Wednesday, Oct 18, 2017
One of America's Great Newspapers ~ Toledo, Ohio

Matt Markey

COMMENTARY

B.G. friends pedal America

Retiree status doesn't fit yet

Bowling-Green-friends-Russ-Frye

Bowling Green friends Russ Frye, left, and Tom Vanden Eynden take a break during their 4,300-mile bicycle trek with the Mississippi River in the background.

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BOWLING GREEN – There's no shuffleboard in the immediate future for Russ Frye and Tom Vanden Eynden. No bingo games, no plans to buy a recreational vehicle or spend the winters at a trailer park somewhere in Florida.

Retirement for these friends from B.G. had to include more adventure, exploration, and stretching the map. So that meant investing three months this summer in a cross-country cycling trip that covered close to 4,300 miles.

They started with the tires of their bicycles splashed by the surf of the Atlantic Ocean in Yorktown, Va., and completed the ride by baptizing those same bikes in the Pacific in Florence, Ore.

Now this was not Lewis and Clark blazing a trail through the wilderness, but it was indeed a trip without any nights at the Marriott, and no room service, gas pumps, or airline gates.

Frye and Vanden Eynden were part of an eclectic 10-member group that included a couple of cyclists from England and one from The Netherlands. They followed a route carefully mapped out by Adventure Cycling, a nonprofit that puts together dozens of different bicycling trips that reach nearly all of the lower 48 states and three Canadian provinces and furnishes a tour leader.

The route is meticulously planned with safety as a priority, so it traverses mostly secondary highways and roads. Each day the group covered about 55 miles, regardless of the terrain or the weather they encountered. The cyclists carried their own tents and sleeping bags and camped about 80 percent of the time, with a few nights spent at hostels, lodges, or volunteer fire departments.

"It's clearly not for everyone," said the 63-year-old Vanden Eynden, who retired this past spring after a career as a waste water treatment plant operator. "But roughing it is part of the appeal for me. I liked the idea of being totally self-sufficient."

Frye, who retired about eight years ago from his career as an educator in the Maumee school system, and has been an avid cyclist for the last five years, said the three months of pedaling across mountain ranges and long, flat stretches of highway did not turn out to be an arduous exercise.

"Physically, the trip is not as hard as people might think. You just have to have the persistence to get up every day and ride 50 miles or so," said Frye, 62. "The greatest appeal is that every day is different. There's a map and you know the route, but you also have no idea what you will encounter. Every hill, every turn in the road brought a different vista and new things to see."

The wildlife along the route was varied — the two-legged, four-legged, and four wheeled varieties. The coal trucks in Missouri presented a few tense moments when they passed in both directions on a fairly narrow roadway, and just an occasional motorist indicated they wished these retirees were walking around a mall somewhere, and not using a thin slice on the edge of roads.

"But 99 percent of the drivers we encountered were decent people," said Vanden Enyden.

This summer the Bowling Green men saw deer, pronghorn antelope, prairie dogs, bison, bald eagles, and a variety of small mammals and countless birds, but the only real issue with wildlife focused on the raccoons that were intent on making nocturnal food raids.

Although they all covered the same route, camped as a group, and shared the evening cooking duties, the cyclists did not travel in a tight pack. They often paired up and traversed the route at their own, comfortable pace. The day's ride was usually completed by late afternoon, which allowed time for setting up camp, fixing a meal, restocking supplies, and even a little hygiene.

"Some of the places we stayed were pretty raw. I mean the shower was a garden hose, but at some of the state and national parks the facilities were very nice," Frye said. "On a trip like this, you quickly learn how to find pleasure in small things. I can remember after a tough ride on a real hot day just soaking my feet in a cold stream, and how good that felt."

Once every week, there was a scheduled rest and rehab day, which was filled with laundry chores, bike maintenance, visits to the local stores, and some recharge time for weary muscles.

"Originally, I thought all of those scheduled rest days weren't necessary," Frye said, "but once we got out there on the road, I really came to appreciate them."

The meals were usually utilitarian, with oatmeal for breakfast and either peanut butter or cold-cut sandwiches for lunch. One welcomed departure from that menu took place in Tribune, Kan., where the relatives of a friend of Frye's assembled a women's group from church and prepared a home-cooked meal.

The memories from the trip already fill a virtual library, but for Frye and Vanden Enyden, the Tetons and the Bitterroot mountains were a highlight, as was passing through Ennis, Mont., where the welcome sign at the edge of the village says the population includes "864 people, and 11 million trout" — a large fish hatchery is in Ennis.

There were several 100-degree-days to weather, but just a few incidences of rain, and those were usually regarded as a relief from the heat.

"And every little community seemed to have a museum or a historical site," Vanden Enyden said. "You'd like to have the opportunity to stop and see each one of them, but the problem was that the more you stopped, the later you would get in each day."

They also remarked with sadness about the number of small towns they visited that were apparently bustling with people and businesses at some point, but today were run down and shrinking.

Frye said the pair would like to repeat the trip, with their wives along and utilizing a different mode of transportation, and have the flexibility to get a much closer look at all of the places they passed through on their cycling journey.

"But it was a very rewarding few months out there," Frye said. "I tend to be impatient, but I think that after this, I'm now more patient. If that hill is there in front of you, then it's still going to be there so you might as well be patient about crossing it."

Seeing the Pacific Ocean and the ultimate finish line brought out different emotions in the pair.

"It was almost disappointment on my part," said Frye. "Certainly there was a sense of accomplishment, that you'd done it, but there was also a little bit of a let down that the ride was over. I almost felt like I wanted to turn around and ride back home."

Instead, they took the train back to Ohio, but still haven't really left those roadways that were staring at them for every mile of the marathon journey.

"Reaching the Pacific was great, with a sense of ‘finally we made it', but now that I'm back home, I kind of wish I was still out there," Vanden Enyden said.

Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: mmarkey@theblade.com or 419-724-6068.

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