By Todd Moen, Editor
A nearly 6,000-mile bicycle journey ended just outside of St. Bonifacius on Thursday, July 12 when Clem Michel, who hails from San Luis Obispo, Calif., decided he was ready to be done with the cross-country bike trip he started on Sunday, April 1.
"After three months, I want to get home," Michel explained as he relaxed with friends Al and Vicky Hubbell of Minnetrista, whose home provided a convenient place for him to end his trek. "I’m physically fine (but) it’s the routine. It’s like a full time job."
Michel started his adventure with his friend, Gary Havas, on April Fools Day.
"We went from San Luis Obispo, which is on the central coast of California, and went down to San Diego," said Michel, noting the trip was about 360 miles. "We turned left and went the southern route – created by Adventure Cycling – to Florida."
The Adventure Cycling Association was created to inspire and empower people to travel by bicycle. One way it does this is by researching and producing cycling maps for the Adventure Cycling Route Network, one of the largest route networks in the world.
"It took us seven weeks to get to Florida, which was ahead of schedule," said Michel, who explained that although he and Havas were biking the route at the same time, they weren’t necessarily biking the route together. "We traveled about 65 to 70 miles a day for about 2,200 miles, arriving in Florida on May 27."
From there, the pair split, with Michel heading north to visit relatives in South Carolina. He was still using Adventure Cycling routes but supplemented those with state maps.
"I used the state maps to figure out how the Adventure Cycling routes fit into the big picture," he said. "I used the same basic directions from Adventure Cycling but I created my own routes, too."
Michel continued in a northeast direction, eventually reaching Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania before heading west. Although his initial plan was to bike all the way back to California, Michel decided to stop after crossing into Minnesota.
In total, Michel traveled about 5,800 miles in about three months, averaging anywhere from 65 to 85 miles a day. He rode a 27-speed Surly Long Haul Trucker bicycle that weighed 90 pounds when fully loaded with his gear, which included camping equipment. Michel either camped or stayed at an inexpensive motel during his trip.
The amazing part is that Michel experienced few problems during his trip.
"I only had one flat tire," said the 68-year-old Michel, who is a retired staff member of California Polytechnic State University. "I had a half dozen Arte Johnson moments, where I had some trouble balancing my bike, but that was about it."
Michel said the weather was never really a problem and although there were some hot days, the heat was never as bad as he imagined it would be. He added that there was one nerve-wrecking stretch where the traffic was a little too close for comfort.
"I was never really in any danger," he said, noting that he usually rode early in the morning and never rode at night. Although he ate twice as much food as he normally would have at home, Michel still lost 15 pounds during the journey.
The Great Allegheny Passage rail-trail in Maryland and Pennsylvania proved to be Michel’s favorite part of the journey. After finishing a gradual upslope of about 25 miles, Michel enjoyed 100+ miles of level or downhill paths featuring no cars and great scenery.
The Hubbells were impressed with Michel, whom they had met through mutual friends when they lived in Tucson, Ariz., many years ago.
"I could never do it," Vicky said. "My goal is to bike to the winery and I haven’t done it yet."
"I’m in awe," Al said. "I couldn’t imagine planning it, much less actually going out and doing it."
Michel, who spent one year training for the ride, said there wasn’t really a driving reason for why he did the ride, other than it was the end result of an idea that kind of took on a life of its own. He planned to ride Amtrak back to California last weekend.
Once he’s back in California, Michel is looking forward to relaxing – and getting back on the bike,
"I’ll probably go riding with my bicycle club. We go on rides three or four times a week," he said.