A small group of East Coast Boy Scouts tackles the TransAmerica bike route
By the numbers: TransAmerica Cycle Tour 2015
For the past month, a small collection of Boy Scouts and adult leaders has been pedaling from Oregon back home to North Carolina, crossing the nation’s most iconic mountain passes and National Parks along the way. And they’re only halfway there.
3,900 miles — Total distance
60 miles — Average distance covered daily
66 — Total days on the road
11 — Different states covered
7 — Boy Scouts cycling entire route (15-16 years old)
2 — Adult leaders cycling route
20 pounds — Average weight of the scouts’ backpacks
11,542 feet — Highest elevation (Hoosier Pass)
0 feet — Lowest elevations (Florence, Oregon and Wrightsville, North Carolina)
It’s incredible just how much food a Boy Scout can consume.
Then again, just about anyone would salivate at the mere sight of a menu after a month of cycling. It was July 15, and, ever since June 15, the small group of scouts and adult leaders had been riding upwards of 60 miles every day, through rain and sun and wind, all as part of a 3,900-mile journey from Oregon to North Carolina.
And so, when the town of Breckenridge and Mayor John Warner offered to buy the guys from N.C.’s Troop 845 lunch, they weren’t going to say no.
“I usually think about what I want to eat,” scout David Margolies said when asked what’s on his mind as he pedals eight, sometimes 10 hours in a day. His six fellow scouts nodded in agreement, seated around a faded table over pizzas, burgers, fries and Cokes in the basement at Eric’s on Main Street.
Along with food, the group has also been inspired by a cause, the Be Loud! Sophie Foundation, launched in 2013 by the parents of a teenage girl from the troop’s hometown who died of cancer. Most of the boys didn’t know the girl, but according to Ed Billings, after raising $26,000, they all decided to boost the fundraising goal to $100,000.
“When a teen comes in (for cancer treatment), they have to decide if they want to finger-paint with the kids or go knit with the grandmothers,” said Ed Billings, who notes all money will go to the University of North Carolina Comprehensive Cancer Center. “There isn’t much middle ground. This is a way to provide money for a teen coordinator at the hospital and really just raise awareness about this need.”
In the room next door were dozens of kids and teens playing arcade games, but the scouts hardly noticed. The food had just arrived, and on day 31 of a 66-day bike ride, the 16-year-olds had precious little time to get distracted by something trivial like games.
“I think about where I’m headed, what’s up the road,” Sam Billings said, and the others remained silent for a bit as they savored the sort of grub they can’t fit in a backpack. He was nearly quoting the line found on their trip blog: “Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is so on the road,” from Jack Kerouac.
“I don’t know,” Margolies replied. “I can’t do that. Then it feels like it’s taking forever.”
Another moment of silence as everyone bit down and chewed, then the conversation turned back to the bike ride and, of course, all the scrumptious foods they crave when stuck in the saddle. They have no vehicle for support, so everything from food to clothing to spare parts goes in the backpacks.
While in Breck, they were enjoying two rest days in the same home on the south end of town — a rare luxury when most nights are spent in a sleeping bag outside or on the floor of a church basement — but, by 6:15 a.m. on July 16, it’s back on the road for the toughest climb of the trip: Hoosier Pass, the trip’s highest point at 11,542 feet.
Then, it’s all downhill from there.
America from the ground floor
Before arriving in Breckenridge, the group had pushed through easily the toughest, most demanding portion of the trip. They began on the Oregon coast by dipping their rear tires in the Pacific Ocean, then started pumping steadily uphill into the heart of the Rocky Mountains.
This isn’t the first time scouts with Troop 845 have traveled across the country with little more than bikes, backpacks and a few stops for pizza. The troop is built around high-adventure excursions, from trekking in Nepal to past coast-to-coast rides near the Canadian border.
But this ride is different, and it’s why the group ended up in Breckenridge. For the first time, they’re taking the fabled TransAmerica route, which cuts through the thick of the Rockies and crosses dozens of mountain passes. It rarely touches a city larger than Missoula, Montana, and the last half is spent in the heat of the Heartland plains.
“This is the hardest route we’ve had to tackle because of all those mountain passes,” said Ed Billings, one of six trip leaders and the only one biking with the group from start to finish. “But it’s worth it. The higher the mountain, the more rewarding it is when you get here.”
Even though the boys have thought of nothing but food — or at least claim that’s the only thing on their minds — Hoosier Pass has been a kind monster, looming in the distance since Oregon.
“The emotional halfway point will be the top of the pass tomorrow,” Ed Billings said. “We’ve been talking about that since we started out. We’ll celebrate up top, and then it’s homeward bound from there.”
On the road again
As the group finished eating, the conversation turned away from the usual distractions and focused on just about everything else: what the scouts miss about home, what they think about the mountains, how many new states they’ve seen, what kind of animals they’ve encountered.
“I’d never seen a buffalo before,” said Will Owen, one of two Eagle Scouts in the group. “Or bison, they’re called bison. Just driving across the country seems long. Biking seems almost impossible when you think about it, but it’s a cooler experience. You hear everything along the way, like the electricity humming in the power lines.”
When Mayor Warner stood to leave, he left the group with good-luck wishes and was joined by strangers at two nearby tables. It’s the kind of generosity the group has enjoyed from coast to coast.
“Being self-supported changes everything,” Billings said. “We might be at dinner and someone will pick up our tab, or we’ve had people do our laundry for us. Our boys mowed the lawn for someone who let us stay with them. It’s just amazing what people will do when they know what you’re end goal is.”
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