Louisville Bicycle Club

Louisville Bicycle Club Newsletter -- November-December 1996

From Sea to Shining Sea: A Cross-Country Bicycle Journey

by Bob Murphy and Cindy Zinner

On the second day of our 51-day journey across the country, we collapsed on our hotel bed after 106 miles in 105 degree heat. We turned our TV to the Weather Channel. “There is a severe heat advisory in the Sacramento Valley today. It would be very dangerous to spend any more than an hour or two of strenuous activity outdoors....” After our 12 hours on the bikes, we looked at each other and started laughing. And then I went into what was essentially a total body cramp. 51 days, 3,720 miles, an estimated 63,000 vertical feet of climbing. A pretty ambitious journey for two people who completed their first century only one month before dipping their wheels in the Pacific Ocean. But with the generous assistance of our friends in the LBC in our preparations, we made it. After deciding we did not want to camp or carry heavy panniers across the country, we selected a supported tour run by America-by-Bicycle. They planned the route, carried our luggage, provided all-you-can-eat breakfasts and dinners, and sag and mechanical support along the road. All we had to do was bike, on average, 80 miles a day. We started at the Pacific Ocean at the Golden Gate Beach in San Francisco. We essentially took a straight shot across the country, through Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts and finally, the Atlantic Ocean beach in New Hampshire.

We had over 70 people in the group, and maybe 20 others who joined for one of the 5 separate stages. (For people who could not get 7 weeks off at one time, they could do a different 10 day stage each year and make it across the country in 5 years!) Ages ranged from 13 to 69 and one-third of the group was over 50. Each of our fellow riders seemed to have a unique story. Larry was a former police officer who was hit by a car on duty and received 110 units of blood; he was riding to raise awareness for the blood donations. (When is the last time you donated??) Joe was President of the National Scoliosis Foundation and had a custom bike to help protect his spine. Joe was a totally upbeat guy and always seemed to be there with encouragement and a good laugh when you needed it. “Mama” Shook was with her 13 year son and her daughter who had just graduated from college and was starting a job at NASA. Look up “determination” in the dictionary and you’ll see a picture of Mama Shook. Mama didn’t have what you would call the “classic” body type for cycling, and she rode a bike that was a tank. And she picked up stray trash along the road — discarded road signs, boots, a thighmaster — to give as a awards to everyone at dinner. And she rode every inch of the trip. Rainy, one of our riding buddies for a good part of the trip, was always on the hunt for a good diner. If we pulled into a small town and saw her bike, we knew that was the place to stop. She would eat a half a pie for an appetizer at lunch. She was truly inspiring for us big eaters. Part of the reason for the big appetite was she was pregnant. Jim was a guy we hardly ever saw — he took off early, rode fast, sometimes getting in to our next hotel before they had disassembled their continental breakfast bar. It would have been easy to dismiss him as a hammerhead. But one night we had dinner together we asked him why he wanted to ride across the country. He almost started to cry as he told us that he was planning to ride the trip with his son, but his son died from a malignant melanoma just a few weeks before the trip. And you knew that all the time he was riding hard, alone, he was riding with his son.

Cindy and I really never had a clear answer as to why we were riding across the country. Somehow we just decided to do it. We went to Dave Spitler and said, “Well, we took a trip in Ireland about 8 years ago, did about 30 miles a day, and we haven’t ridden much at all since then, but we kinda thought we like to bike across America in 51 days.”

Of course, most of our friends and family thought we were crazy. Dave said, “Yeah, you can do it.” Dave got us in touch with Rebecca Cole of the coaching staff and Jerry Larmee at the YMCA. Rebecca introduced us to a winter of Zone 2 training and heart rate monitors. Rebecca’s coaching was awesome: I can say that absolutely without Rebecca’s help we would have not made it very far out of San Francisco. We were a little skeptical at first, being essentially ignorant of modern training philosophies and formerly of the “no pain, no gain” school. Rebecca taught us balanced and efficient conditioning. We thought we would have to do a ton of centuries rides to get ready; we only did one. We weren’t sure we were ready for the trip when it started. In retrospect, we were very well-prepared for the trip and big thanks goes to Rebecca. Thanks, Rebecca!!

There were so many stories that we won’t bore you with them here. But here are the highlights:

  • The best part of the trip: The people of small town America
  • The most difficult part (Tie): Nevada. Headwinds in Kansas
  • The most beautiful state: Colorado.
  • The best one day ride: Salida to Pueblo, CO. Downhill through the canyons of the Arkansas River.
  • Best roads: New York.
  • Worst roads: Missouri.
  • Most interesting scenic overlook: Garden City, Kansas. The tourism department must have been limited — this scenic spot overlooks a huge cattle feed lot.
  • Number of flats: Bob 14, Cindy 3.
  • Number of completely new wheels: Bob 3, Cindy 0.
  • Best tailwind: Tornado Warning, Lamar, Colorado. We averaged 30 mph for a while. Then Bob had a flat and we got drenched.
  • Number of Days of Rain: 3.
  • Most Interesting Breakfast Experience: Brigetta’s Cafe, Woodbine, Kansas. No menu — Brigetta asked what you wanted and then gave you what she had. An order for pancakes and hash browns turned into French Toast and Eggs. The cost? “One dollar.” Are you sure that’s enough, Brigetta? “Okay, five dollar.”
  • Most punished part of the body: Your butt. Zone 2 training just didn’t help us here.
  • Typical SAG stop snack: 32 ounces of Gatorade, 5 packs of cheese crackers, 5 Oreo granola bars, and a dozen cream filled cookies
  • All-you-can eat buffet restaurants that declared bankruptcy during our trip: 1, The Sizzler. The 70-plus riders in our group took pride in this.
  • Average Calories Per Day: 6,500. No doubt at it, being able to eat as much as you wanted was a fun part of the experience.
  • Would we do the trip again? No. Are we glad we did it? You bet. It was the trip of a lifetime. If you love biking and love to travel, this trip is for you!

To contact America-By-Bicycle call 603-382-1662, or you can call Cindy or Bob with questions at 451-7511.

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last updated: 08 November 1996
by Duc M. Do