It’s late evening on Day 2 of my two-month, 3,000-mile bike tour across the Southern Tier of the United States. I sit on an uncomfortable bench In the dull, white-yellow glow of a rusted outdoor light fixture attached to the side of one of the tired buildings located on the grounds of the Jacumba Hot Springs Community Golf Club in rural San Diego County, CA.
Thirteen tents, one for each of the eleven participants and two Adventure Cycling Association guides who have agreed to take on this epic challenge, are pitched randomly on the grassy lawn to my distant right. The tents are all dark now, their owners sound asleep, except for my transportable new home which has a dimly lit lantern hanging from a line tethered at the top.
It’s been a frustrating two days for me. On yesterday’s first leg of our ride from the beaches of San Diego into the hills to the east, my rear tire went flat. After the repair was made, only ten miles further down the road, I began to lose some of the ability to change gears. Day Two, a mostly downhill 57-mile ride, to El Cento, CA delivered a second flat and more mechanical problems. Our support vehicle, always available to provide emergency aid, arrived on the scene and delivered my broken bike and me to our campground for the night in El Centro.
I was at a crossroads as I sat on the bench under the old light at the golf course that second night. I called my wife, Diane, to hear a friendly voice and discuss the issues I was having.
“This bike isn’t going to make it out of the state, let alone across the entire country,” I complained. ”I think I’m coming home tomorrow, bring this bike back, grab one of my alternative bikes more appropriate for a ride like this, and meet up with the group on the eastern part of Arizona in a week.”
She could sense my frustrations, heard me out, and quietly responded, ”I’m so sorry this is happening. Why don’t you sleep on it, think through the options, and make a decision on how to proceed and let’s talk tomorrow. I really don’t think it’s wise for you to leave the group at this early stage. We’ll work something out on this end,” she added.
And that’s what we did. My wife, sister and brother-in-law all pulled together to keep my dream of making this journey alive.
With the dawn of a new day, I hatched a plan that included me staying with the tour group for the next day, riding along in the organization’s van, and having my brother-in-law, Mark, make the 600-mile round trip from our home in Tucson, AZ to our new location in southeastern California. Within 24 hours, I was set with a replacement bike and a new attitude.
It was time for me to reset and move forward with the ride, this time more successfully, I hoped.
We’re a team of eleven cyclists and two representatives from the Adventure Cycling Association who serve as day-to-day activity coordinators and leaders of our tour. Ten men and three women ranging in age from 36 to 80. Some are still gainfully employed, others recently retired. We’re from the four corners of the United States, hailing from Washington to Georgia from California to New England and parts in between. We are or were librarians, teachers, dentists, business consultants, stock brokers, software engineers and many other varied professions.
One thing is clear: we are a collective of individuals who are gathered here to test our abilities, explore the US at 10 to 15 mph, meet new people along the way and see if we’ve got what it takes to make our dream of doing this epic ride a reality.
Since we began our journey at sea level in San Diego September 24, we’ve climbed through the hills to the east of the city, experienced the high desert of California, seen the farmlands of the state’s Imperial Valley and hugged the border of Mexico as we’ve pedaled our way across the state line of Arizona near Yuma. We’ve made our way to the metro Phoenix, Arizona area for an overnighter and a much-needed layover day. And on the ninth day of the tour, we climbed 7,000 ft. into the Saguaro-populated hills of the Sonoran Desert in the north central region of Arizona.
We’ll continue on our Southern Tier route through New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama before finally reaching our goal at the shores of the Atlantic in St. Augustine, Florida on November 20.
We will not fail.