Bikecentennial 1976 Bicycling Across the Usa the Land I Love
Cross Country Bike Journey Begins
My journey began on July 4, 1976 with three friends driving from Boston, MA to Norfolk, VA., to ride our bikes across the USA in an event called BIKECENTENNIAL. The Trans-America bike trail was to commemorate the BICENTENNIAL (200 year anniversary) of America's Declaration of Independence. We rode through eleven states and 4,000 plus miles. So in a beat up van stuffed with three bikes, tents, sleeping bags, bike packs and a little food we headed south taking turns riding up front because the van only had two seats.
We officially started biking on July 7, 1976 after staying overnight in a Quality Inn Motel in Fredricksburg, VA. In the 70's digital cameras and cell phones didn't exist so uploading pictures to Facebook (also not around yet) or phoning home every other minute was not an option. It was only you, a bike, helmet, water bottle, sleeping gear, instant camera and the road ahead.
The temperature was in the 90's but the county was nice for riding and the people we met were all very friendly to us. Heading from Amherst, VA to Peaks of Otter, VA was hot and difficult riding. With a bottle of water each and barely any food we rode up a 16 mile grade which ended at 3950 ft. The valleys and scenes below were magnificent, but hard to really enjoy after being so hot, tired and hungry. In hindsight we should have had more food and water packed. Lesson learned for the rest of the trip. We did have a fantastic 10 mile downhill ride to the Peaks of Otter lodge and restaurant on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The day wasn't over though as one of my friends and I decided to hike a mile and a half to "Sharp Top" to check out an absolutely beautiful view of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
R & R and Breakfast Stew
After three days on the road my back, knees, hands, and bottom hurt so I decided I wanted to go home, I’d had enough of this craziness. My friends told me to sleep on it and see how I felt in the morning. I slept like a baby, ate a can of “Dinty Moore" beef stew for breakfast and decided to get back on my bike again and never looked back or talked about quitting again.
Shut Eye & Cow Pies
Finding a place to sleep at night was never a problem as people were more than happy to help us out. We simply asked a farmer or rancher if we could set up camp for the night somewhere on their land and they always said yes and would point out a spot where we could pitch our tent. We slept in a cow pasture one night next to some dried up cow pies and another night by a large tomato patch. One woman even served us coffee outside our tent in the morning. Southern hospitality is not just a saying it’s a reality.
Hazard, KY - Mammoth Cave, KY
Coal trucks barreling by us on roads without shoulders made for some tricky riding. I never ended up in the ditch but my two friends did. The truckers had a job to do and we were in the way I guess. I had dirt in my teeth for at least a week riding next to the coal trucks kicking up dust.
Biking from London, KY to Mammoth Cave, KY the coal trucks were still an issue but the weather changed from pouring rain to sunshine making riding a little easier. Tobacco fields took the place of the strip mines on this stretch of road. Our side trip to Mammoth Cave was impressive and felt nice and cool after riding in the heat. We ate dinner at a steak place to celebrate my 20th birthday so all in all a good day.
Sleeping with Snakes?
One night we decided to camp in a small pine forest across the street from a mining pit just outside of Madisonville, KY. Lucky for us a local man in a pick up truck saw us go in and came back to tell us we should move our camp into town. He said, "Rattlesnakes sun themselves in the pit during the day and look for somewhere warm to sleep at night." True story or not I wasn't about to stick around and find one in my sleeping bag the next morning. We slept in Madisonville's park and the only thing keeping us awake were some kids yelling for a guy named, "Arnold!"
Post Card Home
Hi Gang, We just left Kentucky today and have landed in good old Illinois. So just picture us riding right below you all. Were having a great time seeing all there is to see climbing mountains and going across states like nobody’s business. So far we've been in Fredricksburg, VA, Mammoth Cave in Kentucky and now Illinois. Our location today is Crab Orchard, IL on route 13 in case you want to look at it on a map. We go about 70 - 80 miles a day and 90 on real energetic days. We met some Bikecentennial riders on the way going east from California. We'll be in Missouri tomorrow. Love, L
Corn fields lined the road as we left Madisonville, Kentucky and crossed the Ohio River. It was such a long flat ride, we could see Harrisburg's water tower ten miles ahead. In Altenburg, IL we took a barge across the Mississippi and later swam in it. We stayed at a place called Church Shrine and went to a bar that night that was playing "Boney Fingers" sung by Hoyt Axton & Renee Armond on the jute box. It's a fun song to sing along to so we kept putting quarters in to hear it again and again.
In Carbondale, IL we met a funny biker traveling alone who wore a goofy fishing
hat and carried Nunchucks (Nunchaku) sticks everywhere he went. I assumed for protection on the road. We offered to let him join our group of three and he did.
