Cycling Coast to Coast
Two Students Wrap Up the Adventure of a Lifetime
Standing on the beach in Manteo, N.C with their bikes on May 9, 2010, UNC Asheville Bike Club members Lee Meroney and Luke Heller had no idea what adventures stood between them and their goal—the Pacific Ocean.
But exactly 75 days and 4,100 miles later, the two cyclists reached that goal on the shores of Tillamook, Ore., wrapping up a coast-to-coast cycling odyssey despite illness, bad weather, floods and mechanical problems.
Even the start of the trip was rocky. Meroney, the incoming Bike Club president, fell ill just days into the journey. As he sat shivering under the sunshine on UNC Asheville’s Quad watching Heller graduate, he wasn’t certain he would be able to continue the journey.
But after commencement, they agreed to push on together—especially because the next leg of the trip was an important one to Meroney.
“I had never been further west than Nashville. I’d never really been out of the Southeast,” admitted Meroney. “There was a whole lot of this country that I hadn’t seen and I really wanted to.”
The two rode on through Virginia, Kentucky and into the Midwest. Through the early miles they dealt with nagging problems on Meroney’s older touring rig, which he bought on Craigslist for $25. By the beginning of June they had crossed seven states and the Mississippi River and really began to hit their stride, covering about 100 miles a day. Along the way, they discovered the hospitality of strangers nearly everywhere they went.
“The best experiences by far were the interactions with people,” said Heller. “People just reached out and took care of us when we were in need and when we weren’t. Complete strangers took us in for days at a time and treated us like family.”
Meroney and Heller met people who offered free meals, mechanical repairs, showers and even a place to sleep—be it a bed inside or a comfortable camping spot in the front yard.
Being outside—both day and night—especially appealed to Meroney. “In part I did this trip to get away from civilization a bit and get into nature,” he said. “Getting to see the Tetons, the Black Hills… it just gave me a returning sense of childlike wonder.”
Personal reflection was a hallmark of the trip, which is fitting for these two liberal arts cyclists. Meroney, a Classics major, rolled out of bed quoting philosophers and writers like Rumi, Ernest Hemingway and John Muir. While Heller, who majored in Sociology, referenced Humanities classes on the blog he kept during the journey.
And they remained humble about their accomplishment. “Absolutely anyone can do this. And maybe they should,” said Meroney.
Heller agreed. “Everyone absolutely could do it. If you can do 40 miles, you can do 100. If you can do 100, then you can do 1,000. If the opportunity presents itself, do it. You won’t regret it.”
Ability aside, when asked why they embarked on the journey, Meroney summed it up with a grin, saying, “Why not?”
To read Heller’s blog, see more photos from the journey and check out video clips, click on lukeheller.blogspot.com.