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August 1, 2013
Coast to Coast on a Touring Bicycle
By Rick Winterson

Mike Woods at the finish line of his cross-country ride. Where else but Sully's? That's as far east as anyone would want to go.

Michael Woods was born in South Boston, and is an M.I.T. graduate, with both Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Civil Engineering that he received 15 years ago.  Mike now works in San Francisco for Ben C. Gerwick, Inc., which is a design firm that specializes in high-tech concrete structures, such as the Olmsted Dam on the Ohio River and the massive flood control projects in and around New Orleans.  As you can imagine, Mike plans carefully for any project he undertakes.

That includes the bicycle ride he completed last Thursday, July 25 – a  4,000 mile return ride home, all the way from San Francisco.  But there’s a back story about Mike here, so first, please read on.

Mike was born on East Second Street and attended Gate of Heaven till Grade 6.  His father passed away in 1980, so times were not easy for his mother Elisa and the four children.  They moved to Dorchester Avenue and then to Sydney Street, but Mike continued at Gatey.  He would walk all the way home frequently rather than paying bus fare, but more important, to challenge himself.  The seed was planted about doing things simply and on his own.

As a teenager in Braintree, he got a ten-speed bike and began bicycling to as many as 30 different town libraries in his quest for books.  He rode up to 120 miles a day to Rhode Island and New Hampshire.  In college, he became intrigued by stories of extremely long marches by ancient armies, such as Hasdrubal covering 120 miles in three days (true) and Alexander marching 60 miles a day (legend).  Mike himself walked the borders of San Francisco – 24 miles in just under eight hours. End of back story; now jump ahead to this spring, 2013.  Mike bought an entry level touring bicycle for $900 in San Francisco, which led to a firm decision to bike across the U.S. home to South Boston.  He joined the Adventure Cycling Association for their maps, got an immediate attack of wanderlust, and decided to head out early this summer.

Mike left from his apartment on Geary Street in San Francisco (near Market Street) at 9:15 PST on Saturday morning, June 1st.  To lay out his trip in numbers, he arrived at Sullivan’s on last Thursday evening, July 25, at 6:10 EDT.  That’s 55 days later (54 days, five hours, and 55 minutes later, to be exact and to allow for time zone changes).   He had traveled 4,250 miles in total, which translates into 77.3 miles per day.

You might ask, “Why 4,250 miles?  I thought it was 3,000 miles from coast to coast.”  Well, that’s as the crow flies; the roads below do some twisting and turning.  You can ride more or less in a straight line from San Francisco to Pueblo, Colorado, and then on to Farmington, Missouri.  But remember, bicycles aren’t allowed on the straight-as-an-arrow Interstates.  Then, you turn north to the Ohio River and the Great Lakes – it all makes for more than a 4,000-mile pedal.  And don’t forget the ups and downs, first at the Sierras and then over the Rockies.

Don’t be fooled by this short article.  A cross-country trip takes preparation, starting with the maps already mentioned.  Everything from lightweight camping equipment to rain gear all must be stowed in weatherproof bags that can fitted to your bicycle.  On Mike’s ride, his bicycle weighed 30 pounds; another 50 pounds of gear brought that up to a total of 80 pounds.  Sometimes it’s as much as 90 miles between service stops, especially in desert areas - hot, tiring, and possibly dangerous for the careless bicyclist.

Mike began each day carrying two gallons of water – that’s 15 pounds by itself – along with meals he could heat on his one-burner cookstove.  He stayed in inexpensive motels whenever he wanted to; sometimes he camped out.  While riding between meals, he snacked on M&Ms (with peanuts in them), Slim Jims, small amounts of cheese, and skim milk.  Strangely enough, he grew to hate granola bars and orange juice. 

All his planning worked out well.  He encountered no real emergencies on his trip, except he had to replace both tires after around 3,300 miles.  Actually, that was more or less expected.  Now, he’s going to spend a couple of weeks in South Boston renewing ties with family and old friends.  Would you like to find out more about Mike’s ride across America? 

Contact him on Facebook:  www.facebook.com/OutOfShapeBikeRide 

Mike hopes his cross-country journey will inspire others to go for their own special dreams.  He sees no reason that anyone can’t accomplish great things through effort and good planning.  However, he did warn potential cross-country bicyclists about one problem, when he said, “At first, I got sore where I’ve never been sore before.”   

One final note on Mike:  Even after his 4,000+ bike ride, this writer saw him come to a full stop for a red light at L and Broadway, and then wait patiently until it turned green again.  We can all learn something from Mike.

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