By Macy Moore
Traveling by bicycle across the United States may seem like an unattainable quest, but for Kathy Langlotz and Deb Barton of College Station, it was an exciting adventure waiting to unfold. Kathy and Deb met in a spin class and bonded over their passion for cycling. About a year ago, they committed to a 3,996-mile bike ride from San Francisco, California, to Yorktown, Virginia, joined by Stephanie West of North Carolina and Jane Adams of California.
“I have always wanted to ride my bike cross-country,” says Kathy. “It was one of those things I had on my bucket list, but shuffled away because it probably wouldn’t happen. I knew if I didn’t do it now, I would never do it.”
The voyage was Stephanie’s brainchild, and she recruited Kathy, Deb, and Jane to journey with her. Stephanie met Kathy while earning her PhD from Texas A&M University and was a colleague of Jane’s. Though different strands of friendship connected the four women, through the miles the laughter and the experience would forge a common bond among the women who range in age from 46 to 66.
It would take a plane, a train and a ferry to arrive at their starting point on May 15, having shipped their bikes to meet them in San Francisco. For Kathy, what stands out most from the trip was the consistent, unexpected hospitality from total strangers. From day one, the train conductor greeted them with kindness, and before they hopped off to catch the ferry, he gave them each a bottle of water.
Both Deb and Kathy are in agreement that the most difficult part of the ride was a stretch in Utah between Escalante and Boulder Town.
“The temperature was one of our hottest of the summer,” says Kathy, “and the roads we were on wound through the desert and included several sections of very steep climbs. The elevation profile map gave no indication of these steep sections, so we were completely surprised by the level of difficulty! It took us four or five hours to get through it.”
During this stretch, Deb ran out of water, and there were no service stations along the route. As she was going up a climb, she noticed a car on the side of the road surrounded by people who were cheering her on. “I stopped and asked if they had any water to spare, and they had a lot,” says Deb. “I don’t know how I would have made it without them!”
It was the challenge of that portion of the route that make Kathy and Deb remember the triumph and joy of the stop in Boulder Town. A very small town, it was like an oasis to the group. After deciding to take the following day off they found a restaurant called the Burr Trail Grill and ate there at least four times during their stay.
When it came to deciding where the group would lay their heads for the night it was often dependent on the town where they stayed. They traveled with tents so they always had the option of camping at a park. However, many times they would stay in Senior Citizen homes, volunteer fire departments, bike hostels, with friends who lived along the route, and sometimes with total strangers. One of their favorite memories from the trip stems from a stay in Toronto, Kansas, with a family they had just met.
The biking map they were in Kansas indicated there was a store ahead, but they were never able to find one. In desperate need of water, they came across a lumberyard with a vending machine selling Gatorade; it was sold out. As they were standing at the machine, three men approached the group from the lumberyard and one offered that he stocked the machine and could get them Gatorade. He then offered up his place for them to stay that night.
Kathy says they were hesitant at first, but after he identified one of the other men as his son and spoke of his wife, they accepted his offer to stay in his RV. That evening, his wife went with the flow and cooked up a chicken dinner for the group along with hot sides. The evening with the formerly unknown family marked another example of the amazing hospitality they encountered on the journey.
A central message the women took from the experience is the importance of recreation. “Taking the trip and being gone was like setting the restart button on my life,” exclaims Kathy, who has been an owner of the Aerofit health clubs since 1999. Deb agrees that the trip was revitalizing. “Once when I quit a job, people asked me what I was going to do. I would tell them ‘Maybe I’ll ride across America.’ So I made it happen.
“In the process of recreation, you get to recreate yourself,” says Deb. “After I returned, I was able to start my life fresh.”