When Jan Erickson gets on her bike and heads out for a ride, one can’t help but wonder what she is thinking. After all, a trip from her home in Redwood Falls to Delhi and back is nothing compared to the ride she and sister-in-law Peggy Rabe finished April 24.
That day the pair rolled their bikes to the shores of the Atlantic Ocean on the eastern edge of the United States. Two months and a few days prior to that the two of them had pedaled away from the Pacific Ocean on their way across the United States.
Erickson admitted finishing the trip was a bittersweet moment, as they felt that sense of accomplishment in riding nearly 3,000 miles.
“I think both of us would have gladly gotten back on our bikes, turned around and kept going,” said Erickson. “We were happy we had made it but sad it was over.”
For Rabe, the trip was an even better experience than she imagined it would be.
“I knew it would be a lot of work,” she said, “but I did not think we would have so much fun.”
Seeing parts of the country one can’t experience from major highways, meeting people who consistently expressed their support and just having the chance to ride side by side and talk for hours on end day after day made the trek across the U.S. an enjoyable experience.
When Erickson and Rabe first started their trip Feb. 16 they had not told many people about it.
“At first we only told a few people in our family,” said Erickson. “We did not want to let a lot of people know what we were doing just in case we couldn’t do it.”
When the pair determined the trip was possible word began to spread, and the two of them began receiving words of encouragement from friends and family, and that extended to perfect strangers they met along the ride.
Erickson and Rabe had done shorter rides before making the decision to ride across a southern route that had them traveling through California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Mississippi, Louisi-ana, Alabama and Florida.
Erickson said she saw a lot of the country she had never been in before, and Rabe said although she had been in all of the states they entered in the past there were things she had not seen during past visits.
They rode close to the U.S. border with Mexico, said Erickson, adding the only time they really felt any kind of danger was when after camping along the roadside near the border one night they encountered border patrol agents in the morning who asked them if they had seen two men in the area.
Page 2 of 3 - “We asked them if they were dangerous. They told us they were and encouraged us to get out of the area as quickly as possible,” Erickson said. “I think that was the fastest I have ever ridden 10 miles.”
Erickson and Rabe were supported along the ride by Rabe’s husband and Erickson’s brother, Adolph, who drove the camper they used as their home away from home.
He also changed the 15 tire tubes that popped along the ride, made their meals and helped in any other ways to make the trip as smooth as possible for them.
“We could not have done this without him,” said Erickson.
Rabe, who lives in Motley, added just knowing there was a place they could go at the end of each day’s ride helped to make the trip a little more bearable.
Both agreed the hardest part of the trip was the mountains, adding they are definitely nice to look at from a distance but offer a lot of challenges for bike riders.
Erickson said there were steep grades going down the mountains that meant getting off and walking.
“There were no shoulders along the roads,” said Erickson, adding at times when semis went by one had to get off or face the possibility of going off the road and down a very steep cliff.
Erickson said every state had hills they had to climb, adding that was not what she had expected. She had thought there would be more flat land.
Yet, she added, every state offered something a little bit different in terms of the scenery.
“Every state had a different kind of beauty,” said Erickson. “It was all quite lovely.”
The two were in no big rush and often stopped during their ride.
When the weather was inclement, the two would stop riding, adding that even meant waiting out snowstorms. Yet, for the most part, the weather was nice, although there were a lot of windy days – not very conducive for riding bikes.
There were also days off when they would take a break and perhaps do some shopping or even have their hair done.
Rabe said along the way she did not expect to see so much poverty, adding in some places, such as west Texas there were towns that had Main Street buildings boarded up, while other towns looked as if everyone had just abandoned them.
Rabe also said the change to Daylight Saving Time was more of an adjustment than she anticipated.
The goal of the trip was, first and foremost, to prove they could make it and to do it safely, but also to offer an encouragement to others to get out and be active.
Page 3 of 3 - One does not have to ride a bike across the United States to be active, although Erickson and Rabe proved a ride like this is possible for people of any age.
Erickson admitted she thought when the trip started by the time she got to Florida she would be so tired of riding she would want to throw her bike in the ocean, but that was not the case when the trip ended.
In fact, after arriving at the ocean the two of them rode another 50 miles.
At first the two were riding about 12 miles an hour, but as the trip continued and they got in even better shape they were going 15-17 miles an hour. Each day meant riding approximately 60 miles, but Erickson said it was not a race. They both really wanted to enjoy riding.
Erickson said she kept a journal during the trip and wrote in it every day, adding even though they all were in close quarters in the camper, they each had their own space and often enjoyed time to themselves when they were not riding.
“I read 10 books during the trip,” said Erickson.
Rabe said she has not spent much time since their trek ended on her bike, but said she plans one getting back on again soon.
After all, the two of them have already talked about doing another ride in the future – perhaps along the Mississippi River or around the Great Lakes. While it may not be as long the distance was never the intention of the trip. It was about enjoying the ride.