Big Ride Across America

In the summer of 2000, I joined 200 people young and old, biking across the United States from Seattle, Washington to Washington, DC to raise funds for the American Lung Association. These seven weeks were an extraordinary event in my life–Gordon Harris, Bike New England


June 16 I flew in to Seattle today, connecting in Chicago. Due to a massive thunderstorm in the midwest, the plane had to refuel before leaving so that we could take a detour around Oklahoma! After arriving at the airport, any anxiety I felt was relieved by the way everything seemed to be coming together. With a couple of days to kill in Seattle before we hit the road, we rode out to the Sound and dipped our wheels in the water.

June 19, Day 1: Seattle WA to Skyomish WA. We departed at 6:00 am from Radio Shack (our corporate sponsors), sent off with heroic music and the roar of the crowd of well-wishers. What a strange feeling, as I got in line and began peddling the beginning of a 3250 mile journey. We biked through forests and past waterfalls in the misty air found on the west side of the Cascades. Day 1 route map

June 20, Day 2: Skyomish WA to Cashmere, WA. A long climb up Steven’s Pass, crossing the Cascades. Many of us ate lunch at a 50’s nostalgia restaurant on the summit, just before a very brisk, cold descent. We camped at a fairgrounds in Cashmere, and were blessed by the absence of the trains that came by our campground every hour the night before. The terrain quickly changed from dense alpine forests to dry pine land after crossing the Pass. Day 2 route map

June 21, Day 3: Cashmere WA to Coulee City WA. On the road before 6:00 am, and then a 10 mile climb through desert sagebrush, followed by more than 30 miles of pure desert canyon land in the dry Columbia River basin. Still, I made it to our destination in Coullee City, Washington by 2:00 pm. It was my first century ride ever, 106 miles. Day 3 route map

June 22, Day 4: Coulee City WA to Spokane WA. We started out with an 8 mile climb with a nice view behind us of the Grand Coullee Dam, crossing the mountain to a view of perfectly straight highway through rolling hills as far as I could see. The desert vegetation slowly turned to wheat and rye fields. Tonight we took a day off at Gonzala University in Spokane after entering town on the Centennial Bike Trail and past some gorgeous rapids on the Spokane River. Day 4 route map

June 23, Day 5: Rest day in Spokane.

June 24, Day 6: Spokane WA to Sandpoint Idaho. Only 80 miles today, and with the assistance of 3 pace lines that I fell into, I reached Sand Point at 11:55 am! Plenty of time for the local library computer, a nap, and a freaky rain storm. Day 6 route map

June 25, Day 7: Sandpoint ID to Thompson Falls, MT. We started out in a cold and serious head wind, but the mountains, blue sky, and lakes were worth slowing down for anyway. Before and after check point, I fell in with pace lines, and the day went faster. We arrived in Thompson Falls, Montana. Still, I’m tired, and hit the sleeping bag at 7:30 pm. Day 7 route map

June 26, Day 8: Thompson Falls, MT to Missoula MT. We grumbled when we heard that we’d have two days off in Missoula, Montana, but after today’s ride, it sounds great. 106 miles, uphill, wind in the face. Mercifully, blue skies, scenic barren mountains, and the Rockies loomed ahead.. It took 9 hrs., and that’s a lot of time to try to think of something other than miles left to go. Day 8 route map

June 27, Day 9: Missoula MT day off. rest day

June 28, Day 10: Missoula MT day off. Two days in Missoula is enough to tell me that this is a great little town–I could definitely live here. Free music in the park, great local brew, a bit of the 60’s in the air, and white water rafting! Day 10 rest day

June 29, Day 11: Missoula MT to Avon MT. Another day, another century ride,101 miles to Avon, Montana. What a great day! Easy riding when you finally get a tail wind. It makes me feel so strong! So it was a good day to have my first flat on the Big Ride. Day 11 route map

June 30, Day 12: Avon MT to Townsend MT. We crossed the continental divide early at McDonald Pass, for a rapid descent into Helena, Montana. Then the wind got in our faces, making this 60 miles to Townsend a lot harder than yesterday’s century ride! Day 12 route map

