Going coast-to-coast by bicycle

Jul 17, 2013

Kalamazoo bicyclist Mel Church on the road
Credit Mel Church

Fifty-nine-year old Mel Church of Kalamazoo has averaged 55 miles-a-day bicycling coast to coast this summer. He began June 4th on the Pacific coast and reached Colorado on Tuesday, July 16th. Except for the ‘friends’ he meets along the way, he is on his own. From Lander, Wyoming, he phoned in to report on his trip so far.

“I’m riding the TransAmerica Bicycle Trail, which is from Astoria, Oregon, across the country all the way to Yorktown, Virginia. That’s about 4,350 miles. Right now I’ve done 1,650 miles to Lander, Wyoming.” Church says, “The trail goes along the coast of Oregon and then, it cuts over to Eugene and basically goes across a section of Idaho up to Missoula Montana.”

Church says the first day was the hardest, riding from Portland toward Astoria. He started late in the day and probably wasn’t ready for the 55 miles he rode. He couldn’t reach a campground and so, out of water, slept hidden behind a bush. The most beautiful thing he’s seen so far are the canyons following the rivers in eastern Oregon.

Mel Church and his bike "Betty"
Credit Mel Church

“In Wisdom, Montana, there are marshes in these high meadows. I’ve never seen so many mosquitoes. I set up camp and then about six in the evening, I decided I was going to get a motel so I could be relieved from all of those mosquitoes.”

The wildflowers create a sweet aroma, he says. In Yellowstone, the scent of lodge pole pine predominated.

“In Yellowstone, they have metal boxes to put your foods, toothpaste, so the bears don’t bother you in your tent. We had coyotes go through. I could hear them padding by and they smelled the panniers, which are little packs on each side of my bike that I carry my things.”

The hardest thing for Church has been the weather, including rain and cold temperatures in the higher elevations and then the high 80-to-90-degree heat going across Wyoming. Drinking plenty of water and taking electrolytes helps that. He’s had three flat tires and has the tools to fix those as well as handling other bicycle maintenance.

The TransAmerica Bicycle Route
Credit Adventure Cycling Association

Church meets people from all over the world who are also biking this route. Seeing the country as he rides through small towns on back roads has shown Church another side of America, with the concern and kindness of people he encounters.

“I’m not quite half done but because I’ve done other long distance trips like the Appalachian Trail. I have confidence that I can keep going and I’m really looking forward to Colorado and all of the other states. I’ve gone through the second-highest pass already then; the highest will be in Colorado. After that you drop into Kansas, which is supposed to be flat, the wind at our backs. And then I go across Missouri, Kentucky and to Virginia to Yorktown.”

Church has lost weight during his ride even though he eats anything he wants. He says with a chuckle, “I’ll have to reverse that when I get home.”

Church asks drivers to watch out for bikers and, if they can, to move over and give them a little room. Church plans to finish his trip in early September.