The scenery drastically changed from the flat lands of Illinois to Missouri's picturesque rolling hills after crossing the Mississippi. Riding was challenging because the conditions were always changing from steep inclines, to the wind in our faces, lightening and hail or farmers dogs chasing us. We camped in Ash Grove, Missouri’s city park after a long hot day of riding. A group of bikers shared a meal of "Tuna Mush" with us and we talked to some friendly locals who were intrigued by all of the bikers going through town.
May the road rise up to meet you,
may the winds be always at your back...
- IRISH BLESSING
Cruising through Kansas July 28th - 31st
With a strong wind at our backs and flat pool table stretches of land as far as the eye could see we made better time than any state yet. We pedaled our first 100 miles cruising through the Flint Hills and headed for the Smokies. The land across Kansas was scattered with oil pumps, and the air become dryer as the temperatures went past 102 degrees. The hot temperatures during the day dipped to the 40's when we set up camp at night. We needed to sleep in pants and sweaters to keep out the chill night air.
Flat tires were common in Kansas due to little plant with pretty yellow flowers that grew like wild fire along the edge of the road. The locals told us it was called the "Texas Tack" and that is exactly what it looked like when we pulled it out of our tires. Its technical name is "Puncturevine bur" which fits perfectly since it punctures tires like nobody’s business.
On July 31st a terrible storm followed us into Scott City, Kansas. I made it to a grocery store in town with one of my friends before the golf ball size hail started falling, but two others in our group got caught in it. Lucky for them a nice guy in a pick-up stopped when he saw them on the side of the road. Just imagine getting hit with hundreds of golf balls all at once. They were both banged up and bruised, but otherwise OK. Despite the storm we had our best day riding yet clocking 120 miles.
Angel in the Fog
Have you ever heard the saying, "fog so thick you could cut it with a knife?" At the end of a 113 mile ride from Eads, CO to just outside of Colorado Springs we rode into a fog so thick it enveloped us like a damp wool blanket. We couldn't see the road under our pedals or the bike wheel ahead of us. To stop from running into each other we talked constantly to help keep our bearings. A young man (fog angel) in a pick up truck pulled up ahead of us and told us he almost ran into us because of the fog. He offered to take us the rest of the way into Colorado Springs so we tossed our bikes in the bed of his truck, hopped in the cab and he took us to the Wrangler Motel on East HI-WAY 24. This little motel was pure luxury after riding for hours.
Hoosier's Pass/The Great Divide
Breathtaking mountain ranges, streams and rivers bordered by wild flowers, pine trees and huge blue lakes nestled in picturesque valleys greeted us around every bend and curve on the road to Hoosier's Pass. The pass is located on the Continental Divide and the ride to the top of this 11,592 ft. pass was nothing short of amazing.
Post Card Home
Hi Everybody, Well we finally made it to the Colorado Rockies. You probably heard of our floods (Big Thompson Flood on 7/31/1976) out this way. We luckily missed it by three days. We did go through a terrific lightning and thunderstorm, but all is well with our group. Right now I'm doing wash at a laundry perfectly facing Pikes Peak. The mountains are beautiful and were very happy we made it here. The weather at times has gotten us down. It was 107 degrees one day riding and after the storms it dropped to 40 degrees and a fog set in that you could cut with a knife. We rode 135 miles that day because the wind was behind us the whole way. Everyone has been real friendly. Bye Love, L
Kremmling, CO - Dubois, WY
Strong head winds, hills, and heat made riding through the Badlands difficult. We rode past huge sandy hills covered in scrub brush and cacti. We rode close to 112 miles from Kremmling, Co to Riverside, WY where we decided to stay at a local park. It started to pour so we gathered our gear and slept in the mens bathroom for the night.
The only time I fell off my bike the entire trip was in Wyoming. The wind and sudden lack of it was the culprit. Riding along with a 25 to 30 mph wind hitting me sideways I had adjusted myself to lean into the wind as I rode. The problem came in when a semi truck drove by and blocked the wind for a second or two. I couldn't adjust myself fast enough so I fell over into the dust at least twice, plunk. I imagine the trucker had a good laugh if he happened to look back in his side mirror.
The ride from Taft Ranch, WY to Dubois, WY presented amazing views of giant red rock cliffs along the "Wind River." The land continued to get greener by the mile on the way to Dubois a small western town that used to be frequented by Butch Cassidy.
