After recovering from a vicious cycling accident, this Winter Springs retiree decided to get back on his bike and pedal coast to coast
Dog attacks, bear warnings, and bone-chilling weather in May are just a few of the challenges Bill White faced on his recent cross-country bike ride. But the journey before the journey was Bill’s biggest challenge of all.
That the Winter Springs retiree peddled from the coast of Virginia to the coast of Oregon in two months is impressive enough. Now add to the mix that Bill was 62 years old when he set off, and one year earlier he was in a severe cycling accident that put him out of commission for months.
“I love adventure,” says Bill, whose soft-spoken demeanor belies a lifetime of it.
The wanderlust started early. At 16, Bill fled a stilted life in his hometown of Asheville, North Carolina, and became a hippie in the Woodstock era. Bill spent a year hitchhiking across the Southeast, until he discovered that adventure becomes less fun when you’re running out of money. At 17, Bill joined the Army, and by 18 was in combat in Vietnam, a very difficult part of his 22-year military career.
Between his Army days and his long-distance cycling, Bill has had his share of mishaps and abrasions. But it was near home in May 2015 when Bill took a spill that broke his pelvis, wrist, and tailbone. It was the worst accident of his life. Exactly what happened is not clear, but Bill knows he was peddling at more than 20 miles an hour when he was tossed in the air.
“I was pretty much an invalid for weeks,” Bill recalls in the aftermath of the crash. “I couldn’t take a shower by myself.”
It took him roughly four months to recover, and soon Bill was planning his latest adventure.
“My story is, I’ve never let anything slow me down,” says Bill, a retired corporate executive, now 63. “It just motivates me more to get up and start exploring again, see what’s around the corner.”
Bill and two other cyclists took off from Yorktown, Virginia, on May 2 of this year. Even with the barest of essentials – a tent, two sets of clothes, a toothbrush, and a map – Bill’s load weighed roughly 70 pounds. His medical supplies consisted of a bottle of Aleve pain reliever.
The toughest leg of the trip was early on, in the steep Appalachian Mountains, where at times Bill could only bike at the speed most people can walk. In Eastern Kentucky, Bill encountered the worst poverty he had ever seen in America, with people living in tiny shacks with no windows, no electricity, and cars with no wheels sitting on jacks.
“It was like Mad Max,” Bill says, referring to the post-apocalyptic movie.
Twice during the ride, people sicced their dogs on Bill, and he needed the pepper spray he always carried to fend them off. Dogs, not bears or coyotes, present the biggest threat to a cyclist, he says. Raccoons are another menace.
“Raccoons don’t care,” Bill laughs. “They will come into your tent, bite a hole in your saddle pack. Raccoons just don’t care.”
Bill spent every day of the two months cycling, up to 12 hours a day. About half of those nights he slept in his tent, the other half in motels or on the floor of makeshift hostels that churches set up for cyclists.
Sometimes Bill had to improvise. That was the case in what he called “a ghost town” in Wyoming, with one bar and a bunch of empty buildings. Bill pitched his tent behind one of the vacant structures, practicing what cyclists call stealth camping. The idea is to not draw attention to yourself to avoid any possible trouble or confrontation.
Then there were moments of relative luxury. One night, in the mountains of southwest Virginia, it had been raining, and the low temperature reached close to 40 degrees. Bill was wet, cold, and without cell phone service. When he finally found a place to stay – a heated cabin with a shower – it may as well have been the Ritz-Carlton.
Bill rode a 14-speed Co-Motion touring bike. It cost what you might spend on a decent used car, but the upside is minimal maintenance. Bill was accompanied at first by his two fellow cyclists, but he was alone from Kansas on. This concerned Bill’s fiancée, Pamela Star. Bill has been on cross-country trips before, but always with company. This trip, however, was filled with moments of true solitude.
“There are parts of Wyoming where you can ride all day and see one car,” Bill says.
But when Bill least expected it, friendships were made, as with a young German couple making the same cross-country journey. Having lived in Germany once, Bill was able to converse a little in the couple’s language. Bill also met a cyclist who was deaf and mute. They communicated by typing on their respective cell phones.
As rewarding as the trip was, for the first time it left something nagging at Bill. What was it all about? Though not sure how, Bill wants to spend his time in the aftermath of the journey putting his many experiences to use, to help out some cause, be it troubled youths or injured veterans. Bill wants to encourage others to follow his rigid fitness regime, even into retirement years.
The world has given Bill a lifetime of the adventure he so craved, from coast to coast, from Vancouver to the Mexican border.
“I think I’m at the point where I should be giving something back,” says Bill.
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