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By Robert Ashworth

My bike ride to the beach, but that beach was 4,000 miles away

Bicycle ride across America

Summer of 1991

Photos on Flickr

Google map of this trip

Slide Show Video



Airplane -

Less than one day, but what if you want to see more of America than the "in flight movie?" 

Car -

Several days, but you're whizzing past everything so fast it is all a big blurrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr. 

Bicycle -

It took me 9 1/2 weeks and it was the trip of a lifetime. 


I started at my house in Bellingham and rode to Seattle the first day. 

Traffic, traffic everywhere, especially here in Western Washington.  For bicycling, I try to find roads with good shoulders. 

Ethnic Joke 

How many Americans does it take to replace a light bulb? 

It takes two.  One to dash into the building and do the job real fast while the other drives around and around and around the block looking for a parking spot. 

Do hills bother me?  No. I just put it in low gear and take along plenty water.  Maybe I only average 3 MPH. on grades, but with all this beauty who would want to go faster? 

Friends of mine in Yakima, Washington, were planning a float trip down the Yakima River.  By coincidence, their trip was planned the same day I arrived so I went along with them. 

Long expanses of sagebrush near Hanford Nuclear Reservation.  An essential ingredient in bike touring is sunscreen, the more powerful the better. I tried to get number 35 or stronger.

Leaking storage tanks of nuclear waste make news, sunshine is really the big radiation threat for a bicyclist near Hanford. 

A store clerk near Othello said, "Isn't it awfully hot to be riding a bike? It is 100 degrees."  I said I was surprised to hear it was that hot.  The wind cools me.  An occasional watering hole is good to drench my shirt.  Then the breeze works like air conditioning. 

It is important to have lots of water.  A pair of those two litter  7 UP bottles  made good water bottles.  I strapped them to the front low rider racks with bungy cords.  Foam padding kept my racks from puncturing the plastic bottles.

A self guided tour through the powerhouse of a big dam can be an educational experience.  This is the generator room at Lower Monumental Dam on the Snake River.


You've probably seen those HARD ROCK CAFE T-shirts from cultural centers of the world.  Dusty does not qualify for a HARD ROCK CAFE, but it does have THE DUSTY CAFE.  I got a T-shirt from this spot about 17 miles west of Clorox, Washington.

Rolling fields of wheat that look like sand dunes.  This is the rich Palouse wheat ranching country, an area along the Washington Idaho border. 

I visited my childhood home in Pullman, Washington; a college town.

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Buying food in a store took on a new meaning as I traveled. When clerks noticed my helmet they ask where I started biking.  My explanation would cause their mouths to drop open.  Several store clerks even announced my presence to other customers in the store.  Soon all the customers would be asking me questions and discussing my bike.  Convenience stores could become friendly places.  Glad I was not doing a race.  Sometimes a quick stop at the store took over 45 minutes, but it was well worth it to meet so many nice people along the way. 


Dworshak Dam is an impressive sight.  Tallest dam in the Northwest at over 700 feet.

Unfortunately, my camera was misfunctioning so the pictures of the dam looked like UFO landings. 

Lochsa River winds its way through mountains and forests of Northern Idaho. I cycled for miles along this beautiful river. 


Bicycling into the next hour.   I crossed 4 time zones on this trip. 


Lots of open space in Western Montana, but plenty of stores and campgrounds, at least along I-90, for comfort. 

Controlled access highway, in Montana, must mean, "no cows on the freeway."  Freeway ramps have cattle guards. 

The wide freeway shoulder is legal for bikes in many sparsely populated areas of western states.  One can follow the signs to know where it is legal and where it is illegal. 



Fires have blackened most of Yellowstone's forest

As one might have guessed, there are lots of geysers at Yellowstone.  By chance there was even a personalized license plate spelling out the word "GEYSER" in one of the parking lots.  It was from my home state of Washington. 

Yellowstone is a crowded park.  Most of the roads are narrow with lots of traffic and potholes.  While the roads are lousy, campgrounds go out of their way to accommodate bikes. 

Yellowstone's campgrounds fill up fast so one must get a spot early, but an exception is made for bicyclists.  Bikes are always welcomed and will not be turned away from a full campground.  If one is a cyclist, the campground fee is reduced. 

