On July 1st, three friends and St. Louis(ish) natives completed a 2,769 mile bike ride across more than half of the United States. I count myself distinctly fortunate to call one of the riders a friend.
Ronnie Barge, Isiah Mehrtens and Vaughn Bauer set their wheels to the pavement on May 12th in Chester, Illinois. This would be day 1 of 50 to the completion of their trip in Florence, Oregon. While I followed the trip via the trio’s Facebook page, I had the opportunity to speak with Ronnie one-on-one about it and gain unique first hand perspective.
Naturally, I was curious how the whole trip came to fruition. Ronnie shared with me that he found himself seated around a bonfire with some new friends discussing his upcoming bike trip to Argentina, which he completed a few months prior to this adventure. That’s when they shared with him their plans for the Trans America ride and Ronnie hopped on board.
Before the group departed, Ronnie stopped in to Trek Bike Shop in Arnold to prepare his bike for the trip. While he was there he shared the details of his trip. Just as excited as Ronnie, Trek offered to sponsor the trip and promoted their adventure and provided supplies along the way. The route they took was the TransAmerica Trail. The route was established by the Adventure Cycling Association and stretches from Virginia all the way to Oregon. The association has set up bike routes across the US for bikers seeking to explore.
The trip crossed 9 states including: Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Washington and Oregon. It was 50 days from start to finish; 44 of those were spent riding and 6 were down days. The total mileage was 2,769, slightly longer than the anticipated route because they took a detour down the Lewis & Clark trail for some additional sightseeing. They spent their nights in Bike Hostels or just slept in tents along the side of the road. Ronnie told me more often than not people would see them camped along the side of the road and offer them their home for the evening and the opportunity for a hot shower, warm meal, and a decent place to sleep. They also took advantage of the “Warm Showers” app. The app is specifically designed to link fellow cyclists with one another; it connects those willing to open their home to those out on the road. For Ronnie, this was the best part of the trip.
“We met a lot of people along the way. Some were really great and eccentric, very welcoming and accommodating. Others were weird and kind of disturbing.” Regardless of the variety, he counted the people as the greatest highlight of the trip. Wyoming was his favorite state. The landscape he marked as breathtaking, surprised that he preferred that over Colorado, which he expected to be the highlight. The cliffs, the Teton Mountains, Yellowstone, it was all incredible.
Conversely, Yellowstone also accounted for the low point of the trip. He told me a story of how they had planned to bike the entire park that day, ending in Madison. Ten miles outside of Madison they were met with a horrific downpour, leaving the riders and all of their supplies soaked through. They decided to seek shelter in one of the park’s bathrooms for the night, only to have that plan foiled by a ranger who told them they had to leave. Totaling just about 3 hours of sleep that night, it was among the most difficult that they had faced.
My own passion for cycling left me feeling slightly envious of the adventure, so naturally I had a million questions about the trip. Ronnie was happy to entertain all of my inquiries. The biggest was probably: How do you just pick up and leave for two months on a bike trip?!
“I just sorta did it. I didn’t spend time saving up or planning all the details. People put too much stress on it trying to plan every part. Just do it. Money wasn’t really an issue and people were surprisingly helpful along the way.”
Now having two epic bike trips under his belt, I asked Ronnie how this trip differed from his trip through Argentina. He shared that he felt more of a sense of ownership with this one. It was “my journey with my friends.”
So, what’s next?
Ronnie will return to St. Louis and continue his schooling, hoping to go abroad for a semester of study. In terms of a next trip, Ronnie has hopes of purchasing a motorcycle and taking it around the US.
I think we all could take a cue from these three as they embody the adage to “seize the day!”