Riding for Home: A Father-Son Cross-Country Cycling Adventure

Josh Nagy, left, and Carl Nagy-Koechlin.

On May 30, my 18-year-old son Josh and I set out from a beach in Anacortes, Washington, on a cross-country bicycle ride back to our home in Dorchester. After traveling 3,551 miles through 9 states and one Canadian province, we were greeted on July 27 by an enthusiastic group of friends and family at Pleasure Bay in South Boston. We called our journey Riding for Home and used it to raise money - $16,500 to date - for two organizations committed to ending homelessness.

What follows are edited and excerpted entries from my blog during our trip.

Blog # 1: Priest River, Idaho – June 5

At a Cyclist’s Pace
Bicycling takes you through the world at an ideal speed - fast enough to cover ground and to take you from one world to another, and yet slow enough to allow you to appreciate the scenery and to size up places.

This cross-country odyssey has made me appreciate the 12-ish mile/hour pace all the more. Each day has taken us to – and through – completely different places: the Puget Sound to the foot of the North Cascade mountains; snowy mountain passes to apple orchards; cutesy tourist towns to down-on-their luck agriculture small city hubs. We’ve camped in a national park, stayed at a country resort, and shared Roadway Inn & Suites with a large group of migrant farmworkers. The trip has turned flyover country into ride through country.
Ain’t no mountain high enough

Washington State is beautiful but we’re glad and proud to be done with it! The Cascades are no joke! Starting on day 2, we crossed over 4 Cascade Mountain passes on consecutive days. The first and worst, over Washington Pass, had us going from an elevation of 500 feet to 5,500 feet over 40 grueling miles. During this and the other climbs that followed, we spent hours traveling at 4-6 MPH. With our 45 pounds of gear, we’re pack mules, not stallions.

Blog #2: Eureka, Montana - June 8

As the trip approached last month, Josh and I would occasionally invoke the John F. Kennedy quote about sending a man to the moon: “We aren’t doing it because it’s easy, we’re doing it because it’s hard.”

And our hardest times have been when we have doubted the wisdom of this adventure and worried that we can’t pull it off. I’m proud that Josh has articulated these doubts when he’s experienced them in recent days, doubts which I’ve held more privately.

On the other hand, we have ridden through some of the most magnificent, breathtaking, awe-inspiring scenery over these last few days. There was a moment yesterday when it occurred to me that I was in one of the most beautiful places on earth on one of the most perfect days – clear, sunny, and 65 degrees. I was out of cellphone range and there was a sign ahead that read “Bighorn Sheep Ahead”. Wow!

In short, this trip has got it all!

Blog # 4: Dickinson, No. Dakota – June 17

Blowing in the Wind

With the mountain ranges cleared, this week was all about the wind. Stiff winds from the west turned our touring bikes into e-bikes on steroids.
We stopped on one of those coldish (50 degrees) windy evenings in tiny Sand Springs, MT where we came across 2 of our fellow cycling travelers, Christian and Mason - riders we met on day 2 in the Cascades and then again 10 days later as we scaled the Rockies. (This cross-country touring experience is a small world indeed!). We joined their tent city and hunkered down for the blustery night. That next morning, our tents nearly blew away – literally! – as Josh and I ventured on foot to a nearby store.

What followed was maybe the fastest and most harrowing bike ride of my life. Gusts of up to 50 MPH – mostly at our back but with unpredictable crosswinds – made it feel more like windsurfing than bike riding. During the day we consulted “Windy”, an app that tracks winds around the world, which indicated that we were in the windiest place on earth! When the winds were done with us, we had traveled 212 miles in two days to the small cowboy town of Circle, MT.

Blog # 5: Minocqua, Wisconsin – June 27

Good Fortune

I’ve been aware of my many privileges that made this adventure possible. I’m in good health. I have the financial resources to afford this rather expensive trip. My son wants to do this with me. My wife and other son, and my work colleagues have blessed and supported the trip. In addition, I know that as a white man – with my white male son – we’re unlikely to be harassed or otherwise endangered.

On the trip itself, my good fortune has continued. We’ve had mostly good weather – some rain, a few hot days, but mostly very good. The winds have also been mostly friendly. And, at 2,100 miles, we have not had a single flat tire!

Blog #7: Midland, Michigan - July 14

Why We Ride

Seeing the country and completing what we started is a big part of what has kept us going. So, too, is our commitment to ending homelessness.
In addition to the money we’ve raised, traveling by bike to an unfamiliar destination every day has heightened our appreciation for a safe place to stay and our commitment to ending homelessness. The end of our days, when we’re tired and hungry, are our most stressful times.

We have the resources we need for safe accommodations. Even so, we’re relieved and appreciative each time we settle into our home for the night. At those moments we feel how important home is and that everyone deserves one.

That includes the 60-year-old woman who I met at a laundry mat here in Midland this morning. She asked what I was writing about while waiting for my clothes to dry. I told her about our cycling adventure, through which we were raising money to end homelessness. She was visibly touched and proceeded to tell me her story. She’s a tenant in a substandard apartment. She subsists on a janitor’s salary and is convinced that her landlord, who refuses to maintain her apartment, is going to raise her rent and force her out.

“I don’t have anywhere to go,” she told me, as she teared up. She embraced me as I left with my now-clean laundry. “Thank you for doing what you’re doing,” she said.

That’s why we ride.

Blog # 8: New Hartford, NY- July 23

Oh Canada!

Since my last blog, our cross-country ride became cross-continental when we crossed by ferry from Michigan into Ontario. Our three-day stint in Canada was timely. We were ready to turn the page, after 7 weeks in deep red territory, on what started to feel to like an assault of angry and often vulgar right-wing political signs, flags, etc. At our hotel in Midland, MI, another guest came to breakfast with a tee shirt that read “FAMILY” with a different firearm on top of each letter. Family values?

New York
Here in New York State, we’ve mostly ridden on a fabulous bike trail along the Erie Canal, through pleasant historic towns that sprung up and grew in the early and mid-1800s when the canal played a transformative role in the nation’s economy. After a long period of dormancy after railroads supplanted the canal, communities along the canal and the State of New York invested in the 300+ mile trail and on improvements to the canal itself for recreational use. Now the canal is lively with boats, walkers, cyclists, and businesses. The collective ambition and the impact associated with the canal 200 years ago, and with its rebirth as a recreational corridor reminds me of the Barney Frank quote: “Government is simply the name we give to things we choose to do together.”

Blog # 9: Dorchester, MA - July 27

Safe at Home!
In the months before our trip, I often ate my breakfast on a laminated placemat with a map of the U.S. on it. I’d study it, trying to fathom what it was going to take to cover that ground. The scale and obstacles seemed overwhelming.

Several months later, as we lay in our motel room in Albany, NY, about 200 miles from home, I said to Josh, “You know what? We’re going to cross that placemat!” That’s right, all 16 inches of it!

And on Wednesday, July 27 we did just that.

Referring back to the placemat is one way I’ve tried to grasp what Josh and I accomplished together, one 80-mile day at a time. Our get-up-that-hill, gotta-make-the-donuts mentality served us very well, but it makes it difficult now to appreciate the cumulative enormity of it. That will probably take some time.

Meanwhile, Josh and I are very pleased to be home. The loving community we have here was so evident in our warm reception when we arrived at Pleasure Bay in South Boston. As the name of our ride – Riding for Home – underscores, we were riding both to end homelessness and to get ourselves to the home we are so fortunate to have. We were strongly motivated by both.

Read more at ridingforhome.org

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