Well, not really. This blog is about the ride. But since I’m the one doing the pedaling, indulge me for a minute or two… or five. Whatever.
I’m pretty much just your average 66 year old retired lawyer, United States Army officer and urban planner. No, really. I’ve done all those things, and have a lot of great professional memories accumulated along the way. I have a law degree from University of Richmond (1988), a Master’s Degree in Urban and Regional Planning from Virginia Commonwealth University (also 1988) and attended army schools up to and including (non-resident) Command and General Staff College (1988 too- it was a good year). I practiced law with a big firm, then for Alaska Legal Services, then as the owner of my own firm for just about 20 years. I was a regional planner for a large county in upstate New York, then a planning consultant with a large borough in Alaska, where I revised, updated and redrafted its Coastal Management Plan. My military career spanned 24 years, first as a draftee in the active army in 1972 as a medic, then an optician, then to Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning, Georgia. Building on that experience, the Army decided I would make a great Air Defense Artillery officer, and I was trained on the Nike-Hercules system. When I decided to go to law school, I ended my active duty service and branch transferred to the Infantry as a member of the United States Army Reserve. When I moved to Alaska, I closed out my military service as a member of the Alaska Army National Guard with service including command of an Eskimo Scout Battalion and as an Inspector General. I have lived in 11 states over the years, growing up in the western Chicago ‘burbs and never looking back after I left for my first try at going to college. I have been in all 50 states for material periods of time. I have lived in Germany and Italy for a couple of years each.
Oh, and please call me by my first name. That’s David, not Dave, thank you very much. Only my mother (R.I.P. – love you, mom) and my sister Sue get to call me Dave.
But none of that gets us even a fraction of an inch closer to the destination on the ride, right? It’s all just backstory, and tangential backstory at that. More to the point, my interest in long-distance bicycling has been a lifelong one, and I can claim to have made some rides over the years that were fairly notable (well, at least I think that they are notable). While I lived in Pirmasens, Germany in the 1970s I bicycled all over the Rheinpfalz and Alsace-Lorraine regions of Germany and France and, on one longer trip, rode from Pirmasens through the Black Forest and around Lake Constance (the Bodensee) passing through Austria and Switzerland along the way. Another long trip was from Koblenz to Trier along the beautiful Moselle River. I was riding a Peugeot touring bike at the time that I purchased while in Europe in the town of Bitche (pronounced “Beesh,” sheesh!), France.
I lived in northern Italy in the early 1980s and put my trusty Peugeot to great use there, too. I rode all over the Veneto region and, on a particularly memorable trip, around Lake Garda (Lago di Garda) and through Verona and Soave. I continued to ride during the remainder of the 80s wherever I lived, but the Peugeot at some point was stolen and, in any event, I had little time to ride while I was in law and grad school.
So now we’re in the ’90s, and I have bought the first of the two Trek bikes I have owned. I lived up on the St. Lawrence River then, in Waddington, New York, and my workplace was 20 miles/32 kilometers away in Canton. So when spring arrived, I started riding to work. In the five days of each week I logged around 200 miles. Most everyone thought I was nuts. I was having a great time. But then I threw that all overboard (marital issues- you can take it from there) and moved to Kotzebue, Alaska.
Kotzebue is 30 miles/~50 kilometers north of the Arctic Circle. It is a fly in-fly out Iñupiat Eskimo community with, how do I put this? … limited opportunities for long distance bike riding as the longest road from the town only extends a short way before it ends. So I started taking my Trek with me when I traveled, and as a result rode a lot in the San Francisco area, in particular. I highly recommend taking the ferry from downtown to Larkspur then biking along the bay through Sausalito and over the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s not a long ride, but it’s a great one, especially with several plastic cups of ice cold white wine purchased on the ferry in you. Also really memorable is the Pacific Coast Highway (California SR 1) south from San Francisco to Monterey. This is the stretch of road about which Hunter Thompson wrote
You watch the white line and try to lean with it… howling though a turn to your right, then to the left and down the long hill to the Pacific… letting off now, watching for cops, but only until the next dark stretch and another few seconds on the edge… The Edge. There is no honest way to explain it because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over. The others – the living – are those who pushed their control as far as they felt they could handle it, and then pulled back, or slowed down, or did whatever they had to when it came time to chose between Now or Later.
Midnight on the Coast Highway
Hunter S. Thompson, San Francisco, 1965
Now, Dr. Thompson was riding a motorcycle, but I can tell you that I’ve bicycled the same stretch between Half Moon Bay and Santa Cruz at dusk and I’ve felt the same sort of thing.
