Brown bike across the nation, witnesses beauty and devastation

{gallery}/08_16_11/brown{/gallery} Riding a bicycle across the United States was an adventure for 58-year-old Eagle Point resident, Vicki Brown. Not only did Brown see beautiful scenery but encountered a grizzly bear mother and cub, was chased by dogs and saw firsthand the devastation of a tornado and floods that wreaked havoc on communities throughout the country. She also met wonderful people.

Brown retired on February 1 as manager of the Jackson County Public Health Department. Three months later on May 2 she flew to Yorktown, Virginia to begin an almost 4,000-mile journey with fellow bicyclist, Brad Cook, 57, from Medford.

Brown and Cook began the trip in the east so the sun would not be in their faces as they traveled towards home on a bicycle route that was mapped in 1976 for America’s Centennial. The westerly direction also offered safety as the sun would not blind drivers on their side of the road, said Brown.

Starting each day early, Brown and Cook towed trailers that weighed about 45 pounds each and carried gear such as sleeping bags and tents for the two-month long journey. Although Brown was experienced after previously touring with Cycle Oregon eight times, through the Rockies seven times and three cross-state tours in Wyoming, Wisconsin and Idaho, she said it was difficult getting used to the weight of the trailer.

Brown and Cook averaged 62-miles a day with the longest day covering 127-miles. On day 17, they met up with two men from northwest Virginia. The four traveled together until Cook broke off in Wyoming to take a different route.

Crossing the country, Brown found that women were in the minority when it came to touring on bicycles. Minority or not, she was the only one of the four to have previously completed a 100-mile ride called “a century.” That inequality was remedied in Kansas when all four completed a 100-mile day.

The group hit all kinds of weather. It was hot and humid some days and rainy on others. When it rained they got wet, stressed Brown laughing. The elements proved to be challenging but the bicyclists were fortunate. They were a day away from Joplin, Missouri when the big tornado hit. “It was a horrible, horrible storm,” emphasized Brown soberly. She saw a flattened community with roofs torn off and clothes hanging in broken trees.

The destructive spring also brought torrential rains. “In Illinois and Mississippi, flooded areas looked like lakes with homes in the middle of the lakes,” said Brown. The bicyclists had to cross the Ohio River where the water was so high the ferry had not been able to run until that day. Taking a detour through one region, they were guided over the top of a levee on gravel, with water lapping below.

The storms were an eye-opening experience but the bicyclists made it through safely. However, encounters with animals offered more adventure. In Kentucky, dogs are known to be loose and aggressive and the bicyclists were chased by lots of dogs. “They were everywhere,” said Brown. What surprised her was the lack of concern on the owners’ part. “They would sit there and let the dogs go.” And in fact, Brown was bitten on the ankle by a chasing dog.

The group crossed a lot of mountains, including the Ozarks, and as they were dropping down into the Tetons, a 22-year-old bicyclist who had joined them spotted a grizzly mother and cub alongside the road. “We crossed to the other side but still did not feel real comfortable riding past her,” said Brown. Finally they came up with a solution. They scooted up next to a car, on the far side from the bears, and used the car as a shield to pass the grizzlies. Later, they again used a car to shield them from a herd of buffalo in Yellowstone National Park.

Although weather and animals made the trip an adventure, meeting people was a high point. Many churches in the south open their doors to touring bicyclists. Brown and party stayed in eight different houses of worship and visited with pastors, were invited to a fun choir practice and got to use the kitchens.

On the tour, Brown enthused, they met total strangers who invited them on their porches for a cool drink of water and other friendly people in convenience stores, gas stations and diners. In general, those they met were nice and interested in the bicyclists. She never felt uncomfortable with anyone.

During the trip that included 30 nights of camping, Brown met other bicyclists with many from Europe. In Yellowstone where seven bicyclists shared possibly the last available campsite, they met a man in his late 50’s from Slovenia bicycling alone. “He had a good command of the English language, was lonely and happy for our company,” reflected Brown. In Lander, Wyoming, they met a couple from the Netherlands. They all rode together for a week. They also met bicyclists from New Zealand, Australia and lots from England. One Swiss woman, 25, was bicycling alone from New York to San Francisco.

Meanwhile back at home, Brown’s husband, Don, was holding down the fort. Married happily for eight years, he knew when they got married that bicycling was in Brown’s blood. Thanks to modern technology the couple talked three times a day and Brown also posted information on Facebook. At the end of the trip, they met in Vale, Oregon for a reunion. Although Don is accepting of Brown’s adventures he said, “You always worry about someone on a bicycle. It takes patience.” But hearing from his wife every night reassured him. “It is always nice to know that everything is all right.”

Summing up the tour, Brown said, “Everyday was a whole new adventure—a new town. Bicycling is a wonderful way to travel.”
By Margaret Bradburn
Of the Independent

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