Slower speed limits improve safety on park roads, but limits are often broken.  I saw many cars zoom by.  At first I would feel angry, but then I realized they were missing the scenery by zipping past it.  Missing the view is punishment for hurrying. 

A small pond sits on the Continental Divide.  A creek flowing out the east end turns into the Missouri River which eventually flows into the Mississippi and the Atlantic Ocean.  Another creek, out the west side, becomes the Snake which flows to the Columbia and the Pacific Ocean. 

Yellowstone is an interesting place, but due to its popularity, it can be a bit hectic, even at the leisurely pace of a bicycle. 


Oil wells near Lovell, Wyoming. Pump, pump, pump. This is the pumping that gets most people from here to there. 

Pump, pump, pump with my legs on the peddles gets me up this hill and across the Big Horn Mountains in Wyoming.  It's an exercise program with a view!

I crossed the continental divide in Yellowstone, but still had more segments of the Rockies to cross.  Wyoming's Big Horn Mountains was the highest range I crossed.

Riding a stationary bike for exercise is kind of dull if one has been spoiled by all this beautiful mountain scenery.  Pumping away in the gym looking at a blank wall can not compare to the panoramic views, which change around every corner, as one travels by bike.  The Big Horns offered twisted layers of sandstone, fault lines, hills of black stuff that looked like tar, and weird granite formations. This gym was a geologist's paradise. 

In the strange world at the top of the Big Horns I came around a bend and faced an ocean of cattle standing on the road.  "What's a person to do now?"   I didn't even think to get out my camera.  I just wondered, "how am I going to get through." Then a Forest Service truck came along.  The driver was used to this type of situation and he just slowly drove into the herd.  Cattle jumped off onto both sides of the road out of the way.  I just went, timidly, right behind him. 

It's down, down down the east side grade.  My fingers got tired holding the brakes as I didn't want to go too fast. 

Boulders the size of buildings lie all around.  One jumble of boulders is known as Fallen City.


Eastern Wyoming is so sparsely populated I found myself waving at the few cars that went by.  Try waving at the cars around Bellingham and your hand falls off, you would be waving all the time. 

The store in Spotted Horse, Wyoming was open, but no one was in it.  I walked around looking for a clerk, but only heard someone snoring in the back room.  Rather than disturb them, I decided to go on to Gillette.  It was 30 miles farther, but I still had water and A few crackers. 

Fences mean nothing to the thousands of antelope running around Wyoming.  Early one morning I saw hundreds of them all around me leaping over fences and going where ever they wished. 

Along the road, I kept meeting other cross country cyclists. Sometimes we would just wave as we passed.  Other times we would stop and visit. 

It seems that bicyclists are the most handsome people I meet. They sort of radiate physical beauty.  Maybe it's the effects of all that exercise and fresh air. 

One cyclist, named Polar, stopped for a chat as a bear appeared.  It climbed across a fence and stood on the road in front of us.  This was the first bear I had ever seen outside the zoo.  I didn't even see one in Yellowstone and I didn't consider that a loss.  "What was a bear doing out here in the sagebrush?"  "Aren't bears supposed to live in the woods?" 

Polar wasn't afraid of bears.  He thought it would make a good picture.  As soon as he got out his camera, the bear ran; right through a barb wire fence.


People along the road kept talking about this convention of  200,000 motor cyclists up ahead.  Did I really want to be there at the same time?  It was the Harley convention in Sturgis, South Dakota.  I had visions of crowded roads and full campgrounds.  "Wouldn't it be nice if this could have just been a convention of bicyclists rather than the motorized variety" Quiet bicyclists, in lycra, would be better than loud motor cyclists in leather and tattoos. 

When I got to the Black Hills, near Sturgis, the convention was winding down.  It wasn't crowded and the motorcyclists I met were nice. 

DEVIL'S TOWER NATIONAL MONUMENT is Core of a volcano that still stands after the rest of the mountain eroded away. 


A Neutrino telescope in the Lead Gold Mine.


Miles and miles of flat prairie can get boring, but radio adds new dimensions to the experience.  Radio signals taught me a lot about cities and people I was traveling past.  My ears filled with news about the 1991 coup attempt in the Soviet Union that failed and, more importantly, what farmers of South Dakota thought about it. 

