We finally made it. What a great sense of accomplishment. Bike riding and racing are my passions. Having the opportunity to ride from San Diego, Cal., to St. Augustine, Fla., was a dream come true for me. I told Donna at the beginning of the trip that I was living a dream and now it’s done. The great part about it is I was able to help Special Olympics accomplish a number of goals with fundraising while “living the dream.”
Donna and I left Cincinnati for San Diego on Wednesday, April 28, 2004. It took us three days to drive to our starting location. We began the bike ride on May 1 early in the morning. It was cold when we began our ride that morning–around 47 degrees. We started our trip at sea level and within one day we climbed over the first mountain pass of 4,200 feet. The mountains were definitely a test for me, but I persevered and made it over the top–not without sore legs and some exhaustion.
After I left the mountains, I came back down to sea level, dropping into the Imperial Valley and riding through the Algodones Dunes in the desert. That was the second day and again, I was not prepared for 110-degree temperatures. By the end of the ride, I became dehydrated and was cramping up.
Entering Arizona was spectacular. Arizona had beautiful hills, surrounded by Saguaro cactus. We spent a fabulous night in Wickenburg, Ariz., one of the top five spots of the trip.
Dropping down into Phoenix was another change in scenery. After several days of traveling through lightly populated areas, negotiating a large city was quite a change. After Phoenix, I climbed over Gonzales and Signal Mountain passes to Globe, Ariz., a copper mining community. As I rode out of Hope, Ariz., there was a sign which read “You are now beyond Hope!”
The next remarkable climb was out of Safford, Ariz. I gained 2,500 feet in about 25 miles and then descended and lost most of the elevation in 10 miles. Immediately I began a relentless climb up Needles Eye Pass to 6,300 feet. The largest climb was yet to come, however, when I had to tackle Emory Pass at 8,288 feet. I rode 40 miles uphill, but the downhill was remarkable. I was flying through the curves and having a ball. I rolled into Las Cruces, N.M., that evening feeling spent and exhilarated. Las Cruces was a beautiful town and another one of our top five favorite locations of the trip.
After Emory Pass there was some easy riding into Texas. The west Texas scenery was unremarkable, almost boring. It was bare, uninviting and inhospitable.
We encountered our first rain of the trip in Texas, and we took a day off and drove to San Antonio. Donna and I had the privilege of visiting the Alamo and San Antonio’s river walk. After San Antonio, we had several more days in Texas, and more rain. I rode in the rain until lightening prevented me from riding.
Louisiana was another enjoyable state. I spent a couple of days riding through Cajun country–a whole other world. Crawdads with heads are common on the menus. The scenery was punctuated by bayous and live oaks draped in Spanish moss.
Mississippi was pleasurable. Donna and I had decided to take a more direct route back in East Texas and continued to ditch the Adventure Cycling map. We rode down the coast on Highway 90 and spent an evening in Biloxi, Miss. We hit one of the casinos and played the quarter slots.
Just before Mobile, Ala., we headed south to Dauphin Island and took a ferry ride across Mobile Bay and into the southern tip of Alabama. We were almost to Florida.
I enjoyed riding along the coast of Alabama. We stayed at Gulf Shores, Ala., which is a fantastic resort city. Donna and I may go back there for vacation next year–beautiful beaches. From Gulf Shores, I rode into Pensacola, Fla. I hate to say this, but Florida has the rudest, most inconsiderate drivers of any state we were in. I can’t count the number of times we were yelled obscenities and were given hand gestures in Florida. This didn’t happen in any other state.
I rode through some small Florida towns and wooded back roads–very flat, high heat and humidity. And then finally, we rolled into our destination, St. Augustine, Fla. St. Augustine is a wonderful place–the oldest city in America. Our final destination was somewhat anti-climactic–we got lost coming into town. Again, we took the most direct route and came in the northern part of the city and didn’t realize where the beach was located. I had ridden the fastest 90 miles of my life, 3:41:00, and couldn’t find the beach. FRUSTRATION IN CAPITAL LETTERS. I put the bike on the truck and finally found it as the pictures show.
My final comments. There are so many people that need to be thanked for allowing me the opportunity to live a dream and help others through fundraising. First and foremost, I want to thank Xavier University–Ron Slepitza and Luther Smith–for giving me time away from work to experience this dream of a lifetime. And, to my staff–Kathy, Leslie, Matt, Joe, and my student staff for holding down the fort while I was gone.
Next is my wife, Donna. Touring with my life partner has been an amazing experience. Sharing this journey with her was worth the suffering of the mountains and the desert all combined and has brought us even closer together. We celebrated our one-year wedding anniversary on the road and we wouldn’t have changed it for the world.
Next, I’d like to thank Special Olympics, Warm 98, Oakley Cyclery, Local 12 News, SparkCincinnati.com and our family, (especially Lisa and Bob) and friends, (especially Tommy), for their support during this long excursion. Without their support this would have been a trip in silence. Thanks for being there.
Jim and Donna
PS: Donna would also like to thank her colleagues at Cinergy for being supportive of her taking a month off in support of this fundraising effort, especially Laura Moreland for filling in for me for a month. Also, thanks to Sherrie Rutherford who was supportive of my taking the time off.