When my father, Henry Walp, was 22 years of age in the summer of 1939, he traversed the country by bicycle. No stranger to adventure, he had already completed a stint in the Army in Oahu and was itchy to go west once again. Perhaps he missed the Pacific Ocean or perhaps he had a hankering to experience California. Whatever the reason, he found a bicycle he thought ride worthy for the trip – a one speed-pulled together a bed roll and tied it to the rear of the bicycle and headed west from Pittsburgh to San Francisco. He stashed whatever savings he had in his pocket and existed on several cans of beans to keep his energy in check. As night fell, he kept a look out for cemeteries because they usually had water and were safe, inconspicuous places for resting. And although he traveled on plenty of washboarded roads, he never had one flat tire. When he arrived in San Francisco on September 1st, the headlines in the newspaper announced that Germany had invaded Poland.
Because I was captivated by my father’s resilience (he knew if he wanted to get to the gold coast, cycling was his best option) I have always imagined attempting the same journey. And though I am now in my sixties, I am determined to tackle the cross- country trek this summer from the other direction. While I believe our journey will be easier – there are two of us meaning we can carry more, we have many more amenities (hydro flasks, rechargeable front and rear lights, waterproof panniers and a lightweight tent), we will alternate where we sleep (inside and under the stars) and we have lots of detailed maps to guide us, I am sure we will face our share of challenges. While the roads my father cycled had far fewer vehicles than today’s roads, over half of our travel will be on retrofitted railroad beds and the rest will be on the shoulders of two lane roads.
I do, however, plan on bringing a trusty can opener so I can try my hand at eating lots of cold baked beans along the way, Stay with us as we spin our wheels.
Shevonne and Pat
Wow what a great story Shevonne and I see your Dad in your face and spirit! No wonder you are such an adventurer! What’s the start date? I’ll be thinking of you!
We are heading to DC to catch the train across the country on June 3rd and plan to be on our bicycles by June 9th making our way east.
I love the images that your description of your dad’s trip evoke — single speed bike, beans for dinner, cemeteries. Happy trails to both of you!
Thanks for writing. Stay tuned.
This is a great story about your Dad! I can’t imagine biking with a single gear bike!
Speaking of gear, you mentioned getting gravel bikes- what brand did you go with? I am also curious what tent you decided to use. We are hoping to do some short bike touring this summer, but hoping to do longer trips when we retire. We figured we should start collecting good gear now.
Have fun- Jennifer Parent
We purchased gravel bikes last summer. I actually had a bike fitting and then the closest brand was a Diverge Specialized. They suggested a custom made but that would be too worrisome for me because I would always be concerned about it being stolen. So much tougher to get bicycles since the pandemic.
I want to read every post! So signing up now to get the blog delivered by email. Will look for you when traveling in my 14’ teardrop trailer — which now feels palatial!
Have the time of your life — by the seat of your pants.
Nice to hear from you. We have never been to Washington or Idaho or most of Montana. Eastern Washington’s rail trail promises significant challenges due to goatheads, burned out trestles, rattlesnakes and then in Montana we plan to cycle on roads for several days – as the Great American Rail Trail ends in Missoula. Not sure where you might be traveling this summer but certainly hope you land your skinny dipping goal.”
Looking forward to a vicarious adventure with you two and learning a little about the rail trail, too. Safe journey!