Next I would tune in a talk show from Minneapolis and learn what living in that city would be like for gay and lesbian people.  Studio guests from local gay rights organizations chatted with callers from all over Minnesota.  Next there would be a discussion of city planning, parks and transit systems. 

Banging drums and rattles filled the air from a station specializing in Native American programming.  It was on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. 

Symphonies of Mozart and Brahms came to me over South Dakota Public Radio.  Cycling through sunny fields seems to mix well with classical music. 

A campground attendant, near Rapid City, was probing the ground with a long pole.  I thought someone had lost a contact. Then I heard a rattling sound of another kind; not the native American radio station.  This was coming up from under wooden steps I was standing on.  It was a rattle snake.  The campground attendant was trying to catch it with that pole. Needless to say, I didn't continue up those steps. 

The driveway to an abandoned farmhouse makes an intriguing stop.  Wind whistling through poplar trees, a strange odor in the air and a metallic squeak coming from somewhere.  Then I saw a rusty fan hood on the house.  It was turning in the wind with a metallic squeak.  At my feet lay the source of the smell, a dead cat crawling with maggots.  I was thinking of stopping for lunch, but decided to move on.


Big pancake breakfast for a square dance club at park in Brookings, SD.  They marveled at the distance I traveled and invited me to breakfast.


Luce Line Trail, a bike path leading into the Twin Cities metropolitan area followed an old railroad route.  The biggest problem is, it didn't go all the way.  Ends in a sprawling suburb, still a few miles shy of Minneapolis.


Suburban sprawl is among the worse terrain to bicycle in. All the main roads are narrow and clogged with hurrying traffic.  The freeway has a shoulder but it is not legal for bikes.  Side roads are dead end.  It seems impossible to navigate through suburban sprawl.


As soon as I got into Minneapolis proper, the situation improved dramatically.  There are busy main streets, but one does not have to use them.  Quiet residential streets go through, unlike in the suburbs.

City planning seems to be better in the city than in the suburbs.

I like higher density development where apartments, homes, city parks and services can be in walking distance.  Having all the houses spread out on acre lots, as is done in many suburban areas, just forces people to rely on their cars too much.

Minnesota has been called "land of 10,000 lakes."  I wonder if there is a lake called "Another Lake."  One keeps seeing another lake.

Many lakes are inside the Twin Cities.  There are systems of parks and bike paths braiding all through the city.  I spent two days exploring Twin Cities using this system of green ways.


For big cities, Minneapolis and Saint Paul have relaxed atmospheres.  I would even venture to say they seemed more livable than Bellingham!  Admittedly, I was there in the Summer, winter might be a different story.  The Twin Cities have lots of bike paths, by comparison, many Bellingham streets are lousy.

Bellingham is growing real fast so traffic is getting bad and housing is becoming unaffordable.  Bellingham's streets and housing units are hard pressed to keep up with its growth.  The Twin Cities are bigger than Bellingham, but they have been large for a longer period of time.  Their infrastructures have had a chance to catch up.

Minneapolis has a big sculpture garden with works by many artists.  I guessed which artist did one sculpture.  It looks like, FOR HANDEL, a sculpture on the Western Washington University Campus, here in Bellingham by the same artist.  A few other works looked familiar.


The twin cities seemed open-minded with a rich diversity of people.


Yet another lake.

At several spots on this trip, children discovered my odd looking bike and peppered me with questions such as, "Where are you from?"  "Aren't you afraid your legs are going to blow up?"  "Has anybody else done this before?" "Can I get your autograph?"  I assured them that I knew many people who had gone across America on a bicycle. One child in Wisconsin was so impressed that she asked, "Can I touch you?" She touched me like I was some sacred stone.


Home of America's first rural zoning ordinance.  They had sprawl problems back in the 1930s as well.  With people spread out all over the countryside, it was getting harder to provide services.  Just running school buses to all those out-of-the-way places, gathering kids, was getting so costly that it was breaking budgets during the depression.  The zoning ordinance restricted development in some hard-to-reach county areas.  Clustered development was encouraged so that services, such as school buses, could be provided more efficiently.  This was seen as a way to save government money during the depression.  We still need to learn that lesson.



