Incredible! Man bikes across America, 4000+ miles through 11 states and extreme weather and road conditions, ending his 50-day journey yesterday at Rehoboth Beach Patrol headquarters.
Mark Williams, 53, a Boston University finance professor, author and former RBP lifeguard, decided to end his cross-country fundraiser for “Bikes Not Bombs” at the beach patrol to honor the late Tommy “TC” Coveleski, who he describes as a “great lifeguard, mentor and friend” and to raise awareness for the Sussex Consortium Program, where TC taught physical education. And what an appropriate spot to end his journey, with fellow former lifeguards beside him and the plaques honoring TC’s service as well as that of his father, Frank.
Williams journey came to the successful conclusion Sunday when he arrived here on his 18-speed Specialized Diverge, a professional touring bike equipped with disc brakes. Shown are Tony Sposato, Joe Barranco, Larry Carroll, Pete Coveleski, Mark Williams, John Coveleski, Greg Wilson, James Hutton and Richard Sargent.
Williams raised more than $21,000 for Bikes Not Bombs, more than double his initial goal. “It was a meaningful experience for me,” he says, “I had all these situations where it was challenging. I could have thrown in the towel. But I felt like I had these charities I cared about and the donors and I did not want to let them down. It was a much more powerful ride because of that. All of a sudden it resonated with people. Donations began to pour in, and in general [it was] a really meaningful experience.”
Williams, who grew up in Georgetown, Delaware, was joined by another bicyclist, Mike Hill, who rode with him through Yorktown, Virginia to help raise funds for Alzheimer’s research. The duo started the trek across America on June 4 in San Francisco. They had no back-up and no air conditioned caravan following them with water bottles, food or emergency supplies. They were at the mercy of the environment and what they could scavenge along the route.
“For the last 50 days I have been living out of four panniers and that’s it,” Williams said. “We have stayed in churches, hostels, camped and even slept in a gymnasium and hotels when available.”
They followed the historic pony express route starting in San Francisco. In Nevada, they traveled on Route 50, known as the loneliest highway in America. “We would go hours and see only tumbleweed, a stray cow and jackrabbits,” he said. “Then in Colorado we picked up the Western Express known to cyclists as Route 76. This ends in Yorktown, Virginia. From there I took the bridge (cyclists are not allowed to bike through the bridge tunnel) to Cape Charles and back roads all the way up to Rehoboth Beach.”
Williams and Hill averaged 80 miles per day. The highest single day was 120 miles across the Kansas plains while the lowest mileage day was 60 when they climbed the Rockies. There were also several 100-mile days back to back. Typically they spent eight to nine hours riding time on the bike each day.
“Remarkably over this coast to coast trip,” Williams points out, “I had zero flat tires. I chalk this up to luck over skill.”
As a risk management consultant, Williams knows all about risk. In 2010 he published Uncontrolled Risk (McGraw Hill), a book examining the root causes of the financial crisis and the rise and fall of investment banking giant Lehman Brothers. “Risk management is about anticipating risks and understanding the odds,” he points out. “Good bikers attempt to anticipate and reduce the chance for accidents. Each day had its own set of risks: weather, road conditions and the type and level of truck traffic.”
In California, he recalls, “we had steep passes, narrow shoulders and bad roads. Once we climbed a peak we had to decide what was the safe decent speed given road conditions. Sometimes speeds exceeded 40 m.p.h.”
In Nevada, Williams says he was run off the road and knocked down by a large tractor-trailer. Fortunately not hurt, he got up and continued on his journey. Other risk examples he cites were in Nevada at a higher altitude when they rode through a snowstorm that made the road a sheet of ice.
In Utah they endured record heat in excess of 120 degrees. “To beat the heat,” he says, “we rode in the middle of the night.”
In Kansas they struggled with high winds and shared the road with a lot of farm equipment and tractor-trailers. “Over a 10-mile stretch,” he recalled, “we were attacked by a storm of grasshoppers during the Kansas wheat harvest. I have referred to this experience as biblical.”
In Missouri they faced steep mountains with no shoulders on the roadway. “Kentucky coal trucks on narrow roads are not biker friendly,” he pointed out. “Aggressive dogs in the Appalachian area of Kentucky required the use of pepper spray, fog horns and preventative sticks.”
“Do your research,” Williams says to anybody who might be contemplating a similar journey. “Pick the cycle route you would like to take. Either go with another experienced cyclist or be part of a planned group.” He stresses the importance to also train, plan and get mentally prepared. He has training as an athlete having run track at the University of Delaware. “Pushing the pedals reminded me of track practice workouts,” he says.
“Purchase a bike that is built for touring and make sure it is outfitted correctly,” he adds, noting that “a lot of helpful websites and checklists are also available. These will get you started and provide a sense of the commitment and what to expect. Assume you will get flat tires and bring spare parts and a repair kit.”
Williams and Hill are planning on publishing their daily travel itinerary and spreadsheet to help others as they plan their own cross-country cycling trip. And yes, to answer a question many people have been wondering. He would do this again! “This was an experience of a lifetime,” Williams said, “a very meaningful experience. Next time, if either of my daughters, Amelia or Sarah, become interested, I would go again.”
Photos courtesy Mark Williams