Let’s rewind to Christmas morning, 1989. I was four years old, and was spending this Christmas at home in Pittsburgh with my cousin Quoc, who was visiting from Minnesota. Present-opening time rolled around and Santa’s presents were laid out. Quoc got to his first; he quickly unwrapped a brand new Jeep Cherokee Power Wheels, full with roll bars and real working headlamps. I opened my gift with great excitement, having seen what Santa brought Quoc. I tore the paper away to reveal a pedal operated firetruck. No engine, no roll bars, no real working headlamps. Comparing the Power Wheels to my pedal-operated gift, at the time I was sort of disappointed. But my parents had thought this one through: little did I know, this gift would launch me into a world of pedal operated machines, greatest among them: the bicycle. My friend Joe and I rode almost constantly throughout middle school and high school, culminating into several trips down the Youghiogheny River Trail and C&O Canal to Washington DC. In college I bought my first road bike in response to one too many packets of Easy Mac, and after a few years, started racing with the Cycling Team at Pitt. I love both road biking and mountain biking, with a slight preference for mountain. This is my first long tour and is fortifying my love for two-wheels, but truly I owe it all to my parents and that bright red pedal-operated firetruck.
I had never ridden a road bike until college, when I bought Skookumchuck, my beautiful Trek 520 that I’m using for this ride, for $100. I spent the next few weeks crashing it, eventually learning how to unclip my pedals. For me, middle school meant being chubby and loving baseball…if I rode a bicycle it was only to get somewhere because I couldn’t drive. The catalyst for my post-adolescent road bike conversion was a cross-country trip in 2005, which took me from Oregon to Delaware after I graduated from Oregon State University. My bicycling companion, touring sensei, and mastermind of the trip was Kevin Johnson, who is now my father-in-law. I think about riding all the time and have been scheming on an Alaska ride since my last tour in 2005, so for me this is a fulfillment of that dream. Most importantly, I want thank my beautiful wife Krysta for blessing this ride.
I began riding semi-seriously in middle school in Ketchum, ID. I joined a local mountain biking team and raced in NORBA events for several summers. Initially I just rode cross country, but eventually got more and more into racing downhill. After I grew out of my bike in high school I ended up replacing it with a road bike and have only ridden recreationally since then. I have no prior experience touring, and before this trip I had never ridden more than 80 miles in a day.
Convinced that I could do this tour on the cheap, I bought a 1985 Schwinn Voyageur, a vintage steel touring bike, off craigslist and Nashbar panniers for $20 a pair. The panniers have held up (as of 2600 miles) but the Schwinn did not. After 65 miles, the steer tube of the fork sheared and the front wheel stopped obeying the orders from the handlebars telling it where to go. After a day of trying to find a fork that fit the frame and rigging up a frankenbike with a smaller front wheel than rear wheel, I had to give in and buy a new bike to avoid giving up the trip.