Good advice seen on this billboard in a tombstone sales yard I passed in Michigan Peninsula. Sign said "DRIVE CAREFULLY WE CAN WAIT"

One of the goals of my trip was to see the Great Lakes.  I'm used to Lake Whatcom, near Bellingham.  One can see across it.  Lake Superior is another world.  A lake so large that ships have been lost out on the lake.  One can stand at the shore on a sunny day and still see large breakers crashing to shore from a storm that is out in the lake beyond the horizon.

I kept meeting local residents that thought Michigan's upper peninsula was one of the last unspoiled areas on Earth. Green forests, rolling mountains (yes there are some in the Midwest) and lake shores make the peninsula special.  Lower Michigan, south of the Mackinaw Bridge, was described as toxic.  It reminded me of the provincial attitude of some people, here in the Northwest.  In actuality, I found both good and bad in each region.

To get from Upper to Lower Michigan one must cross the longest suspension bridge in the world, the Mackinaw Bridge.  Michigan does not allow bicycles on interstate freeways and the Mackinaw is a freeway.  No need to worry, a transportation department truck takes bicycles and pedestrians across.

I anticipated this problem before I left so I wrote to the state highway department for information.  Highway and campground information, I got from each state before leaving, was a great help.


In Lower Michigan, I parked near a tall tower and walked up the dirt road to its base.  It was a transmitter.  The  operator saw my bike, as he went to get his mail, and thought I might have broken down.  Instead my interest in radio brought me to this stop.

He invited me into the transmitter building to look around.  It was radio heaven.


Roads got worse, closer to Detroit.  Instead of a paved shoulder, they used loose gravel. These type of roads are terrible for bicycling.  Also traffic was getting thicker.

50 miles was about as close to Detroit as I wanted to get.  I crossed into Canada on the Blue Water Bridge from Port Huron, MI. 

People kept telling me also, "don't go near Detroit."  The Motor City's latest fad was "CAR JACKING."  This is where a gang runs up to a car stopped at the red light.  They point a gun at the driver and steal the car.  According to radio talk shows, from Detroit, there were several car jackings per day.  This was 1991.  I hear things are better now.

People in one small town, I went through, had just finished the funeral for a 23-year-old woman who had brought her new car to the state fair in Detroit.  She was attacked in the fair's parking lot and would not give up her car.  They shot her.  They kept saying the small towns and rural areas were safe, but avoid Detroit, especially if one has an expensive car.


At a park near Sandusky, Michigan, some people asked where I was from.  When I said I had biked from Washington, they were impressed.  Washington, Michigan, is about 30 miles away.  Then I said, "I mean the state of Washington, where Seattle is."  They were really impressed.

I pulled into a campground on Lake Huron and ask what the fee would be.  When the campground attendant learned where I had bicycled from he said, "hey the fee's on me."  "If you ride a bike that far, you deserve a free night."


As soon as I got into Canada, there was a safer feeling in the air.  One could see joggers along the roads again.

Buildings in Woodstock, Ontario were so ornate I thought it was a theater or tourist town.  At a near by campground I asked a ranger what attraction led to Woodstock's creation. She listed a bunch of factories such as a GM parts warehouse and a place that makes tanker truck seals.  It's a factory town.  The ornate buildings and beautiful homes are just the way things were built back then.


Getting so close to Toronto, I couldn't pass up seeing that city, but bicycling in Toronto traffic was not my ambition. The smart thing to do was to store my bike in a safe spot for two nights and take a bus into Toronto for the day.  The city library in Brantford, Ontario should help me piece it all together, so I thought.  Finding a place to stay, possibly a motel, and figuring out which buses to catch shouldn't be too hard.

The librarians in Brantford didn't have schedules for any buses except right in Brantford.  I decided to ride on and see if I could get a clearer picture down the road.

Next I happened to go by the Airport for Hamiltion, Ontario. They should have lots of transit information there?  No such luck.  All they had were plane schedules.

It's a case of people being too specialized.  They all know their own little area, but I needed the broader picture pieced together.

A tourist information center in Downtown Hamiltion should have all the information, but I got there after it had closed.

