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 63 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. Detailed day by day routing starts here [linkie]. I was allowing myself 45 days in January and February of 2015 to make the ride.
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- grades 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.
And here we are in
2016. With current plans to begin the ride following attending my daughter’s wedding in Rhode Island in late May, I have substantially reworked the original Beach to Beach Trans-con route in order to avoid the desert southwest in mid-summer. As you will learn in posts to come (this is written on April 12, and is the first content on the blog) the route, now cleverly called Beach 2 Beach, has been extended by a little over 1,100 miles/1,760 kilometers and ends in Pacific Beach, Washington.
…2017, having ridden my new in 2016 Surly Disc Trucker
from Halifax, Nova Scotia the 3,500 miles/5,700 km down the Atlantic coast to Key West, Florida last fall, finishing up in mid-November. This year I have ridden about 800 miles/1,300 km so far, including a just over 400 mile/650 km six day trip from my hometown of Wasilla to Chena Hot Springs north of Fairbanks. In a matter of a few weeks I’ll be starting with a friend on a 52 day ride down the length of the Mississippi River from its source at Lake Itasca in Minnesota to the river’s delta in Louisiana on the Gulf of Mexico.
So there you have it. Hope you enjoy the ride.