But I digress. Trek I got stolen in Kotzebue and probably taken out to one of the remote villages in the area. In any event I never found it, and I kept my eyes open for a long time. In 1994, I replaced it with my second Trek, a 7000, when, on more or less a whim, I decided to cycle the length of the Baja. This was the first trip that I really planned out carefully in advance and outfitted my bike with specific gear for. I did the 1,000 miles/1,600 kilometers between San Diego International Airport and Cabo San Lucas/San José del Cabo in two weeks, camping every night along the way. The ride is a whole story in itself- suffice it to say for now that it was the greatest adventure I have had to date. I will never forget it.
Over the next couple of years I did another two week 1,000 mile trip, this time from San Francisco to Sea-Tac International Airport south of Seattle up the Pacific Coast Highway. I returned to Seattle the following year and bicycled from the airport around the Olympic Peninsula on US 101, with many side trips into the Olympic National Park. I also remarried and bought with my new wife Heather a Burley “Rock ‘n Roll” tandem, with which we closed out the 90s by riding about 240 miles/385 kilometers of the Natchez Trace Parkway between Natchez and Tupelo, Mississippi, the Pacific Coast Highway between Astoria and Brookings, Oregon and other shorter trips, including up to Talkeetna in our home state of Alaska as participants in the Lung Association’s annual “Clean Air Challenge” event. I recall considering a trans-continental ride around that time, but plans never materialized beyond the “thinking about it” stage.
And now the sad part. You knew there had to be a catch to all this wonderfulness, right? Actually, it’s not really so sad, mostly. Heather and I adopted two severely disabled boys- brothers- in 2003. Right around that time we did our last bike riding, taking the Burley with us in a trailer when we drove to southern California to finalize the adoption that year and then on a roof rack the following year from Alaska to Acadia National Park in Maine and back. The rides on those trips were short, but fun. Raising the boys, though, was a 24/7 proposition and, for various reasons over the subsequent years, left us with little time and energy to devote to bicycling, whether long distance or just down the road. I wound up giving the Trek to my son when he started college several years ago. We still have the Burley, but it is sitting in our shed, probably very disappointed that we don’t come out to play any more.
Around 2009 I began to suffer severe back pain and neuropathy in my left leg. By 2012, it was clear that I was suffering my family’s curse of osteoarthritis, which has greatly affected members on both paternal and maternal sides. I am a large guy- 6 foot 4 inches/193 centimeters- to begin with, and was always fighting the max weight control limit- about 230 pounds/104 kilos- the last 10 years of my Army service. I have always been physically pretty strong, and particularly in my legs, but the pain and neuropathy left me pretty much unable to be as physically active as I had been in years past. My weight went up accordingly, and maxed out at just under 400 pounds/180 kilometers. I developed mild Type II diabetes and, while medications short of insulin have kept it in check to this day, these meds along with some others I take all list weight gain as a primary side effect. I considered bariatric surgery at one point, but was able through reasonable dieting and light exercise such as stationary bicycling to bring my avoirdupois down to around 360 pounds/164 kilos, which is where I have been since.
So, in 2012 I had major lower back surgery- a laminectomy of L1 through L6 (I have an extra lumbar vertebrae) and S1. The surgery was textbook successful but it did not relieve some issues that the docs thought that it should have. In the spring of 2013 they found out why- my neck was actually worse off than my lower back had been. Arthritic changes had already completely fused C6 to C7 and there was significant narrowing of the spinal canal. In May, 2013, I had a fusion of C3, C4, and C5 to the aforementioned C6-C7 and a laminectomy of the entire area. That makes me, I guess, officially a bobblehead. The surgery again went extremely well and completely stopped the lower back and upper leg spasms that I had been suffering. The neuropathy was pretty much eliminated in my arms and right leg, but my left leg and in particular my left foot continues to suffer from numbness and tingling most of the time, probably as the result of an auto accident in which I was involved in 1990 that left me with a femoral nail from hip to knee and a cobbled together left kneecap.
By early 2014 I felt rejuvenated enough to seriously consider taking a stab at doing a through hike of the Appalachian Trail. I’ve never been a really serious backpacker in the way that I can claim to be a long-distance bicycle rider, but I saw it as being both a serious and a doable challenge. I set March, 2015, as a planned start date and began working out on my stationary bike in earnest. In the months that followed, I planned out a coast to coast bicycle ride on ridewithgps.com that I was going to do as part of my final stage of training. The route would have taken me from Atlantic Beach in Florida to Pacific Beach, a suburb of San Diego, California, over a total distance of 2,829 miles/4,553 kilometers in 45 days. I was allowing myself 45 days in January and February of 2015 to make the ride which, in hindsight and based on what I have learned over the past couple of years, was wildly optimistic.