Post Card Home
Hi Everybody, We are in good old Wyoming now. We flew through Colorado in less than three days. Saw quite a bit of the mountain ranges and blue lakes. We’ve been touring through a desert terrain the past few days. It's completely different than any place we've been so far. If you get up early enough you can see herds of antelope just before the sun comes up. Love, L
Bikes & Dogs
I only had a few dogs chase me down while I was riding on this trip and that was plenty for me. The dogs that I met ran full tilt straight for me foaming at the mouth, growling, and barking. Talk about an adrenaline rush, I pedaled my little legs so fast you would've thought my entire bike was on fire. I also let out a scream that could be heard two counties over and then some. One dog stopped dead in his tracks when I screamed. The other dog didn't flinch and kept running after me until it ran out of steam. Whew, that was close!
Post Card Home
Howdy Everybody, I thought this card quite appropriate for the ideas that have entered my mind on this tour. This is a very hard land to travel through at times with the ever changing winds, downpours, and especially the heat and dryness in the afternoon. But as the poem(by Juanita M. Leach) says sunrise in the morning and herds of antelope grazing the sage brush hills, makes this land anything but a terrible place to be. We’ve been seeing plenty of cowboys, horses and gorgeous sunsets of all colors. Bye now, Love, L
Grand Teton National Park
It was one of the coldest mornings yet leaving Dubois, WY heading to the Grand Teton National Park, WY. We could see our breath and it was raining. We stopped at a roadside Motel for a hot breakfast of eggs and sausage. After climbing a 14 mile stretch we finally got a glimpse of the snow capped Teton Range. The scenery was prettier than ever with huge pine trees, clear rivers and lakes bordering the road with the mountains creating an impressive back ground. Regretfully we only stayed one night at the park.
Teton Park, WY - Lolo, MT
The road to Yellowstone was congested with traffic, but drivers were very considerate of us. Be sure to look at the link at the end of this hub for Yellowstone National Park. My little camera couldn't capture the incredible scenes it has to offer, but great pictures can be found on this link.
After spending only one night in Yellowstone we headed to Montana. We had easy riding downhill grades leaving Yellowstone after climbing in the early morning, but stormy on our way to Madison River Campground. Leaving Madison River we had a downhill grade until we hit Ennis, MT and a steep 6 miles uphill to Virginia City and Nevada City (both old ghost towns) located at the other side of the pass. We rode 100 miles that day and stayed at a KOA campground overnight. After a good night sleep we headed to Wisdom, MT riding next to large ranches with a lot of cattle grazing in the fields.
The ride from Wisdom, MT to Lolo, MT took us into the Bitterroot National Forest. We climbed a 2 mile 5% grade to the top of Chief Joseph Pass and then went flying 7 miles downhill on the way to Lolo. A thunderstorm was building over our heads and pouring rain came down just as we entered a Lolo camping store.
Lolo, MT - Cambridge, ID
We woke up in a pine tree forest next to a sparkling stream flowing by and ate a hearty breakfast of oatmeal and coffee. Riding from Lolo, MT to Lowell, ID it was a gradual 20 miles uphill then a steeper 4 miles to the border of Montana and Idaho.
What goes up must come down and down we went a record of 77 miles ALL downhill. It rained on us off and on the entire way so we were hot one minute and cold the next. From Lowell to Riggins, MT we followed the Salmon River Gorge where the land was barren, rocky and sandy colored hills were covered in sage brush. We stayed in a trailer park for the night. From Riggins to Cambridge, ID was an uphill ride out of the gorge area all the way to New Meadows where we stopped for lunch. It was cloudy but rolling hills and farmland took us into Cambridge, Idaho.
Cambridge, ID - Mitchell, OR
The morning was spent cruising through "Hells Canyon" a very pretty ride. We rode by the Brownlee and Oxbow Dams where fish could be seen swimming in the water. From Cambridge, ID to Baker, OR the day was spent going uphill in the blistering heat. We covered 105 miles despite the difficult terrain and heat.
Baker, OR to Austin Junction, OR was a day for going over mountain passes, Dooley Mountain and Blue Mountain. Its sharp curves and short steep climbs made biking up Dooley Mountain especially challenging and tiring so we only logged 70 miles for the day.
On the way from Austin Junction, OR to Mitchell, OR we went over Dixie Pass elevation 5277 that morning. From that point we practically coasted 40 miles into John Day. Riding through Red Clay Canyon was nice until we biked out of the canyon and hit a strong head wind. We had a gradual incline the rest of the way to Mitchell where we decided to stay the night at a Bike Inn. They gave us a free delicious meal, nice room with a bed, pillows and I even got to take a bath. They even had complimentary cocoa, tea and coffee whenever you felt like having some. After sleeping on the hard ground in a pup tent and sleeping bag these were pure luxury accommodations.
