Life on Two Wheels: From Alaska to Florida on a Motobecane Grand Jubilee
August 13, 2016
Editor's note: For countless Summit County residents, a bicycle is more than a machine — it's a lifestyle. Every week during the summer, we'll ask our most adventurous residents, "Where has your bike taken you?"
4,700 miles, 10 states and one Canadian province.
That was the final tally for Silverthorne local Greg Seebart and his friend, Kevin Holfelner, who traveled as a duo through farm and prairie, ridge and valley in their saddles three decades ago. No, these saddles did not rest on a horse, but on a human-powered bike.
Seebart rode his green Moulton Motobecane Grand Jubilee for nearly three months straight during the duo's 1984 journey from the southern-most border of Alaska to the Florida Keys. Even after all these years Seebart remembers the journey well.
"The world and life is different when you view it from the seat of a bicycle," Seebart said in a hardscrabble voice, like pebbles on cement. "Your world slows down. Your average speed is 10 or 12 miles an hour. You feel the temperature change when cresting the top of a hill and then descending down to the valley floor."
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Inspiration for the trip came from a presentation Seebart attended about a bike trip from Alaska to the tip of South America. Learning about that experience taught him that logistics would be a huge part of the endeavor.
"When you decide to take on this adventure it takes some mental planning, along with financial considerations," Seebart said. "There were no cellphones or laptop computers to make car, credit card (and) medical payments, so these all had to be carefully figured out in advance."
Around the beginning of August, Seebart and his future brother-in-law pushed off from the British Colombian port city of Prince Rupert, one of the northernmost towns in Canada just before the Alaskan border.
The pair was confident, but also realistic with their expectations.
"We were quite excited about the whole adventure," Seebart explained. "We knew it would be a lot of physical exertion, but that was not anything that we were concerned with."
With an ergonomical 75 pounds of luggage and gear strapped to his trusty Jubilee, Seebart had an efficient ride.
"Yes, we were avid cyclists, but we did not want to overdo time on the bike and be sick of riding before we even started," Seebart said, explaining his minimal training before the ride. "We put together a training schedule for when the ride itself started: 50 miles the first day, since we knew the adrenaline would be running high; 40 miles the second and third day; then back it way off to 20 miles the fourth day to allow for recovery, and then repeat increasing mileage until we could comfortably ride 100 miles every day if we needed to."
Into the ice
By September, the two were traveling an average of 75 miles per day and had reached Wyoming. There, they were able to get their first care package of new clothes for the warmer climates they were to be passing through — or so they thought.
"There was icy snow through Wyoming," Seebart said. "That was kind of a setback, we weren't quite planning on that."
Another challenge came in Iowa — this time to their noses.
"The smells are different from one area to another," Seebart said. "When we rode through Iowa it seemed like we smelled one pig farm after another. Not the most enjoyable."
Seebart and Holfelner burned about 8,000 calories a day while on the saddle. To feed their massive appetites, the bike explorers sometimes scarfed down whole pies for lunch, then hopped back on their bikes for another five hours of riding.
"We'd get an apple pie or peach pie and french fries," Seebart said with a gravelly laugh. "We had eight pies from across the country. The best one we had was in Montana."
The hard times
Pie or not, the grind of pedaling seven to eight hours a day for weeks straight takes a toll on the mind and body. The two slept in a tent together most nights and only occasionally slept indoors when invited by a homeowner. Seebart believes he got through it all by keeping a level head — never too high or ever too low.
"We had hard days, bad days," Seebart said. "But that's the whole story of the touring thing. You don't have control of the weather, you don't have control over what hills you're climbing, or anything else."
This mentality was challenged when Holfelner took a hard crash shortly after entering Montana. The two took three days off — their longest break of the trip — and lost valuable time as winter approached.
It would have been easy to pack it up and call it quits so close to their home of Colorado, but the pair did just the opposite: Once back on the road they biked eight straight days, which put them back on track, and, even more importantly, gave them confidence for the remainder of the trip.
Into the heartland
On highways and long-forgotten roads they pedaled through mid-America. They typically moved along back roads for safety, but it came with surprises.
"We were going through this farmer's property (in Illinois) and the farmer pulls over to us and goes, 'What are you guys doing on my property?'" Seebart remembered. "We responded that, 'We're just taking this nice back road to Florida.' He was very helpful in telling us how to get different places."
On Halloween, Oct. 31, Seebart and Holfelner coasted to the end of their journey on the Florida coast. Seebart enjoyed meeting new and interesting people, like the sole bike owner in a small Kentucky county who invited them over for dinner, stories and a bed.
"No matter where we were at, people would come up and talk to us… .There's just great people across the country no matter where you're at," Seebart laughed. "This happened frequently all across the county."
After their journey, Holfelner married Seebart's sister and moved to New Hampshire, while Seebart opened a bike store in Denver. He sold the store in 2005 and retired to Silverthorne, where he has been living ever since.
Although he's never taken a trip quite as large as the cross-country ride, Seebart is still an avid road cyclist, doing century rides across Maine, Minnesota and Summit County this last year alone. He also caught the nautical bug and recently sailed from Puerto Rico to Grenada without stopping — a voyage over 500 miles long.
Most often, though, he can be found climbing Vail Pass on a custom, blue-and-copper Nishiki, enjoying all the highs and lows life throws at him.
"You've just got to relax and take what life gives you," Seebart said. "Same as when you're on the bike, with sailing you don't have any control of the weather, so you just make do."
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