- Thank you [??] to Howard Headley and Sue Petersen who, two or three years ago, discussed the insane idea of riding their bicycles across America.
- Thank you to all those who were involved with the planning and preparation involved with turning Howard and Sue’s insanity into reality.
- Thank you to Marshall and Ann Schilling, and to Suzi Wood for providing the support services for this tour. Without all of you, this undertaking would have been a whole lot tougher.
- Thank you to all who followed us on our travels and supported us with your thoughts and comments of encouragement.
Since we all knew that we were taking three support vehicles plus a travel trailer, we all went carte blanche on the stuff that we brought. As it turned out, most of us mailed a lot of our stuff home after about two or three weeks on the road (The person who mailed their rain gear home should have thought otherwise).
The rule of thumb for packing should have been: a) Gather and organize all of the stuff that you think that you will need for the trip. b) Reduce the gear that you collected in “a” by half. c) Reduce the gear that remained after step “b” by half. d) Once “c” has been completed, you probably have the correct amount of stuff.
A long tour such as this one forces the rider to gain a new respect and appreciation for these delicate, yet tough, transportation machines. As we crossed the country, we changed out a few tires and tubes, cleaned and lubed chains regularly, repaired a few wheel bearings and did little else. Yet our bicycles held together and continued to perform day-by-day under a variety of conditions.
Camping in a different location for nearly all of the 72 days of our venture allowed us to sample a number of different campgrounds throughout the US and Canada. The following is a sampling.
The Best: Our last campground, Moorings Campground near Belfast, Maine. The only downside to this campground is the fierce mosquitoes that swarm after 8 pm.
The Worst: Republic, Idaho. One bathroom with one key for a number of campers. Cold water only in the shower and a toilet that leaked constantly.
The Noisiest: Whitefish, Montana. The trains that rolled through that place every 30 minutes sounded like they were coming right through your tent.
The Most Crowded: Traverse City, Michigan – nicknamed “Somalia.” Every campsite in this densely populated facility seemed to have a roaring campfire that kept the area thick with smoke.
The Scariest: Duggin’s Campground in Ontario, Canada. Every individual inhabiting this campground seemed to be drunk and have a big, mean dog.
If there was one factor involved with this tour that might possibly make a person go insane, it was the routine. Each day, other than rest days, seemed to be a carbon copy of the previous day: Get up, eat breakfast, break camp, get on your bike and ride, reach camp, set-up camp, eat dinner, go to bed. At times we all felt stuck in a remake of “Ground Hog Day.”
Be assured that this country – at least the portion that we traveled through – remains great. The grandeur of the American landscape from the West, to the Midwest, to the East is awe-inspiring. The beauty that we observed from the saddle will forever remain etched in our memories.
America’s greatest asset is her people. The people that we met as we crossed this great land proved, in all cases, to be genuinely gracious and resilient individuals. People were always willing to give us directions and, in some cases, even shepherd us along our routes, all the while demonstrating a genuine interest in what we were doing. As we bicycled though areas of North Dakota and New England, for example, we encountered and chatted with people who safeguard their traditions and culture fiercely, while still supporting and defending the basic rights of all citizens. We observed and met individuals and communities who are suffering in today’s economy; yet, they still cling to the hope of a better future.
The Human Element
Initially 11 individuals started out on this venture, seven riders and four support people. The attrition began when the Schillings’ grandson, Cole, missed his buddies in Pendleton and opted to go home. Two more individuals were lost when tragedy struck and Howard Headley was injured in a hit-and-run auto accident. We all hated to lose the leadership and spirit of Howard and Chicken from the group. Eight of the eleven soldiered on.
When eight individuals are put together for 72 days, there are bound to be some bad days that go along with the good. We certainly had some days when there was friction and disagreement within the group. For the most part though, group members were respectful of each other and tried to focus on the primary issue of this tour, which was the ride. Every individual harbored a passion for bicycle riding and looked forward to the ride as the best part of the day.
A Final Thought
Crossing the Northern Tier of the United States on a bicycle was not easy; it took a special commitment of time, energy and will. Those who were involved in completing the crossing, whether a rider or a support person, is entitled to savor a special sense of accomplishment for completing the crossing. Those involved also cannot help but have been changed, in some sense, by the venture – be it through developing a greater appreciation for camping or becoming more tolerant of others. Hopefully, these changes will be productive and positive.