Category: Ride of the Nearly Departed

Bicycle ride across the USA March and April 2018

The Ride of the Nearly Departed


To begin, I need to explain the title. I know it sounds a bit strange and it is. Throughout my entire life I have always looked for adventures. From taking the road less traveled, even when I wasn’t completely sure it was a road, to attempting something completely beyond my skill set, I have never been afraid of the unknown. This is not to say that I am an adrenaline junkie, jumping out of perfectly sound aircraft or riding over waterfalls in a barrel. No, I value my life and want to live forever or die trying. Instead I try to find the adventures that await in everyday life. Things such as taking that less traveled road or cow path; kayaking that rapids, hopping on my bike and riding with no destination in mind or following that path through the woods just to see where it ends up. It even led me to buying a run down Canadian resort and moving a thousand miles to different country to run a business I only vaguely understood. It has led to places of unchallenged beauty, situations of chilling fear, the insides of burning buildings and adventures both vast and small. Still, there have been things left undone due to the need to put food on the table or honour promises made to those who depend upon them being kept.

One of those undone things was a desire to ride my bike across North America, from sea to shining sea, as the song goes. This idea was born at high school between four track team buddies back in 1969. We had no idea of how to do this thing or even the vaguest sort of information about what it would entail. We were young and full of that spirit that makes young men feel invincible. Unfortunately, aside from having bicycles and strong legs, we had zero funds and no so much as a road map. By the end of our senior year, the draft during the height of the Vietnam War or the need to pay for further education trumped any cross country adventures. Skip ahead past marriage, children, building a livelihood and finally retirement, to where there was time, knowledge and possibly the funds to undertake that journey. I made my decision, signed up for the trip and began to shape my plans. Then my heart stopped beating.

Just fresh from my 66th birthday and a physically fit, non-smoker with a healthy diet and no previous medical problems, I found myself in the back of an ambulance, huffing nitro. At the emergency room, I lay on my back, feeling incredibly sleepy and just getting to that pleasant mental state where a satisfying, deep sleep was creeping up from deep inside when wham, I am wide awake and in the moment with at least a half dozen people clustered around me asking me if I know where I am. My head clears and I am told that I was down, no heart beat and no breathing for about a minute or so. My chest feels like someone hit it with a sledge hammer and I am told they had to do chest compressions and use a defibrillator to bring me back from just the other side of death’s door. From that ER it was a bumpy ambulance ride through a snowstorm to the Ottawa Heart Institute for two stints, a few days of observation and a whole new set of perspectives on life. Yet another adventure for Bob but not one I ever dreamed of, let alone desired. My bicycle adventure seemed destined to be but an unfulfilled dream.

“Don’t be too hasty,” advised my cardiologist, “your trip is just over 3 months away and aside from nearly being deceased, you are in excellent shape.” “Let’s give it a couple of months, then we can talk again and make a more informed decision.” At first I was not sure I heard him correctly but as it turns out a near death experience need not be a dream killer. Still, I had much work to do to take that dream back to reality. First, I had to change my diet. It appears my genetic heritage makes my optimal cholesterol number a lot lower than most people’s. Next, I had a nice buffet of daily medications to take for the next 30 plus years or eternity, whichever comes first. Then I had to give my heart a chance to heal before beginning the gradual process of bringing by body back into shape for the adventure. Fortunately, my body was already fairly fit and while not some muscle bound superman, I was reasonably sound and healthy for a 66 year old guy. I could do this.

January Training

It is now just over one month before I am due to leave. I am on my stationary bike for just over two hours a day and doing ten minute, ninety rpm spins four times during that period. Despite this being January in Ontario the weather has eased off enough for me to get in four outdoor rides over hilly and chilly roads. I feel stronger every day and now just need that last visit and go-ahead from my cardiologist to kick start this adventure.

Winter Training Sucks

When you live in Ontario above Highway 7 and are getting in shape for a ride beginning in early March, the training sucks. I don’t know of a single person that loves extended spin sessions or two to three hours at a time on a stationary bike. Having high quality TV to watch only makes the experience endurable, not enjoyable. Still, I have been lucky enough to be able to get outdoors and on the road four times during the month of January which is definitely an unexpected bonus for where I live during January. Well worth the nearly frozen toes and fingers that are the price you pay. I know that my hard core friends are willing to strap themselves onto their fat bikes during almost any weather conditions but I fear a skid-out or other misfortune that could injure me in a way that could scuttle the trip I am training for. For now I’ll have to saddle up indoors, dream of the adventure ahead and enjoy season 3 of The Newsroom.

