We recently celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary and cycling has been a part of our relationship throughout all those years.
While Denise grew up cycling in and around her hometown in Goshen, IN, Jim was also cycling, but putting on longer distances. He was a avid cyclist and had completed multiple day to week long tours on bicycle with friends in the years prior to our marriage (rode UP of MI, circled PEI twice, cycled the St. Lawerence Seaway, and others).
One of the first gifts Jim purchased for Denise was a new Schwinn LeTour Delux, that complemented his own bicycle, and they cycled around town and the River Greenway together. When children were added to the family, cycling continued with Jim hauling a Cannondale “bugger” with one and then two children in tow! The added weight and resistance helped slow Jim down so they more easily rode the same pace, which helped make it more fun. When a third (and then fourth) child was added to the mix, cycling stopped for the family until we discovered and then purchased a piccolo. Nathan rode the tag-a-long behind Denise, Abi was old enough to ride on her own, and Josh and Hannah were in the bugger. We rode short trips to McDonalds, Pizza Hut, Magic Wand, or simple routes around our home.
Through the years, we continued to cycle as a family—our longest rides being the Kal-Haven Trail (34 miles) and the Flat Fifty (up to 50 miles). As the children grew they graduated up to the piccolo, and then singles, and eventually everyone was on their own. When there were children our speed was dictated by the youngest, but as they grew older and stronger, or decided they really did not like to bike, Jim and I were on our own again!
Denise had always liked the idea of a tandem, but Jim had never really been interested. Over the years, Jim warmed up to the idea and decided a tandem would be fun to try, so for our 18th wedding anniversary we purchased a used Trek 200 in 2005.
We discovered that riding tandem was fun and we both enjoyed it. We could talk and be in close proximity as we rode. We learned the nuances of riding a tandem: adapting to each other’s cycling styles, movement, jargon, and jokes (she’s not pedaling back there!) We discovered there were lots of others that rode tandems, tandem clubs, and tandem rallies— HOOTS, ITR, MTR, and more. It seemed people were friendlier when you ride a tandem as it is somewhat of a novelty to see. We started riding more often and longer mileages. However, Denise discovered she really didn’t enjoy riding more than 35-40 miles because of discomfort, so we kept to shorter distances or took frequent breaks if we rode longer.
Because our tandem was used and getting older, our bicycle mechanic (Tim) was having increased difficulty in finding parts and making repairs that were needed to keep us rolling smoothly. In July of 2013, we made the decision to purchase a new, custom ordered bike and anticipated its arrival in the fall.
However on a Monday morning in late August 2013, we had a tandem accident. Denise received multiple broken bones, necessitating surgery and a hospitalization stay. Jim, thankfully, was not seriously injured and for you cyclists that are concerned, the tandem was fine—with the exception of the front tire blowout that precipitated the accident! Needless to say, the road to recovery was tough and long. One of the first things that entered Denise’s mind was our investment in the new bike and wondering if she would even be able to ride again!
Our first post accident ride was 4 miles at a very, very slow pace, for it was less than six weeks after the accident and Denise still had challenges to overcoming in the recovery process, plus she discovered she had a new found fear of crashing again—especially on a turn. Our new Co Motion Equator with belt drives and an internal hub arrived several weeks later at Summit City Bicycles and Fitness. It was beautiful! Plus with the professional fit by David, it was comfortable to ride. Unfortunately, at this point our riding time was limited as colder weather was upon us and Denise still had to have two more surgeries to achieve healing of her clavicle.
With the warmer weather of spring we were propelled to try to get back into cycling. We had previously committed to being a part of the commitee for a local MTR to be held in the fall of 2014. We wanted to try and participate in some of the planning rides, the first of which was 40 miles. We cautiously started adding miles, had a second fit with Barry to adjust the bicycle for Denise’s new shoulder geometry, and were amazed at how good it felt to ride. It was not pain free— your seat needs to get accustomed to riding increased miles and Denise struggled with numbness in one foot for several years after the accident, but in general she was amazed at how good bicycling felt when you have a bike that has been professional fitted for you. We increased our miles and enjoyed (most of) them!
