US for medical treatment. A third child is targeted. A brochure was prepared to solicit donations for that club;
* Upper Saddle River’s services for the Fire Department, the Ambulance Corps and the Rescue Squad are entirely volunteer, and I lent my trip to them to raise funds;
* Lastly, my 50th college reunion is next year and I promoted an enhanced class gift to Hobart College for the event.
You can relive my trip by reading the blog, which recorded almost daily updates. I am continuing to post to the blog by writing essays with a perspective one an only achieve after having had time to reflect on it all. Check it out at: www.bobgordon.info.