USA Coast-to-Coast

Arthur Benbow

So I had to decide which charity I will raise funds for on my ride across the USA. Having spent 10 years supporting the British Heart Foundation in Cardiff prior to the death of my wife in 1993. So in October 1994 I undertook a 250 mile cycle ride across the Holy Land of Israel raising another £2000 for the BHF in memory of my late wife.

So having lived in Wales for 20 years I felt that I should consider a worthy cause in Wales. That was not difficult as there was an appeal from a new charity who were planning to provide care and support for families and children with a terminal illness as there was no Children’s Hospice in Wales. Thanks to the support of American companies in Wales, plus Rotary clubs and welsh citizens living in the USA there was a substantial sum before I started.

My travelling started in earnest on 1 May 1995 with a bicycle ride across the United States. Not everyone aged 63 will agree with me, but I think a bike ride from coast to coast across any country is the best way to explore, see the country and meet the folks. So why the USA? And why coast to coast? Well, it was the Dark Horse Venture Scheme that prompted me into action when my life was in turmoil three months after becoming a widower. The Dark Horse is a registered charity founded in 1988 and run on very similar lines to the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme, except that you have to be 55 years young to enter. I signed up for a year of undertakings in three activities - Exploring and Exercise (cycling), Giving and Sharing (raising money for charity) and Learning and Doing which I thought could involve making a video of my travels.

Research indicated that, as the prevailing winds in America are from the west, it would be advisable to start from the Pacific coast. The very small time window for beginning the ride (April to the end of June) could also be fraught with climatic perils, but would provide me with reasonable odds of a minimum of bad weather and the best of the good weather in most regions - if I was lucky.

I was not lucky! The winter of '94/95, bringing heavy snow along much of the Pacific seaboard, was not good for California. I had to revise my original plan to head east from San Francisco over the Sierra Nevada mountains because on 1 May only one road going east was open and cycling on it was not recommended. My revised plan was to go south along the Pacific coast for 250 miles, covering some spectacular rugged coastal scenery known as Big Sur, before heading off east on Day 5 along Highway 46. The next drop of water in any quantity I would see would be the Atlantic Ocean. Within 60 miles I had left the undulating California countryside behind me, heading towards the flat open spaces of the Mojave desert. There was now very little habitation between one town and the next, but when you did hit Town you lacked for nothing, from a 24-hour launderette to a restaurant serving all-American breakfasts 24 hours-a-day seven days a week. My route took me within 65 miles of the south rim of the Grand Canyon. I couldn't pass so close without paying this spectacular tourist attraction a visit. Somehow the word 'grand' doesn't convey the magnitude and beauty of the canyon. It's difficult to find words to describe this amazing creation of nature, caused by erosion from the River Colorado over millions of years. The statistics of the canyon vary slightly, but it's around 300 miles long, four to 10 miles wide and an average of one mile deep. 

My project was a success in spite of erratic, unpredictable weather -Snow and thunderstorms in Arizona, more snow and rain in the Rockies and, in between, continuous headwinds for six or seven days. I managed to avoid the flooding in the central States, but heavy showers and increasing humidity followed me through to Kentucky, Virginia and the East Coast. I couldn't have succeeded without the help and hospitality of every-one with whom I came in contact, from the sprightly English widow in California, who gave me a room in her luxury motel, to two State policemen in New Mexico, who rescued me when I was stranded in the desert in the dark following a puncture and the failure of my front light. They not only gave me and my bike a 20-mile lift into the nearest town, but also provided me with a shower and bed at their police headquarters.

I reached my destination, Fredericksburg, Virginia, on 24 June, just one week behind schedule (and 8lbs lighter) with an escort of twelve cyclists from a local club. Examination of my diary shows that my journey of 3789 miles through ten States took 46 days of cycling (averaging 82 miles a day) with nine rest days, only one puncture, two wrong turnings and a host of friends made en route.

My overall reaction is that it was not a sightseeing trip. The scenic area only covered 15 per cent of my journey, so eighty-five per cent of the time I was riding through wide open spaces of nothing, such as Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico and Oklahoma.

After ten days of relaxation and sightseeing, I flew home from Washington DC on 6 July and started planning my next trip around the world - due to start on 1 January 2000.