July 1, Day 13: Townsend MT to Harlowton, MT Another climb, another pass, another head wind, and another day on the Big Ride. We did “check point” at White Sulfur Springs. The wind eased up, and the ride from there was spectacular. But it was hot out here in the desert, and I just had to go for a dip in a beautiful blue lake along the way. Day 13 route map

July 2, Day 14: Harlowton, MT to Billings, MT A strong wind gave our pace line a great 21 mile per hour blast to the checkpoint by 8:30 am. We had Pie at Dori’s Restaurant, then turned and headed into the wind with a 1000′ climb up onto a desert plateau. Here we encountered a great expanse of nothingness, and my energy eroded. I “bonked” on my way to Billings Montana. Even the outstanding descent into this city surrounded by cliffs was made difficult by headwinds. Day 14 route map

July 3, Day 15: Rest Day in Billings Ahh, rest! We did laundry in the morning, and then hung out in town watching 10,000 motorcyclists on Honda Goldwings converge on Billings. The Big Ride is not the big story in this town today!

July 4, Day 16: Billings, MT to Hardin MT We had a very short 54 mile ride to Hardin, Montana. It was an easy climb and feeling refreshed, all the riders made it in, with time for pizza and smoothies along the way. Some of the riders visited the Custer Little Big Horn battlefield, and others went to a rodeo, both of which I skipped. Day 16 route map

July 5, Day 17: Hardin, MT to Sheridan, Wyoming We rode today through the Crow reservation in southern Montana, and then crossed into Wyoming finally, with a bit of head wind. It was a hot day, followed by a rather creative “talent” show in the evening in Sheridan featuring the Big Ride’s finest. Day 17 route map

July 6, Day 18: Sheridan, WY to Gillette, WY I rode mostly by myself today with a good tailwind for the first half, followed by 40 miles of head wind into Gillette. It began with a tough but beautiful climb that seemed to go on forever, somehow always circling back to show us receding views of the snow-covered peaks that we camped close to last night. This was our longest ride, 114 miles. Day 18 route map

July 7 We have moved quickly through the northeast corner of Wyoming, and tomorrow will bike into the Black Hills of South Dakota. Yesterday’s 103 degree heat and 114 mile ride wore us down a bit, but we look forward to a rest day on Saturday.

July 8 After so many days in the arid areas of Montana and Wyoming, we climbed yesterday into the beautiful Black Hills of South Dakota. Although it was a long 85 mile ride with countless hills, we felt only the thrill of being in such beautiful forests, with mountain streams and ragged rock formations.

July 9 A day off in Rapid City. It’s raining, we’re not close to town, and some of the riders are feeling a bit of despair, but I’m still psyched for this ride. For 6 weeks, we are just cyclists crossing the country.

July 10 Leaving Rapid City, we headed for Kodota, another 103 miles. Very flat for 20 -30 miles, then some badlands, and more flats. Not a lot of civilization out here, but then the Badlands appeared! Awesome wedges of earth, sand and stone, unlike anything I’ve ever seen.

July 11 Today the winds blessed us, and we turned another 100 miles into a quick morning trip to Pierre, the South Dakota state capitol. Here we are camping along the banks of the amazingly clean and refreshing Missouri River. ! This is the middle point of our ride, in terms of miles ridden, and a change in scenery.

July 12 On to Miller, South Dakota. With a good road and slight tailwind, I pushed hard and made it into camp at 11:30 am. Three riders had a close call when they were struck by the extended side mirror on a truck pulling an RV. Sheri and Lana are a bit banged up and Mary broke her hip.

July 14 Yet another perfect blue sky day. I haven’t ridden in rain yet! The people of South Dakota have turned out for us at every stop, treating us to homemade deserts and genuine hospitality!

July 15 We’re in New Ulm, Minnesota tonight and tomorrow for a rest day. The big event of the year, the German Fest, where a little old lady pulled Phil, our energetic 79 year old out onto the dance floor, which was soon full of very sweaty Big Riders, doing our decidedly pathetic but energetic versions of the Polka.

July 16 My first piece of advice when riding long distances is to also walk some every day, or at least stretch the calves. After the Polka last night, my calves are so cramped that it took forever to walk a block.

