Couple hits the Oregon trail – the two-wheeled way
When Daniel Penner and Anona Whitley yearned for a change of scenery, they didn't just hop on a plane and head some place warm. Instead, the two former Champaign Cycle employees decided to move to Portland, Ore., and experience all the scenery along the way from the top of their bicycles.
Neither of the 23-year-old biking enthusiasts owns a car and they were attracted to the bike-friendly atmosphere of Portland.
"We've chosen not to own cars," Penner said. "If you're going to do that, Portland is the place to be."
As they were contemplating the best route to take cross country, they found a map from the Adventure Cycling Association that followed the Lewis and Clark trail from Missouri to Oregon. Eureka, they had a plan!
The maps not only include information about roads and trails, but also camping, supplies, water stops, and interesting sites along the way.
On Aug. 17, their families gave them a send-off in St. Charles, Mo. Daniel's father, Mark Penner of Champaign, said he and his wife, Leslie, were apprehensive and nervous as any parents would be, but also supported their plans.
"We're thrilled for them that they can get out and have a great adventure and experience some other things," he said. The Penner parents also made a deal with their son and his girlfriend to check in by phone every three days, when possible.
The nearly 3,000-mile trip took six weeks to complete and was full of adventure. The two traveled alone without a support van or backup plan. They did have a few relatives to visit along the route and stopped in bike shops for the camaraderie of other bikers.
Penner and Whitley said they made friends and met interesting people along the way. One of Penner's favorites was Wolf River Bob in Kansas. Wolf River Bob is the 84-year-old self-proclaimed official greeter of the Lewis and Clark trail. He welcomes travelers into White Cloud, Kansas, shows them around and gives helpful tips.
Most nights the two would camp out in campgrounds or city parks, but would occasionally be offered a warm bed, hot shower and home-cooked meal by friendly people along the way. "If you are genuine and really nice, people are nice to you," Whitley said. "You can still ride your bike through the U.S. and people will offer you a place to stay."
The two met physical, environmental and mechanical challenges along the way as well. They biked through a few heavy downpours, strong head winds, mountainous terrain and had more flat tires than they would have predicted.
Penner said the mountain pass was easier than expected, but the hills of Missouri when they were just starting out were the roughest. For Whitley, a native of Marion, it was the stark landscape of the Dakotas and Montana. "We got really excited when we saw a pine tree and the scenery started to change," she said.
Cell phones were not functional in some of the isolated areas, so the two would also stop at libraries and borrow computer time along the way to update their Web site at www.smellmychamois.blogspot.com They were able to post updates and show folks back home some pictures. It also gives them a permanent record of their experiences.
Mark Penner says he is proud of how the couple worked together through all of their challenges.
"Their attitudes and personalities worked well together," he said. "They took it all in stride."
Their journey to Portland ended Sept. 29. They had avoided their biggest worry of making it through the mountains before the snowfall started thanks to a warm fall in the Northwest.
They have settled into a small apartment and are awaiting the arrival of a few boxes of belongings and five more bicycles. Whitley has recently landed a job with a women's sporting apparel company, Team Estrogen. She is looking forward to commuting to work on her bike.
So far Portland is everything they had hoped for – friendly people, plentiful bike trails, excellent public transportation and mild weather.
"A lot of it has to do with being environmentally conscious, but we just love riding bicycles and would rather do that than drive cars," Penner said.
To read more about Penner and Whitley's cross-country adventure, visit their Web site at www.smellmychamois.blogspot.com.