Cycling across the country
Not many people can say they've biked across the United States, but one Eagle Creek resident can.
Victor Harshman, a park ranger at Eagle Fern and Metzler parks, participated in the Trans Am Bike Race from Astoria to Yorktown, Va., from Sunday, June 2, through Saturday, June 29. The Trans America Trail spans 4,215.9 miles and takes cyclists through Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky and Virginia.
During the 2019 ride, 75 riders started in Astoria, and 50 made it to the finish line in Virginia.
"It was really amazing," Harshman said, reflecting on his experience.
Harshman began biking in 2012, after gaining weight upon quitting smoking cigarettes.
"It was a struggle to go for a mile, but I kept going more and more each day," he said.
He continued to pursue it and "started riding like crazy. I was going further and further."
Eventually, Harshman and his nephew, James Campbell, began participating in cycling events together.
In 2016, he completed the STP ride between Seattle and Portland, and in 2017, he completed the Ramrod ride circumnavigating Mount Rainier.
The following year, he was watching the documentary "Inspired to Ride" about the Trans America Bike Race and decided to give it whirl.
"I called my nephew and said, 'We've got to do this,'" he said.
After a year of training, Harshman and Campbell embarked on their journey. Each morning, they began riding at 4:30 a.m., often stopping at convenience stores for coffee and at Subways for lunch. Their goal was to ride 200 miles each day.
Harshman packed an air mattress, sleeping bag, survival blanket, clothes for rain and cold weather, an extra set of clothes, water bottles, a repair kit for his bike, and a cell phone and charger. With all of his gear, his bike weighed approximately 46 pounds.
"It was pretty minimal. You don't want to carry that much," he said, noting that he sent several items back home as he made it further along the route.
In Baker City in Eastern Oregon, Harshman fell ill with a cold, but kept moving forward. In Pueblo, Colo., he went to the emergency room and was diagnosed with a lung infection and extreme dehydration.
Armed with antibiotics, he continued his journey and began to feel better once he reached Kansas. However, he was riding solo, since Campbell had to return to work and flew back to Oregon from Colorado.
Because of his time in the emergency room, Harshman was between groups of cyclists and made the majority of the remaining ride by himself.
"I was riding for hours by myself. It was just me, the insects, the bugs and the flowers," he said. "I did a lot of soul searching."
Though Harshman spent some nights in hotels, he also slept in city parks and churches. During a tornado warning in Kansas, he slept in a bathroom. Another night, he caught some shuteye on a bench in front of a hospital and was roused by four police officers.
"They were intrigued by my story, but I still had to leave," he said.
He added that though some of his sleeping quarters were "a little awkward at first," they worked out.
"I never got harassed by anyone," he said.
In Illinois, Harshman's debit card was stolen, but he still kept going and was mindful about how he spent the cash he had with him.
He said he met generous people along his journey, including a resident of Illinois who provided him with food and shelter during a thunderstorm.
"She gave me coffee and two sandwiches," he added.
He also enjoyed connecting with his fellow riders, adding that he met people from the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia.
"There were quite a few people from all over the world," he said. "I met really amazing people everywhere — store owners, people along the way, people who let me stay in churches. There were just really good people all along the route. That really stuck with me."
During the ride, Harshman encountered a variety of climates, including snow in Montana and Wyoming and a heat wave in Kansas. He saw a herd of buffalo in Yellowstone National Park and a bear in Virginia.
His favorite area to cycle through was the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia.
"It was probably the prettiest section," he said.
He noted that each state had a different smell, whether it was flowers, grass or animals.
When Harshman realized that he would soon reach the finish line at the Victory Monument in Yorktown, Va., he began to ride as fast as he could.
"I went so hard that day. I was riding out of my mind," he recalled. "The last 100 feet, there were people clapping and taking photos."
He described completing the journey as "amazing."
"It was pretty emotional," he said. "The ride was really trying at times."
Once he completed the cycling endeavor, Harshman enjoyed seeing familiar faces again prior to flying back to Oregon.
"I got to the monument and my friends had stayed in Virginia waiting for the other riders," he said. "It was really cool to see those guys again."
In spite of the difficulties he faced along portions of the ride, Harshman said he would do it over again.
"It was quite the experience," he said. "It was 100% worth it to be able to do something like that, and to start from riding a bike a quarter mile while huffing and puffing to (riding across the country) was incredible."
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