All Systems Go: T-Minus Two Weeks & Counting

My doctor has given his qualified O.K. so it appears I am good to go. (“Try to dial it back a notch and pay attention to your body.”) Good advice for anyone my age. I managed to take advantage of a mild(ish) day to get in a 5 hour road ride. I used my mountain bike with knobby tires and dealt with some strong wind gusts to go along with temperatures that started out below freezing but thankfully got a bit warmer by the end. If I can do five hours in those conditions, I should be ready for anything the southern US has in store. Of course mother nature has the final word and she needs to know that I am rooting for her to stay calm and in a good mood. Now on to my final week of heavy training followed up by a more relaxing week before our San Diego launch.

The Journey Begins

March 2, 2018

I got up just before 3am this morning and with the help of my brother-in-law Paul, made my way to Baltimore’s Thurgood Marshall Airport. While it would have been more convenient to fly out of Ottawa I would have needed to change planes twice to get to San Diego. Each time my bike would need to be unloaded, handled by the gentle folks at each airport and carefully placed upon the next plane. I could not foresee a good outcome for this procedure and given that I could fly for about one third of the cost out of Baltimore, my choice was clear.

At the airport my wife Chris helped me drag my bike and other gear into the terminal and with a quick check in and an even quicker but emotional goodbye, I was through the gate and into the loving arms of the TSA. After removing nearly everything but my smile, scaned and probed, I was deemed safe enough to fly. High winds from a nor’easter threatened to delay the flight but aside for a bumpy takeoff we were away clean and on time.

Things went smoothly on the ground in San Diego despite TSA opening my bike box for inspection but neglecting to replace the nylon straps I used to keep it secure. Fortunately, Alaska Airlines lived up to their reputation for handling sports equipment in a careful manner. The Airport Shuttle ( was there within minutes of knowing I was ready with a full sized SUV and a friendly driver. Definitely the easiest way to get bike and gear from the airport. While I waited for my room to be ready I un-boxed my bike and got everything put back together without a single hitch or damage. I am ready to roll come Monday morning.

Wasting Time in San Diego

March 3, 2018
Bob on the waterfront

I arrived two days early just to be sure there would not be problems with either my flight or my bicycle. When it takes you many years to be able to do something like this and you spend countless hours training, it is better to be cautious. Fortune smiled and I now had a couple of days to spend wandering. Today I decided to give my bike a test run over some of San Diego’s many bike routes. While not as bike friendly as Vancouver, it still is ahead of many North American cities.

After a quick spin and a few wrong turns to find my Sunday afternoon meeting place, I cruised down to the waterfront and followed a multi-use path into the downtown. San Diego has an impressive downtown but having seen my share of tall buildings, I opted for a look at the harbor. Front and center to this interesting area is the now retired USS Midway.

USS Midway

Commissioned right after WWII she was the largest ship in the world until 1955. She saw service in Vietnam as well as Operation Desert Storm where she served as the flagship. After a 47 year career she was retired in 1992 and now serves as a museum and tourist attraction.

A kiss as big as a ship
The Big Kiss

Standing along side the Midway is a giant testament to a classic photograph from LIFE Magazine. The original kiss happened thousands of miles away in Times Square on VJ Day and was published a week later in LIFE. It looks great in front of the Midway even if it is 2700 miles off course and the ship is from a different era.

Further along is another interesting display of public art. Bob Hope was famous for many things, his comedy, his movies and his variety show on television but he is far more loved for the work he did entertaining the armed forces of the US. From the beginning of WWII onward, Bob Hope enlisted a cadre of other entertainers to lighten the spirits of service men and women defending his country. He headlined 57 performances over 50 years in every conflict from WWII through the Persian Gulf War. For his service he was names an Honorary Veteran by an act of Congress in 1997.

Bob Hope: Honorary Veteran

First Meeting: New Friends

March 4, 2018
First Group Meeting

Our group assembled today at the Point Loma Hostel. Some had already been here for a few days and had established relationships. Along with a few others I arrived in the afternoon. The group spans about two decades of ages and all have a good deal of cycling experience. A very friendly and welcoming bunch. After some get acquainted conversations and checking out each other’s bicycles we relaxed and waited for our official beginning at 4pm.

Cammie and Kelly, our tour leaders from Adventure Cycling, arrived right on time and after a brief meeting fixed a great dinner for the group. As we go through the weeks we will all take turns exercising our culinary muscles. Later we sat down for our daily map meeting to go over tomorrow’s route. The evening ended with a toast to fellowship, friendship, a safe and interesting ride and an epic journey.

Dale, Pete, Annette, Jim, Cammie, Kelly, Barb, Bill, Jorge, Marianna, Kevin, John and Alan will be my companions for the next 54 days. I look forward to the adventure we will share.

