Well, they did it, those ambitious Gullicksons. Just like they said they would.
In May, they dipped their bicycle wheels in the briny drink at San Juan County Park, and on Aug. 22, after 4,318 miles, five flat tires, and 91 days in the saddle — Brooks saddles, that is — they did the same and dipped their wheels again at Bar Harbor, Maine. Rode right across the country, taking the Northern Tier route.
“We have renewed faith in America,” Bobbie said.
The Tortoise — that would be Glen Gullickson, 60 — and the Hare, his 56-year-old wife, Bobbie, started off May 18 with a community send-off, island style: a potluck cook-out behind the Masonic Lodge. The next day, after not too arduous of a shake-down tour, the two rode off onto the ferry, to and through Anacortes on their way through the North Cascades.
Their bikes, both Surly Long Haul Truckers, are dedicated touring bikes with low gears that let them plod along comfortably. Glen refers to his as his “pickup.” Fully loaded, Bobbie’s weighed in excess of 70 pounds, Glen’s weighed probably more.
Were the Gullicksons fit? No. Did they get fit in a hurry? Yes. Did they take time to celebrate the completion of each day on the road? You bet.
The Gullicksons took off despite their physical ailments. Glen almost died a little over a year ago in a mowing accident near Eagle Cove. In the course of his life, he’s had one knee replaced and the other has no cartilage in it. He rode his bike over to see his doctor in Mount Vernon who is an avid cyclist and knew about his plans to ride across the country.
His diagnosis: “ ‘Bone on bone,’ ” Glen said the doc told him. “ ‘Just go. It’ll probably be the best thing you could do for it.’ ”
Indeed it was. Both Gullicksons said their bodies felt better when they were using them than since they’ve ended their trip two weeks ago.
“It’s true,” Bobbie said. “Both of us, during this whole summer, we had fewer aches and pains. We, for the most part, slept really good.”
“I took less Ibuprofen than I would have had I been here working,” Glen interjected. “Since we’ve been back and off the bikes for two weeks, we’re both just like, ‘Ugghhhh.’ It’s weird.”
The Gullicksons did what many Americans only dream of doing: quit their jobs and follow a dream. Their children are raised up and gone, leaving Bobbie, a 17-year dental assistant and Glen, who worked for the county’s Public Works Department, looking for their next adventurous gig.
They’re boat people, which means they’ve gotten used to not collecting things. They hauled their boat out of the water and put it up on blocks, Bobbie quit her job, they bought $6,000 worth of bicycle equipment and went for it. Both of them turned their lives upside down and shook them, trying to discover the cool stuff that might fall out.
“I think the first time you do it is the hardest, because you do have a lot of uncertainties,” Bobbie said. “But you soon find out that everything has a way of working itself out. Especially jobs and things like that. And that’s one thing Glen always says: ‘You’re certainly not going to sit in a nursing home and say, gee, I wish I hadn’t done that.’
“I think it’s easier for us to do this kind of stuff, because we’ve always lived very simply. We’re not tied to things.”
Glen asked rhetorically, “You have to ask yourself what’s important in your life. Is it things? Or is it what’s in your heart?” Clearly both of them answered that question to their own heart’s content long ago.
Their days on the road started slowly, despite their best intentions. Glen would go out of his way for some good coffee and that would routinely stall his packing order, putting them on the road later than they both wanted.
They’d eat some cold breakfast, usually cereal, a banana and some coffee, strike their tent, pack their bikes back up and ride for an hour or two to the next town that had a breakfast spot. Then they’d ride some more. They’d average “about 13 miles per hour,” said Glen, and a typical day would be 50 or 60 miles in a day. That’s completely manageable, even for a novice rider to work into within two weeks of starting off.
Their longest day? An “accidental century”: 119.4 miles. Doable because of a friendly Montana tailwind.
They’d find a likely spot to camp, swing by a local market for something to fix for dinner, head to the campsite and put up camp. They’d eat, sleep and get up and do it again.
What did they think about most during the trip?
“Food,” Bobbie said. “Our day revolved around food. A lot.”
“You know, you can eat what you want, when you want, as much as you want,” Glen said. “Bobbie came up with this combination of a whole wheat tortilla, peanut butter, bacon, banana and honey. There’s a lot of horsepower in there. And it tasted really good.”
They agreed that their most usable great purchase was a silicone impregnated tarp — lightweight and expensive, but worth it.
“The physical part just became the physical part of what you did every day. But the people … were amazing,” Glen said.
Bobbie concurred. “The scenery was great. You know, going back and looking at our pictures is like, ‘Wow, that was pretty,’ or ‘Wow, I really liked that day, that was a great ride.’ But then when it came down to what was the most memorable, it was the people. You have to get out there and meet people face to face before you truly understand.”
Bobbie related an experience while they were crossing Michigan the day Glen took a nasty spill while crossing some railroad tracks. Bruised and bleeding, they both went on.
While Bobbie was inside the market shopping for dinner, the usual thing happened: interested people invariably would strike up a conversation with Glen, who was guarding the bikes outside.
“I came out and there was this man and his two sons talking to him,” Bobbie said. “And he’d been talking to them for 15 or 20 minutes, about a little bit of everything. Glen told them he’d had a bit of a fall and that he needed to get moving, that he was beginning to stiffen up. And the guys asks, ‘Do you believe in the power of prayer?’ And we all just stood there, outside the store, holding hands in a circle, and had this little prayer thing. Going away from that experience, we just thought that that happened for a reason, that we met those people on that day, and this kind of interaction occurred.
“We had those little vignettes all the way across the county. People just really, truly nice. Genuinely nice.”
The two found similarity with Friday Harbor quite a few times on their trip. On July 4, they were in Mercer, Wis. — population, “about 2,000,” Bobbie said.
“They were having their hundred-year anniversary. Fourth of July Parade, great floats and just everybody out on the street. They had one float that was from the town’s only watering hole and they were handing out beer,” Bobbie said.
“They were handing out Dixie cups of beer to the adults,” Glen said.
“It was cute. That was a perfect place to be, it really reminded us of home,” Bobbie said. “I called Jane Hutchison ’cause she’s a friend of mine, and she was actually on the float for the fire department (in the Friday Harbor parade) when I talked to her. It was kinda like I was here and there.”
Across Washington they went, then Idaho, then downhill with a tailwind through Montana and South Dakota. Minnesota was next, then Wisconsin, Michigan, Ontario. They checked out Niagara Falls from the Canadian side.
“Better,” Bobbie said.
Then, back into New York, up into New England and finally Bar Harbor, Maine.
Ninety-three days in all, 91 of them in the saddle.
“I never expected that we’d get as much out of this trip as we did, as far as feeling good about yourself and wanting to do more. The last part of this trip we were slowing down … in actuality, the real reason was I didn’t want the trip to end,” Bobbie said.
The next time you see the Gullicksons ask them how their trip was. By then you’ll be asking about a different trip. The two left the rock Saturday, bound for their daughter’s house in Iowa, where they’ve stashed their bikes. They plan on heading down to Florida and taking several months to ride their way back to the island.
“See you in the spring,” Bobbie called out as she left The Journal’s office.
This cycling across America: they kind of like it.
Track the Gullicksons’ travels on their cycling journal Web site: www.crazyguyonabike.com, and run a search for the Gullicksons. Click here.