But stuff happens. One of the training events for the AT was a planned walk by my wife and me the length of the 102 mile/165 kilometer Cotswold Way in England. We did that in September and October of 2014. I found quickly that walking over distance up and down steep grades of the Cotswolds- climbs comparable, but presenting far less elevation change, to the ones I would encounter on the AT- just beat the living hell out of my knees and caused excruciating pain. A visit to my orthopedist following our return confirmed the conclusion I had informally reached- that my days of medium and high impact physical activity were pretty much over. Bicycling, however, remained in the cards. Except…
Except that our younger adopted son, who was close to turning 16, was facing some very difficult challenges at the time. Heather and I decided, with the pressure of getting ready for the AT no longer a factor, that I would defer the bike ride until the situation with our son was resolved. By the time it did, though, Heather was experiencing a health crisis of her own.
By the time that situation was resolved it was 2016. Bicycling long distance was back on the table, and so I bought that year’s Surly Disc Trucker, planning originally to ride from Atlantic Beach, Florida to Pacific Beach, Washington, a distance of something over 4,000 miles/6,500 kilometers. That plan fell apart due to my own health issues once I was in Florida, so I redid my route and headed north in late August to Halifax, Nova Scotia to start a ride down the coastline of the Atlantic Ocean as far as I could make it. I wound up a little less than three months later in Key West, Florida,
having pedaled my Disc Trucker the 3,600 miles/5,800 km in between.
That was just the beginning, though. In 2017 I started the year with a just over 400 mile/650 km six day trip from my Alaskan hometown of Wasilla to Chena Hot Springs north of Fairbanks. After riding locally all summer, that August I made a 52 day, 2,250 mile/3,620 km ride down the length of the Mississippi River from its source at Lake Itasca in Minnesota to Venice, Louisiana, which is as far as the road goes out on the river’s delta in the Gulf of Mexico. The year 2018 saw me starting out by riding an almost 1,000 mile/1,600 kilometer round-trip of the Natchez Trace Parkway, cycling from Nashville, Tennessee to Natchez, Mississippi and back in April. I continued to ride locally in the months that followed, then flew to Washington, D.C. in early August to start a 2,000 mile/3,200 km trip to Kansas City, Missouri. On that ride I cycled up the C&O Canal Towpath and Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) rail-trail to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, then down the entire length of the Ohio River to Cairo, Illinois, then up to St. Louis, Missouri, then across the state of Missouri on the KATY and Rock Island RR rail-trails. I finished the year less than 100 miles/160 km of riding my Disc Trucker 5,000 miles/8,000 kilometers.
This year- 2019- will be my biggest challenge to date. My plan is to pedal across the United States starting in June. This 5,000 mile/8,000 kilometer adventure, which I am calling the “Side2Side Ride,” will start in Seaside, Oregon on the Pacific Coast; follow the Columbia River inland to the western foothills of the Rocky Mountains; cross the Rockies over the Lolo, Lost Trail and Chief Joseph Passes; then drop down into Montana and the headwaters of the Missouri River near Three Forks. From there I will follow the Missouri as closely as I can all the way down to its mouth on the Mississippi River just north of St. Louis, Missouri. At that point my route will turn to the north, following the Illinois River into the Chicago area, where I’ll ride through the heart of that great city: the Loop, and then south along the shore of Lake Michigan. I’ll follow the lakeshore around through Northern Indiana, then leave it and head east across the states of Michigan and Ohio primarily on rail-trails. In Ohio I’ll reach the shore of Lake Erie just west of Cleveland, then ride along it through that city, Erie, Pennsylvania, and finally Buffalo, New York. Just north of Buffalo I’ll arrive in Tonawanda, New York, and the western terminus of that state’s Erie Canal Trail- the ECT. My route will then take me across New York State on the ECT to Albany, the state capital, where I will continue on down the banks of the Hudson River into New York City and a victory lap around Central Park. Sise2Side will wrap up with a ride across the Brooklyn Bridge and across the borough the bridge is named for out to Seaside, New York, a suburb of the city in the Rockaways on the Atlantic Ocean.
So, for now, there you have it. Hope you enjoy the ride.