Adventure of a lifetime

Tue, 06/23/2009 - 1:15pm
By: The Citizen

Adventure of a lifetime

Team America, a local group of triathletes, rides bikes across U.S.

Behind Chuck and Kim Garwood’s house is a large round table on their patio. It is where their group of friends, a very active bunch including cyclists, marathoners and Ironman participants, gather to relax after days of training. It is also where the group dreams of the next big adventure they will take together. Two years ago, the idea of riding bicycles across the United States was floated. Nine people committed to the trip and this year, from March 22 to April 22, the journey was completed.

The group, which ranged in age from 50-62, rode from San Diego, Calif. to Jekyll Island, Ga. on what is called the Southern Tier. In 32 days, the riders rode 2,760 miles, averaging 90 miles per day and traveling through Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. Seven of the adventurers, including their Supply and Gear man, Lou Boone, were available for an interview recently and recounted their trip.

Hearing about the beginning of the adventure, it’s a wonder the group even made it at all. Even though every participant on the ride had completed at least one Ironman (a triathlon that features swimming, running a marathon and biking 100 miles), only one of them, Gary Meyer, could be considered a cyclist. On their first day of riding they were confronted with horrendous weather as they made their way from San Diego to Jacumba, Calif. They rode through heavy downpours with winds around 30 miles per hour and gusts over 50 miles per hour. The temperature dropped into the low 40s and one rider was showing some early signs of hypothermia late in the day.

After that day, the weather was beautiful. While the rest of the country got hammered with rain and snow, the group rode through the southern United States in mild weather. It never got too hot in the desert and they warmed up quickly in the cool mornings with a strong effort on their bikes. They only rode through the rain once more on their trip.

“We carried the Peachtree City bubble with us,” joked Meyer.

Boone drove the van that carried all of their food, water and luggage. He also helped the riders when their bikes needed fixing and was within five miles of all riders at all times. There were over 40 flat tires during the ride. The group heralded Boone as the hero of the trip.

“We couldn’t have made the trip in the time we did without Lou,” said Chuck, who will be a SAG driver for a rider doing the Race Across America (San Diego to Annapolis, MD) this summer.

“Lou knew what you needed and when you need it,” said Shoemaker.

“He was enormously valuable to have,” said Dave Piet. “He made it so easy.”

The group all had jobs to get back to and the itinerary was tight. Typically, a ride like this is done in 50 days. If they got off schedule once, it would almost be impossible to get back on track. The group had reservations at hotels and motels along the route already booked, so there was very little wiggle room for the riders.

“The distances were ambitious,” said Dan Twineam. “If we had changed it, it would have made it impossible to catch up.”

The group rode every day with their shortest day being a 44 mile ride.

“That was like our day off,” said Meyer.

The longest ride was 124 miles and there were several 100 plus mile days in a row.

“Everyone had their good days and their bad days,” said Boone, who some compared to a mother hen, watching over the group during the ride. In answering what constituted a good day the answers ranged from smooth roads and long climbs to riding out front and any day where the beer was cold at the end of the ride. All agreed that the last day was the best day and not because the trip was over.

“We looked good as a group,” said Meyer. “It was a day that we all rode together and all the elements were perfect from the winds to the road.”

There were a number of adventures to be had along the way though. Especially doing some riding on the interstate.

“It’s legal when there is no other road,” said Boone.

The group was on I-10 for about 60 miles and they were pleased to see most of the traffic move over when they could to give them room and calm their nerves. Ann Shoemaker liked riding on the interstate because it was guaranteed that the roads would be smooth. There were big, wide shoulders on I-10 but the group, called Team America, dubbed thus by Shoemaker’s husband, found that the shoulders got less and less the further east they traveled. They all also agreed that drivers in Alabama were the least courteous.

In addition to dealing with traffic, Team America also dealt with a wide range of quality in their food and accommodations. Some places they stayed at were amazing hidden treasures, motels that had seen their heydays long ago, but still provided a nice place to rest after a long day, while others reeked of terrible odors and merely provided a roof over their heads for an evening. They also found some great places to eat and dining, overall, was a pleasurable experience for the group on this trip.

“We could eat as much as we wanted for the entire trip,” said Chuck Garwood, adding that they were burning, on average, 6,000 calories a day. “It was the first time in my life that I ate an entire large pizza by myself.”

Team America also raved about the unique cities and towns they saw, places that are now bypassed the interstate. They talked about the his historical landmarks they saw and the incredibly nice people they met.

“We did meet the nicest people, especially in the small towns,” said Kim Garwood. Her husband agreed, adding that one couple in Georgia opened their closed restaurant for them near the end of their trip.

It was a trip of a lifetime and one that was overwhelmingly positive.

There were no major injuries on the trip, but one rider did get an infection in his thumb after piercing it with a needle. His ride featured a brief detour to an emergency room. Twineam also narrowly avoided a disaster. A part broke on his bike and fortunately, a bike shop was found on route. Shoemaker’s husband, Jerry, had joined the ride for a few days and loaned his bike to Twineam so he could finish the day. By the time he reached the hotel that afternoon, his bike was fixed and waiting for him.

“The owner of the bike shop had done a cross country ride himself and luckily had the part I needed,” Twineam said.

Piet bragged on Meyer as he recounted a part of the ride that had several of the participants scared.

“Riding through Banderas, Texas we saw a couple of emergency vehicles go by, then state patrol and the fire department,” said Piet, who added that he thought that there had been an accident involving one of the group. Fortunately, the accident didn’t involve any of the bikes and Meyer, a firefighter and EMT for Peachtree City, had been the first responder on the scene and helped stabilize one of the accident victims until the EMTs arrived.

Overall, it was a drama free ride and the group chalked it up to being good friends.

“We have all done things like this together before,” said Boone, who recently hiked the Appalachian Trail. “We just have a mindset that you can’t quit.”

“It doesn’t even occur to you,” agreed Kim Garwood.

“The first day was the worst day,” said Shoemaker. “After that we knew we could handle anything that was thrown our way.”

All of the members of Team America that participated in the interview are members of the Peachtree City Running Club and all of them have completed Ironman triathlons. Some of them trained hard for the ride, riding five to six days a week in preparation, while others rode themselves back into shape on the ride. They definitely have the physiques, endurance and frame of mind to complete a journey like this and are already starting to contemplate what the next great adventure might be.

Those discussions will likely take place over many nights this summer at the round table in the Garwood’s backyard.

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