July 17 Odd–I can still barely walk, but I can ride! The wind blew us in to Owatonna, Minnesota so fast today that I’m sitting in the town library writing this at 11:00 am!

July 18 Trees have reappeared, along with cattails, milkweed, and so many other plants that we see out East. I was surprised to encounter low mountains and some not-too-bad climbs outside of town. The glaciers of the last ice age carved scoops off the side of the bluffs, creating the appearance of fjords.

July 19 It’s definitely starting to feel like home! We crossed the Mississippi River at La Cross, and wound our way through some back roads and good climbing hills to Viroqua. Today I saw miles of water lilies, a muskrat and a red-tailed hawk; I always stop at the kid’s lemonade stands, and the Amish’s fresh baked cookies.

July 20 We avoided the direct route, Highway 14 for the past two days and instead crisscrossed it on secondary roads with little traffic but lots of hills and more lush vegetation. Today was 110 miles.

July 21 Madison is a sweet college town, without the big city feel, and is where we are staying over for a day. It’s amazing how quickly we learn our way around each community.

July 22 We left Madison for Belvidere, IIllinois, 80 miles of easy riding, with some climbing. I took my first wrong turn in the company of about 10 others, and we managed to get in an extra 7 miles, before stopping. On the way we passed through the Illinois state line at Beloit, an unappealing town.

July 23 Wow, another dorm so soon! Just overnight in Naperville, a college town with a trendy main street. On the way here I checked out a Greek Orthodox church with amazing architecture.

July 24 We managed to bypass Chicago by taking endless side roads, but still had to breathe some of its stale air. After a while we got on a great bike trail, followed by some pretty rough roads.

July 25 Three of us stopped in a roadside cafe for lunch, and some of the other patrons heard us talking about the Ride and the American Lung Association. When we were finished eating, they had covered our bill for us!

July 26 A short 69 mile ride, with smooth roads, miles of corn, and a great welcome party that the Ohio riders threw right in the middle of the road, since “there weren’t no cars no-how there”.

July 27 We took back roads again, a bit of “chip and seal”, but altogether another good ride. I’ve been pushing the bike (and myself) a little harder, and averaged 15.5 miles per hour today.. We reached, Sandusky, Ohio–it’s a day we’ve been anticipating! Tonight we take on the world’s fastest roller coasters at Cedar Point.

July 28 I spent my off-day biking around Sandusky. For the first time in weeks we were crowded together in a small camp, and unfortunately a stomach bug is going around.

July 29 I woke early and took off to get away from the sound of puking. Roller coasters or virus, who knows? We rode through Cleveland, a fascinating and interesting city. I was drawn to the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, When I came out, I discovered that it had rained. I continue to avoid getting wet on this ride.

July 30 Sunday, at camp in Canfield at the country’s biggest fairground, and a monster truck show! We could hear the engines miles before we reached camp!

July 31 We’re in our last week now. I really enjoyed today’s ride: 105 miles, crossing the border from Ohio to Indiana, Pennsylvania, with a couple of dozen serious hills and equally exciting down hills.

August 1 Seventy miles, lots of hills, and two awesome downhills, one seven miles long! I pulled into Holidaysburg and got my tent up in the football field just as a torrential downpour swept through.

August 2 Today was my record day for speed, being the 10th rider to pull into Mifflingtown, PA. Of course a short 76 miles and some tailwind helped. We took smaller local roads, and climbed high. I love these hills!

August 3 Today was the final exam, with two incredible climbs. I think everyone made it, even though it was a push for me in my small chain ring. We stopped for pictures of the “DANGER: 14 DEGREE DESCENT ” sign.

August 4 Only 36 miles to ride today. Following the group photo shoot, several of us went to the Gettysburg Museum and then toured the battlefield on bikes. This is the best way to visit this place

August 5 Saturday, and we finished up the Big Ride with a short 60 mile ride into Washington, DC. Hundreds of family and friends lined either side of the bikeway as we came up to the Washington Monument. This has been more than I could have hoped for; I look different, feel different, and am ready to head home.

Categories: tours

1 reply »

  1. Thank you for sharing. I was one of the 200 as well #2162!! Tremendous experience and life changing at that! I still think of the long and open roads. Although it was almost 20 years ago …. it still feels like yesterday.


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