Posted on 05/24/2016 at 05:21 PM by YMCA of Greater Des Moines
"My biggest takeaway from the trip was really the kindness of strangers!"
In 2015, I read an article about a bicycle rider from Minnesota who rode his bike from St. Paul to New Orleans. Reading that story I said to my wife, “I’d like to do a ride like that.” Her answer: “Go do it.”
I have been a bicyclist for over 35 years and have done several RAGBRAIs and a few weekend tours — but never anything to this magnitude. I’ve also stayed active all my life which includes being a lifeguard at the John R. Grubb Community YMCA since August 2014. So, the trip and mileage didn’t totally scare me.
Thus began a plan to ride from Burlington, Iowa to New Orleans — self-contained and solo. I planned an aggressive schedule to accomplish this in 15 days. If you put Des Moines to New Orleans into Google Maps, you’ll see a route of roughly 1000 miles, but many roads are off limits to bikes so my actual route was around 1300 miles.
Part of my motivation for this journey was to “check out” for a bit and think about life. Sitting on a bike for an average of eight hours a day certainly allowed me to do that.
"Part of my motivation for this journey was to 'check out' for a bit and think about life."
My route took me through Illinois, Missouri, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi and finally, Louisiana. My lodging plan was to alternate tent camping with motel beds — my 57-year-old back can only take so much ground sleeping! I found a well laid-out route through AdventureCycling.org, which covers bike routes for almost anywhere you want to go.
Although I ventured alone, I ran into other cyclists on their own journey. Four guys were traveling from the east to west coast. My mileage was only a quarter of what their plans entailed, and each of these guys was also going solo. Thanks to today’s smartphone technology, my wife always knew where I was on my route —a much-needed comfort for both of us.
My route consisted of the following:
I stayed spot-on for the most part of the trip. The third day was cut short due to hills and major headwinds but was made up for the next day, and on May 6, a broken rear derailleur had me renting a car and driving 80 miles for a repair. This deflated me for part of the day but got me to New Orleans a day earlier than planned, which allowed me to bike 60 miles throughout The Big Easy on May 8 instead of just arriving that day.
I met nothing but wonderful people from beginning to end. No matter where I was, I never felt threatened or in danger on the roads I traveled. I even made a visit to a YMCA in Clinton, MS for a yoga class! The Y instructor gave me her cell phone number and said to call if I needed anything on my trip. When I mentioned I was going to go shopping for a cheap sweatshirt as the camping nights were colder than expected, she drove home and got one her husband's old sweatshirts for me!
"I met nothing but wonderful people from beginning to end."
I met folks that drove me to grocery stores, took me to a bike shop when I broke down, offered their yard for me to sleep in, bicycled me to my motel — just wonderful, wonderful folks. My biggest takeaway from the trip was really the kindness of strangers!
Thanks for sharing your story, Don! What do you think of Don’s trip? Share your thoughts and kudos in the comments!