Weathering challenges

Weathering challenges

My last column featured summer trip reports from two area cyclists, one of whom rode with a group on the Gaspé Peninsula, Quebec, and another who rode the Ride the Rockies tour through Colorado with family members.

This week is part two of summer bike trip reports. Ira and Lynn Wachtel of Champaign rode across the country, from California to New Hampshire, on a trip organized by America By Bicycle. They were inspired to ride cross-country by the late cyclist and Urbana resident Ray Spooner.

Ira Wachtel trained with Mr. Spooner when he was attempting a cross-country ride after being diagnosed with ALS, and the Wachtels accompanied him to ride with and support him. The Wachtels did their cross-country ride this summer not only to fulfill a bucket-list wish, but also as a fundraiser for MDA/ALS in Mr. Spooner’s memory. They raised $6,000.  

Ira and Lynn Wachtel, Champaign: America By Bicycle Cross-Country Challege

Where did you ride?

We began in Burlingame, Calif., about 15 miles south of San Francisco, and ended on Wallis Sands State Beach just south of Portsmouth, N.H.Blog Photo

Who rode?

We were on an organized trip put on by the company America By Bicycle. There were 19 of us.

How many miles total was the trip, and how many miles per day did you ride?

3,839 miles. We had five rest days, so the average we rode on the other 47 days was 82 miles.

Blog PhotoWhat was the elevation change?

120,300 total feet of gain.

Did you do this as a self-supported trip, carrying all your gear, or did you have either a crew or a bike tour company to do that?

America By Bicycle ran our trip. They provided the route, a mechanic, two vans for SAG support and luggage transport, a trip leader and two assistants. They arranged for our accommodations and our meals. We stayed in hotels, had breakfast in the hotel and dinner at a variety of restaurants.


Blog PhotoHow many flat tires did you have?

Flats were a major problem for the entire group. One rider had 14 flats over the course of the ride. I had three and Lynn had three as well. We rode much of Nevada and some of California, Utah and Colorado on interstate highways. The interstates have a lot of tire debris from trucks shedding retreaded tires, and those retreads are held together with very fine wire, which ends up in bits and pieces all over the shoulder. Those wires penetrate the rubber bike tires, cause the tubes to lose air and often remain embedded in the tire to cause the replacement tube to also lose air. It is very hard to find the wires, but you must look for them or you are destined to have another flat sooner than later.

What was your favorite snack food on the trip?

Lynn liked fresh fruit (bananas, cherries, peaches and blueberries) and PB and J. I liked the salty snacks like pretzels and chips, Fig Newtons and the fresh fruit.


Blog PhotoWhat was the hardest part of the ride?

For Lynn, it was riding the day after finding out that a cousin died from lung cancer. She never smoked and died less than two weeks after being diagnosed. We had long-standing plans to get together with her and her husband Aug. 15-18.

For me, the most difficult rides were weather-related. We had 55 mph winds at the top of the Mount Rose Pass and on the 12-mile descent into Reno, Nev.; snow climbing up Emigrant Pass near Elko, Nev.; and all-day 52-degree hard rain on day 51 of 52 across New Hampshire.

Those days were uncomfortable physically and challenged me the most. Looking back, they all were memorable days of riding and embodied our determination to ride every mile in Ray’s memory.


Blog PhotoWhat did you enjoy the most on the trip?

For Lynn, her favorite days were those that included time for enjoying historic sites such as the Eisenhower museum in Abilene, Kan., and the Women’s Rights Museum in Seneca Falls, N.Y. Because we were riding as many as 120 miles on any given day, the days with time for historic exploration were infrequent.

For me, my favorite moments were spent with friends and family who showed up at various points along our ride. Twenty friends showed up in Delta, Colo., and rode with us to Montrose, Colo., 25 miles down the road. Our son and daughter-in-law (Jonathan and Jackie) and our dog (Mesa) came to Pueblo, Colo., and spent a rest day with us.

Our route included riding to Champaign and staying overnight, and we were able to spend time with my 93-year-old mother and with other friends from town.

Do you have plans for future long-distance rides?

The impetus to ride our bikes across America came from me, but Lynn signed on almost from the first time I mentioned it. It was very special being able to share this adventure with my wife of 46 years.

In retrospect, it was very satisfying to achieve our goal but somewhat disappointing to have to spend so much of every day riding and so little time each day actually experiencing the people and places we were passing as we rode. Solution? We are already signed up to do another cross-country ride in the summer of 2018.

This time we are going on the shorter northern route from Seattle to Boston and averaging 60 miles per riding day. With a couple of extra hours for personal exploration each day, we plan to make time for more visits with locals and at historic and natural sights.

Another observation from our ride -- 19 people lived together in close proximity 24/7 and not one cross word was heard during the entire trip, and every person was on time to every scheduled activity! That was amazing!


Jodi Heckel, a writer for the University of Illinois News Bureau, is a runner, swimmer and triathlete. You can email her at, or follow her at Her blog is at


Photos: Top: Fifteen miles from their hotel in Burlingame, Calif., the Wachtels dipped their tires on the beach in San Francisco. Second: Snow on Emigrant Pass near Elko, Nev. Third: "Riding on Interstate 80 was scary at first but after hundreds of miles it became much easier. No one on the trip had so much as a close call or scary moment while riding the shoulder of the interstates. However, it was noisy, littered with debris and less scenic than we would have preferred," Ira Wachtel said. Fourth: Lynn entering Vermont. Bottom: The couple finish in Portsmouth, N.H. Photos provided by Ira and Lynn Wachtel.



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