Nate, another one of the guys at the bike shop, had shared with Jim his love for a trail system that ran from Pittsburgh to Washington DC. We started cycling with the goal of riding that trail in mind: we increased our mileage, rode longer miles on back-to-back days, rode with added weight and in September of 2014 completed the Great Allegheny Passage and C&O Towpath. Cycling 351 miles in 6 days. We rode self-supported with our luggage packed in panniers and loaded on our bike, but “credit carded” our way, staying in hotels or Bed and Breakfast establishments and eating in restaurants. What a sense of accomplishment and great time we had! That trip led to more trips….
- The Katy Trail, Clinton, MO to St. Louis, MO, May 2015, 344 miles.
- Cycling to MIracle Mountain Ranch, Churubusco, IN To Spring Creek, PA, May 2016, 370 miles.
- The Idaho Panhandle, July 2016, 370 miles,
- The Natchez Trace Parkway, Natchez, MS to Nashville, TN, March 2017, 506 miles.
In addition, in 2015 we became aware of the National Bike Challenge through the local cycling club, 3RVS. The Challenge is a country-wide contest to encourage outdoor cycling. Points are awarded for each day you ride and also for the number of miles ridden. Suddenly we were motivated to ride every day for the team! It’s amazing how the miles add up when you try to get out on the bike every day. Our mileage increased each year:
- 2014 – 2500 miles
- 2015 – 3850 miles
- 2016 – 5000 miles
- 2017 – 6000 miles
1976 was the Bicentennial celebration of our country. One of the events that took place that year was an organized transAmerican bicycle ride. Jim heard about the trip and immediately thought that was something he would love to do, however his work commitments prevented him from participating. But the idea was born and since that time he has had the dream of cycling across the United States in the back of his mind. What a better way to see the geography, meet the people, and view God’s creation than to travel the US by bike?
As the years passed, he started thinking about the trip as something he could do when he retired. At the beginning of 2017, Jim took a partial step to retirement by moving from a role as an active perfusionist to cell saving. With that transition he asked for an extended leave of absence in the spring of 2018 for the purpose of riding cross country. His partners agreed and active planning began to make his dream a reality. Around this time, Abi decided that she …..
After completing the tours on the tandem, particularly the Natchez Trace where they had essentially completed 1/6th of the mileage needed to cross the country, Jim realized the trip was something they could do in the tandem together—he just had to convince Denise!
The past year has been filled with Jim poring over maps, reading tour books and blogs of people who have made the trip, and encouraging Denise she could ride and not just be his support team! Jim had asked Abi to join him on this bucket list trip while she was still in high school, so when he shared his retirement plans, she moved home from Tanzania last year in order to be able to ride along (on her own bike!) and take photos.
There are lots of options when considering riding cross country. Two of the major decisions include route and support-level. Adventure Cycling Association has published detailed cycling-specific maps for three transcontinental routes. The TransAmerica Trail, the original bicentennial route, travels from Oregon to Virginia; the Northern Tier from Washington to Maine; and the Southern Tier is from San Diego, CA to St. Augustine, FL. Jim has chosen to generally follow the Southern Tier Route. It is the shortest in length, has fewer mountain passes to cross, and generally has the most predictable weather patterns.
There is a diverse range of support levels that are available, as well. You could choose a deluxe tour group which does all the logistics and route planning—you sleep in hotels or camp in tents that are set up for you at the end of the day, your meals are provided, they carry all of your luggage, and provide mechanical and SAG support throughout each daily ride. Other tours provide varying degrees of all of those amenities—some carry your stuff, but you cook the meals; others just provide the route and someone to ride with you, etc. Or you can ride self-supported, where you take responsibility for everything: you ride solo and carry everything on your bike including camping and cooking equipment. There are pros and cons to each option and we discussed and evaluated many of them! At this point, Joshua has volunteered to accompany us with a support vehicle. We’re still working out the specifics of exactly what that will entail, but it looks like an adventure for four of us Snyders! Stay tuned as we continue to plan and prepare for “a trip of a lifetime!”