Several years ago, the guy with whom I share my life was given an article about two of his college friends who rode their bikes across the country — a mere 50 years ago. Having recently become a bike enthusiast (or should I say, addict), my mate John couldn’t stop talking about how he wanted to do the same. Keep in mind that his two friends were young and stupid at the time, in addition to being husky and healthy guys in their 20s who had just graduated from college with no jobs, no wives and no cares.
These two young whippersnappers started their adventure in the 1960s after a trip to Italy where they bought two top-of-the-line (then) Colnago road bikes. After a steamship ride back to the States, they hopped off the boat with the two bikes, two ship blankets, and one change of clothes. They drew a line across the middle of the country, and off they went. Remember, this was half a century ago — when roads were less traveled, and cars and trucks didn’t boast 550 hp.
It turned out to be a losing battle to convince John that both he and the times had changed. There was no way I was going to stop him from checking this cross-country bike ride off his bucket list. He was bound and determined to hop on his Orbea road bike and ride off into the sunset.
On May 22, three weeks ago today, John and his friend Paul (another demented old guy) embarked on a two-month journey from Manhattan Beach, California, to Manhattan, New York, and named the ride Manhattan2. They wanted to do it completely on their own, carrying 20-pound panniers with all their gear, with no back-up vehicle or support crew. Their goal was to make it to New York City by the middle of July, averaging a distance of 100 miles a day.
When we hugged goodbye at the Manhattan Beach Pier, I thought this must be what it’s like for wives as they send their husbands off to war. I wasn’t sure he was going to come back injured or dead. But I’m happy to say that as of today they haven’t been hit by an 18-wheeler or fallen into a ditch somewhere. Au contraire, it seems that they are having the times of their lives — meeting friendly people along the way, racing along with some terrific tailwinds through what they have called the most gorgeous country ever, climbing mountains, escaping tornadoes, and seeing this country in a way unlike any other. Lest I make it sound too romantic, they are also sleeping in uncomfortable beds in cheap hotels, eating crappy fast food, getting lost, experiencing fatigue and cramps, and getting into arguments.
Most would think that taking a ride like this was sheer lunacy, but John claimed it was something he really wanted to do. To justify what he called their “selfish foray into desert, storm, tornado, heat and cold,” they struck on the idea of raising money for a worthy cause while they were having their fun. It didn’t take long to come up with the idea of raising money for a Boyle Heights school that needs and deserves all the help it can get.
A few weeks before they left, they had lunch with a friend, Fr. Scott Santarosa, who heads the Dolores Mission School, a K-8 school in the depths of East Los Angeles. They were impressed that Dolores Mission was doing amazing things to improve the lives of young people. For example, where other schools in the area have a 35% graduation rate, the Dolores Mission School boasts that 98% of their kids graduate — and many go on to college. What better way to help the needy parents who struggle to put their children through this private Jesuit school than to raise money to help them?
They came upon the brilliant idea to ask friends, relatives, strangers, anyone who would listen (including people they met along the way) to pledge a monetary amount based on the number of miles they would be riding. Only if they made it all the way to New York City (an estimated 3,500 miles) would they ask them to honor their pledges. The way they looked at it, this was a win-win. Not only would it encourage them to complete the journey, but they would be doing it for something larger than themselves and their crazy whims.
Being the person left behind, it now falls on me to collect all the pledges. So if you are at all interested in supporting a school that is successfully changing the lives of underprivileged children, while at the same time relishing in the folly of two old guys, let me know, and I’ll gratefully and happily add your pledge to the list. A penny a mile will suffice, but a dollar a mile would really mean a lot, as would anything in between.
Sharon Yamato lives in Playa del Rey and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.