WORTHINGTON - Ever had a long bike trip? How about a bike trip across the continental United States from the Mexican border to the Canadian border?
That’s what Burlington, Ontario resident Bill Pierce, 69, has been doing during the last couple of months. Nearly every day, he puts in 15 to 30 miles on his recumbent bicycle.
Pierce started his journey Feb. 6 in Matamoros, Mexico. After he makes his way through Minnesota, his trip will soon come to an end in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
His main goal with the trip is to write a book, titled "Riding into Springtime," an idea he has been sitting on for a decade.
The main idea behind the book is following the spread of spring as it travels from south to north, and Pierce timed his trip perfectly - he hasn’t seen snow at all so far, and only a half-dozen instances of frost.
While he follows U.S. 59 northbound, Pierce stops at local towns, collecting research for his book about the places he visits and the people he meets. He will write after he completes his journey.
This bike trip is atypical. While most will bike from the east to west coast or vice versa, Pierce’s journey is through the oft-unheralded middle America.
“It’s flyover country - to a lot of people, it's kind of forgotten America,” Pearce said. “I thought it was worth going down and showing that it although may be forgotten, there's quite a bit here.”
Pierce has found no shortages of good stories during his expedition. It’s the odd coincidences that make his journey such a worthwhile experience.
In a coffee shop in Nacogdoches, Texas, Pierce found himself speaking with a well-dressed elderly man who happened to be a lawyer at one time.
Pierce inquired about what kind of lawyer, to which the man responded: “A damn good lawyer.”
“I thought well, he isn't modest, but he had reason not to be,” Pierce said.
The man turned out to be an aide for President Lyndon B. Johnson for two and a half years. He told Pierce stories and insights that couldn’t be found anywhere else, including the real reason Johnson didn’t run for re election.
“The standard opinion is the war in Vietnam was so unpopular that he wouldn't have been re-elected,” Pierce said. “But this guy said, ‘No, this guy wasn't afraid of the hard choices. He had a bad heart and he knew the strain of the presidency, he wouldn't last under it and would have died in under five years.’”
The odd coincidences continued. In Siloam Springs, Ark., Pierce, being a huge fan of beer, stopped at the Creekside Taproom, which only features Arkansas craft beers. Talking to the owners, Pierce was asked, “Does the name Jack McAuliffe mean anything to you?”
McAuliffe founded the first craft brewery in the U.S. in 1976 in Sonoma, Calif. He kickstarted the craft beer revolution that was looking grim at the time, as there were less than 70 breweries left in the country.
Being a fan of brewing and beer, Pierce admitted that of course that name meant something to him. Turns out, McAuliffe typically came over to hang out at the pub around 4 p.m. every day, and arrived just a few minutes after Pierce had been given the revelation. So, Pierce was able to hang out with a craft beer legend, someone he had read about for years.
“And where do I find him? In a pub in Arkansas - these are things that I really couldn’t make up even if I tried,” Pierce said.
Pierce just completed his way through Iowa on the way to Worthington. Pierce lived in Iowa for 13 years and has been through every county on a bicycle, so it wasn’t anything new to him. This summer, he will take part in his 39th Register Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI), a weeklong bike ride that draws people from all over the world.
“I’m totally addicted,” Pierce said.
Pierce arrived in Worthington Sunday evening. He plans to spend today in town, exploring and talking with residents. He keeps a blog about the locations he’s traveled through, which can be found at http://ridingintospringtime.com/blog/
If you see him in town, be ready to answer his most important question: What does springtime mean to you?