Post Card Home
Hi Gang, This is a great picture of the scenery we've been seeing crossing Oregon. We struck a gold mine of a great bike inn after battling the desert uphill all day without a town in sight. We only paid two bucks each for our rooms, ate a home cooked meal and snacked on goodies the land lady baked. Oregon has been a really exciting state as the land changes from burning desert to flourishing forests. Instead of coming straight home we decided to visit a friend in Washington and possibly take a train home through Canada. Taking a day off in Eugene, OR, it’s a real nice clean town modern like Colorado Springs. Having so much fun I don't want to go back to work. I'm keeping a log so I'll be able to remember the whole trip. Love, L
Mitchell, OR - Eugene, OR
I felt great the morning we left Mitchell, full of energy and ready to tackle the 14 mile stretch all uphill. The incline was gradual so not as tough as I thought it might be. Big redwood trees lined the road the entire morning. We pedaled 47 miles non-stop from Mitchell to Princeville where we ate a second breakfast. Along the way to Cold Springs several interesting ranches popped up one that raised reindeer and the other camels.
We found a camp site at the Cold Springs Campground next to a stream where deer wandered about drinking and lounging nearby oblivious to our being nearby so we could just sit back and watch them.
The ride from Cold Springs Campground to Eugene, OR started out slow in the morning before heading up McKenzie Pass elevation. 5335 ft/1623 m. It was a long ride, but very pretty giving us glimpses of the Sisters Mountains between the trees. As we neared the top huge piles of black rocks lined the road which turned out to be lava from past volcanic eruptions.
We took a day off in Eugene checking out bicycle shops, lounged in the park, and ate out twice at a place called Kings Table. That night we went to the movies to see a double feature, "Blackbird" and "Harry & Walter go to New York."
Eugene, OR - Veronica, WA
The road was steep and wound back and forth in tight switch backs leaving Eugene. Green lush plants sprang up along the road and the trees and rocks were covered in thick dark green moss.
We went through Oxbow Burn the coast Cascade Mountains that were all burnt out forests. This was our first experience sharing the road with LOG TRUCKS. The coal trucks in Kentucky were nothing compared to these monsters. If anything can make you feel like potential road kill these trucks can. The strange thing was I felt safer riding next them than the coal trucks.
Wow, we made it to the coast on August 26, 1976 in Reedsport, OR where we stopped to take pictures of the beach and waves breaking on the shore. The traffic along the beach got to be too much for us so we headed to Corvallis. We found a great bike route to the town center and stayed at a bike inn. Took a hot shower and slept great after riding 115 miles today!
Most bikers stopped when they finally reached the coast but we decided to ride up to Tacoma, WA to see a friends' sister and husband. So we headed north leaving Oregon passing beautiful farmland as we eventually crossed a bridge into Washington State. On the ride to Tacoma we saw both Mt. Rainier and Mt. Saint Helens each one impressive even from miles away.
We had trouble finding a place to sleep after riding all day and opted for a box car. I thought it would be kind of fun, boy was I wrong. Everything was fine until trains started roaring by on the hour one track over from us. The whole box car shook and rattled so hard I thought it was going to fall off the track. Obviously we didn't sleep all night so riding the next day was slow going.
Veronica, WA - Boston, MA
Veronica to Tacoma, WA was an easy downhill ride, but it took a few hours to find our friends place. Once we did we enjoyed a nice dinner of manicotti, salad, pop and homemade oatmeal cookies. We decided to stay few days before heading to Boston on a Greyhound bus. We needed to buy bike boxes and found it bittersweet packing up our bikes after having such a great trip riding them across the USA.
On September 1, 1976 we caught a Greyhound bus from Tacoma to Seattle, WA. We had five hours to kill before our next bus so we took the Seattle Center Monorail to the Science Center. The museum turned out to be a great way to spend our free time. It took us five days of riding the bus until we reached Boston.
A Trip of a Lifetime!
Some questions I've often been asked since the trip;
"Would you ride across the USA again if you could?" Yes, and I would spend more time exploring the Grand Tetons, Yellowstone National Park and other locations where we were only able to spend one night.
"Would you do anything differently the next time around?" Yes, I would wear sunscreen and lip balm as I suffered from major sunburn and peeling the majority of the trip. I would also be sure to fill two water bottles at the start of every day and carry plenty of healthy snacks as you burn off everything you take in and your body needs to rehydrate and refuel. Last of all I would start the trip with a padded bike seat. I picked up an Avocet woman's bike seat when I got back home. It’s awesome, and I sure could have used it on the 1976 bike trip, better late than never, right?
"What did you learn on the trip?" Never underestimate the heart of a guy in a pick up truck. We were helped out of several dicey situations by these fine men who could have just driven on by. That America is bigger and more beautiful than I ever could have imagined or dreamed it would be. The majority of people in this country are good, kind and generous. Last of all I learned that I had the strength to ride my bicycle across the United States of America!
© 2011 Laura Ross