Next I tried calling Toronto's bus information.  They knew all about Toronto's system, but they didn't know schedules for Hamiltion buses which would be needed to connect me to the Toronto buses.

Finally, when I was about to give up on the whole idea, I stopped at a pizza parlor to ask if there was a campground or motel nearby.  They directed me to Confederation Park campground.

When I checked into the campground, someone mapped out my way to Toronto.  It was a mile walk to a Hamiltion bus stop. Then I took a Hamiltion bus to the downtown terminal where I caught the bus for Toronto.  Easy enough. 

They found a storage closet, at campground headquarters, for my bike.

After figuring all this out, I realized I still hadn't eaten.  It was getting dark and the nearest store was several miles away.  No worry, the ranger ordered a pizza for me.  The pizza was delivered to my tent.

Toronto's CN Tower. The tallest free-standing structure in the world.  There are some towers that are taller, but they are skinny steel antennas held up by guy wires.  Of all places, I think Poland has the tallest tower with guy wires.  It is a TV tower near Warsaw.   Toronto's CN tower is the tallest free-standing structure in the world.  It stands with out guy wires.  Also has a TV antenna, but observation decks and a restaurant make it the tallest habitable tower.

Cycling through grape fields between Hamiltion and Niagara Falls.  The sweet smell of grapes was so prevalent I felt like drinking the air.

Off to the side of the road were two smashed-up cars - quite a fender-bender, with police all around.  I saw someone in tears.  I was thankful for the slower, less stressful pace of the bike.

At a much slower pace the bicycle can stay out of most traffic patterns.  There is less chance of me harming another person on my bike than there would be if I were behind the wheel of a two ton car going at 60 MPH.

My motivation for cycling is not just concern for the environment or a wish to see the country better.  My nerves are too sensitive to handle the stress of driving.


It looked like a graduation ceremony.  Tourists lined up for the boat ride to the base of Niagara Falls.  Their blue caps and gowns were actually rain coats.  I didn't wait in line for the ride into the spray, but I got a good look anyway.

A middle school kid wondered why I had all that stuff on my bike when I asked if she knew how to get to Fort Niagara State Park.  She said, "Are you for real?"  "It's ten miles away."  "You're going to ride a bicycle all that way?" Then I explained I had started clear out in Washington State. She could hardly believe it and said, "You must be joking." Finally she was (sort of) convinced and was able to direct me there.

Castle at Ft. Niagara was built in 1726 by the French.  Later used by the British to fight Americans in the Revolutionary war.  Most of the rest of its life went into service as an American fort.  In 1963, the military turned it over to the New York state park system. 

Yard sign for a local election: Rob Outhouse for sheriff.

My trip across U.S.A. was easier than when the pioneers tried it in covered wagons before there were bank machines!

For money, I withdrew from my savings account at ATMs  along the way. Traveler's checks were a back up system in areas where few bank machines could be found.

Live bank tellers are still useful, especially if they have extra time.  After I took care of some banking business a teller took interest in my trip.  She had extra time so she took a pencil and carefully drew a map for me.  This got me around Rochester, New York, with great ease.


I stayed with someone I met on the way who lived in Syracuse.  It is a big college town, home of Syracuse University.  My friend worked on the campus and took me to some student hangouts.  A taste of life at Syracuse University.

Bike path along Erie Canal east of Syracuse.  Miles of peaceful riding. 

This trip did not have an end goal.  I just wanted to see how far east I could get in about 9 weeks of reasonable pace. The trip itself was the goal.

My ideal of "having the trip be the goal" began to break down when I realized how close to the Atlantic I was getting.  Just three more days, added to my vacation, would give me enough time to get there.

I called my boss to arrange another week leave of absence. He said there would be no problem.  Then I heard him exclaim over his shoulder to another person in the room, "He's in New York!"


At a modern convenience store I asked the young clerk if the buildings across the street were actually built in 1781. They had that date on them, but it might have been an address, rather than being when the the building was built. With a slight laugh she said, "I wouldn't be surprised." "They look pretty crappy to me."  To her they were just a bunch of ugly old buildings.



It's going fast now, and the states are getting smaller. Cycling through Brattleboro Vermont, there was a wonderful cafe with natural foods and a woman in a loud tie dye shirt.  So many memories, my book only scratches the surface.


