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Hastings man cycles from coast to coast

Lon Peterson cycled across the country this past summer. (submitted photo)

Lon Peterson dipped the wheel of his bicycle into the Pacific Ocean this summer and 50 days later he finished a 3,670 mile bike ride by dipping his wheel into the Atlantic Ocean. The 57-year-old hospitalist at Regina Hospital spent seven weeks cycling across the country beginning in Astoria, Oregon, to his final destination of Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

“It was a good motivator to try to get more fit again,” Peterson said.

He planned the trip through America By Bicycle (ABB), a company that offers long-distance bicycle touring. He signed up a year before they left and began training. In order to prepare, Peterson said he road his bike almost 3,000 miles in the spring.

This wasn’t Peterson’s first experience at a bike trip. When he was in college, he said he took a bike trip from Colorado back to Minnesota. 

“Ever since that time, I thought someday I’d like to do a trip across America,” he said.

Peterson has always been pretty active. He said he used to do lots of running and marathons when he was younger, but he sort of fell out of a regular exercise routine. He decided to use this opportunity to get back into a health and fitness routine. Being in the medical field he said he sees a lot of people who have health issues and may not be able to do something like bike across America. So, he made a decision. 

“Don’t wait to do those things you’re passionate about,” he said.

Off they go

Peterson took on this challenge with 32 fellow riders. He didn’t know anyone going into the trip, but he said he met a lot of great people along the way. There were cyclists from Australia, Germany, the Netherlands, Israel, Great Britain and other places in the United States.

The ABB took care of their gear and would provide support and gear stops every 30 miles. 

Each day of riding consisted of an average of 80 miles per day. They traveled through the Cascades, the Rockies, and the Appalachian mountains. They went across the continental divide, through southern Wyoming, then the Black Hills and the Badlands. They continued on across the Midwest, took a ferry across Lake Michigan and reached Niagara Falls until reaching their final destination in New Hampshire.

Peterson said after a while, it was easy to get into the routine of biking 5-7 hours per day. 

“It was hard, yet there was a great deal of satisfaction because you did it,” he said.

Challenges

The trip didn’t roll into completion without a few bumps along the way. Peterson said one of the most common problems throughout the trip were flat tires.

“I had five flats during the course of the trip, which was not unusual,” he said.

Those flats were due to a combination of things puncturing the bike tires. Peterson said he had punctures due to glass, goat head thorns and wires from truck tires.

Another challenge of the trip was climbing the mountain passes, but in addition to the physical challenge of that was the mental challenge of the descent. Peterson said people may think it would be easy to coast down a mountain, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.

“You had to be so focused going down because you are going 30 to 40 miles per hour, you can’t ride your brakes because your rims will heat up and potentially blow your tires,” he said.

In addition, the cyclers had to focus on staying on a narrow passage. Traffic was next to them, there was sometimes debris in the road and the crosswinds played a factor too.

“You’re going relatively fast on a narrow strip with traffic beside you and you’re having to control your speeds,” Peterson said.

Finally, the weather was a challenge. There were warm days in the summer during the beginning of the trip in places like Oregon, but Peterson said there were a couple days in the midwest region where the heat index was very high and he had signs of heat exhaustion.

A team effort

Peterson said he learned a lot about cycling through his trip across the country. One of the major things he learned was that cycling is a team sport. There were times throughout the trip when he would ride in a pace line to draft the wind. He would ride with maybe four bikers in a line and they would take turns breaking the wind as the front cycler. By the end he said he felt like the riders on the trip became a family. 

The finish

Police officers escorted Peterson and the rest of the riders at the end of their ride as they approached the beach in New Hampshire. He said they all recognized it was something really great.

“It becomes kind of an emotional thing at the end when you realize (it’s the finish),” he said, “it kind of chokes you up at the end when you’re actually there.”

Peterson said he felt really lucky to be at the finish because there were so many things that could have prevented him from getting there such as an injury, a fall or some other reason. He also attributes the accomplishment to his good health, family support and the support of the his colleagues.

Michelle Wirth

Michelle Wirth graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire in 2013 with a degree in journalism and web design. She worked as a web content editor for a trade association before coming to the Hastings Star Gazette in 2016.

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