Shadows on the Pacific

March 5, 2018

Shadow on the Pacific

After a hearty breakfast with about three time the calories I usually consume, it was time to pack up our gear and head down to Dog Beach for the ceremonial tire dip into the Pacific. It is aptly called Dog Beach as it is an off leash beach specifically for dogs and their human companions. I managed more than a tire dip with an incoming wave providing a free wash of the sand from my cycling shoes. While I truly like free things, upon sombre reflection, I could have done without this one. Pictures were taken a toast made and we were off to Alpine California, 45 miles away and 2000 feet up. Add to that 2000 feet the normal hills along the way and there was between 3200 or more feet of actual climb today.

At the start
We are off

The 13 riders stayed mostly together with the hills spreading us out quite a bit. Given my recent history I decided to obey my cardiologist’s advise and NOT try to be the first one up the hill. At least that is my story and I will swear by it. The route saved the best climb for last with a nice five or six mile long hill that I was sure would eventually end at the Pearly Gates but only made it as far as Alpine, CA.

First bio-break
Curb side lunch

The tribe is mostly gathered with only Cammie, our sweep today and Marianna on her recumbant bike to still come in. Bill and Barb are tag teaming dinner and snacks are already on the table. I should sleep well tonight.

Our first night’s campsite: Just outside Alpine

Up Hill Climb but Downhill to Finish

March 6, 2018

First Climb

Today was all about the climb with the added attraction of a strong headwind. While long, the climbs would not have been too bad except for the strong headwinds and the wind tunnel effect made by the rock cuts. Our distance was a relatively short 45 miles but it seemed longer.

Breakfast at camp
Pie on the Ride at Pine Valley

After a quick breakfast made by Bill and Barb Samose, we packed up and were off. We had to make a short trip on Interstate 8 due to the lack of another route but it was quickly back to Old Route 80 and a lot of steady climbing. The nice thing about 80 is that there are some places to stop along the way. In the community of Pine Valley a lot of us stopped for second breakfast. I opted for a nice slice of pie with ice cream.

Refreshed, it was back to the uphill grind. I would like to say the wind let up but that would be a lie. However, there were some really great downhill grades to partially make up for it.

Second big climb

After the last big climb it was mostly a long downhill grade into the community of Jacumba Springs and a real treat, a stay at a resort with actual rooms, restaurant, pool and laundry! Jacumba Springs is tight to the Mexico border, so close you can see the wall. I wonder who paid for it? (the wall, that is)

The Wall
Jacuumba Springs Resort

Best Ride & Longest Day

March 7th & 8th, 2018

The gang on the road

March 7th

Our ride today began with a fantastic 10 mile downhill glide on Interstate 8! Bikes are allowed on an Interstate highway whenever an alternative route does not exist. Best of all, this was a new portion of that Interstate with smooth paving and long swift glides through massive rock cuts. It made up for the previous day’s climbs, almost.

Macaroni farming

At the bottom we passed from the mountains into the Imperial Valley, home to massive desert farming operations. Along the way I met a farm worker and asked what the main crop was. He explained that macaroni was their primary export. They plant it in the early spring and it is harvested sometime around the end of August. He went on to say that once the harvest is in nearly every town in the valley has a pasta festival, usually around Labour Day. Hundreds of migratory workers are employed in the harvest since the plants have to be shaken by hand to dislodge the macaroni. However, times are changing and more and more farmers are using a new machine to do the labour intensive task. At first I thought this farm hand may have been pulling my leg but I remembered seeing a documentary on the CBC television network a few years ago that talked about the spaghetti harvest so I knew he must have been telling me the truth.
I think he must be from Calaveras County.

I also passed a very interesting power generation plant. Back when I was a kid we had an expression that went, “ If BS was electricity, you would be a walking power plant.” Well now that I have actually seen a BS power plant I am fairly sure that it would be difficult do scale one down to a personal size.

If BS were electricity…

This evening it was my turn to cook along with fellow rider, Jeorge. We made an epic chicken stir-fry along with Waldorf salad. Both were set upon by our fellow bikers like a pack of hungry wolves.

March 8th

Beautiful, Downtown Glamis

A long ride today, close to 90 miles. We were not trying to prove that we are iron men and women but the plain truth is that there were no places to camp along the way. The one stop was in a one shop town known as Glamis. Here we were able to tank up for the next 40 miles of black top with no food or drink to be had. Fortunately it was only a desert.

Chocolate Mountains

The journey was a long winding road through desert country and past the chocolate mountains where it is said that chocolate chips are mined. The road was crazy narrow for about 30 miles with no shoulders and heavy truck traffic. The truck drivers are a good bunch always giving us plenty of room as they zoom by. I wish I could say the same for some RV rigs and nearly every passenger vehicle. Nearly every rider had some nasty encounter with a rude vehicle driver this day. They do not seem to realize that we are doing all we can by wearing highly visible clothing, displaying reflective triangles and flashing lights and by getting as far onto the shoulder as we safely can even though the law entitles us to ride using a full lane of the highway.

Our stay tonight is at a nice campground with the nicest washrooms and showers so far on the trip. Pizza for dinner!