I heard a horrible story about the original Massachusetts Bay Colony. The Calvinist religion was very strict - so strict it's leaders would not allow preachers from the Quaker colony of Pennsylvania to preach in their district.  Quakers had a different perspective, and Calvinists must have thought there was only one "right way."

When a Quaker was caught preaching in the calvinist colony, he was deported.  If caught again he could get a terrible punishment, holes drilled in the tong.

Like fundamentalists in the Middle East.

I like to say, "no ONE WAY religion has a monopoly on GOD."  "GOD is for everyone."


New England has lots of stone walls that were built around farmyards in the 1600s and 1700s.  Many of these walls run through deep woods.  Why build a wall through thick forest? 

It wasn't a forest when the wall was built.  Back then, that piece of land was farmed and the wall was built around the farmyard.  Later farming stopped and forest grew back.  The wall remains, so now it goes through forest.

Old industrial buildings along the shores of the Merrimack River in Haverhill, Massachusetts. Some say America's industrialization was born along the Merrimack.

Believe it or not, I'm near Boston!

The Atlantic Ocean at Salisbury Beach, Massachusetts.  I can now say I bicycled across America.

It took three days and nights to get back to the West Coast on AMTRAK.  The train provided a shipping carton for my bike so I could check it in the baggage car as luggage.  It took about a day to dismantle my bike, box up my stuff, send cards to about 75 friends letting them know where I ended up and get ready for a train ride back.


My house in Bellingham.  Mile 0.

Friend in Seattle. Mile 105

Dallas C.G. east of Enumclaw. Mile 196.

Friend in Yakima. Mile 272.

Snake River by Kalotus. Mile 386.

My sisters in Pullman. Mile 479.

Near Kamiah, ID.  Mile 571.

Wilderness Gateway C.G. Mile 632.

Lolo Hot Springs. Mile 696.

Dortmund, MT. Mile 789.

Butte, MT. Mile 879.

Enis, MT. Mile 966.

Earthquake Lake, MT. Mile 1024.

Madison Junction C.G. in Yellowstone. Mile 1054.

Yellowstone Lake Bridge Bay C.G. Mile 1112.

Wappitie C.G. west of Cody, WY. Mile 1172.

Lovell, WY. Mile 1254. 

Dayton, WY. Mile 1336.

Cabin motel near Lieter, WY. Mile 1412.

Near Devil's Tower. Mile 1522.

Belle Forthe, SD. Mile 1590.

Rapid City, SD. Mile 1670.

Wall, SD. Mile 1736.

Hays, SD. Mile 1823.

Pierre, SD. Mile 1857.

2 night rest stop at person's home. Bike tune up.

Huron, SD. Mile 1974.

Brookings, SD. Mile 2061.

Granite Falls, MN. Mile 2163.

Hutcheson, MN. Mile 2240.

Minneapolis, MN. 2312.

William O'Brien State Park near St. Croix, MN. Mile 2369.

Bruce, WI. Mile 2458.

The Outpost C.G. near Rienlander Tomahok Junction, WI. Mile 2544.

Anvil Lake, WI. mile 2612.

Van Ripper State Park, MI. Mile 2709.

Bay Furnace C.G. Mile 2785.

Lake McMillan, MI. Mile 2861.

St. Ignace, MI. Mile 2931.

Near Atlanta, MI. Mile 3000.

Rifle River C.G. Mile 3081.

Bay City, MI. Mile 3147.

Point Sanilac, MI. Mile 3238.

Reece's Corner, Ontario. Mile 3305.

Woodstock, ONT. Mile 3392.

Hamilton, ONT. Mile 3472.
Side trip by bus into Toronto.

Fort Niagara. Mile 3552.

North of Lockport, NY. Mile 3620.

East of Rochester, NY. Mile 3693.

Syracuse, NY. Mile 3769.

Bridgewater, NY. Mile 3834.

Brodalbin Junction, NY. Mile 3919.

Bennington, VT. Mile 3995. 

Near Keene, NH. Mile 4043.

Motel in Nashua, NH. Mile 4111.

Salisbury Beach, MA. Atlantic Ocean. Mile 4159.

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