Two years ago, while cycling across the U.S.A., I was fortunate to meet the parents of Mac Sullivan, Ginny and Tom. At the time, Mac was a high school student cycling with two companions, raising money for charity, and following the same route that I was.
Mac and his friends were the first fully-loaded cyclists I met and eventually we all started cycling together.
We would not part company until 30 days later in Minneapolis when Mac joined a larger group and I continued on by myself. But during that month I stayed at Mac’s home in Missoula for three nights, and at his grandfather’s cattle ranch in Highwood, MT for three more. Mac’s family were generous, kind, and fun-loving and went out of there way to make me feel comfortable.
I first met Tom, Mac’s dad, in Idaho.
He had biked west to meet the boys and would continue on with us across Montana, eventually stuffing his bike into a scavenged cardboard box and traveling by bus back to Missoula. Tom is a professor at the University of Montana. He has a doctorate in something to do with geography (he explained it to me one evening).
Tom is a hardcore cyclist. He invited me to join him cycling to the Burning Man in Nevada. The Burning Man is a week-long annual gathering in the desert, conceived 30 years ago in San Francisco, that culminates with the burning of a gigantic wooden structure after seven days of alternative lifestyle living. (If you are from Connecticut, you will not understand, so don’t worry.) Each attendee must be self-sufficient (it’s in the desert) and carry in 8 gallons of water per person.
A gallon of water weighs 8 1/3 pounds. Do the math and that means Tom needed about 66 pounds of water, in addition to any other gear he had. On a bicycle. I was unable to join him, and I have yet to ask him how that worked out. Tom is hardcore.
I met Ginny, Mac’s mom, later that day when she stopped on the side of the road. She was driving a couple of hundred miles to pick up one of our injured fellow cyclists (nothing serious) in Kamiah and bring him back to Missoula.
Ginny, informal for Virginia, was born on the aforementioned cattle ranch, six miles up a dirt road. She was one of 50 people that attended the local high school (fifty students total). The school was so small that they had to join forces with the neighboring town to field a six-man football team. Ginny now works at Adventure Cycling as the Director of Travel Initiatives. (I have yet to ask her about that.) Ginny rode with us for 15 miles the day we left Missoula even though the temperature was in the 40’s, it was raining, and the wind was howling. Then she bicycled the 15 miles home.
Anyway, Tom and Ginny have two other kids besides Mac: Dan, an actual forest ranger / fire fighter, and a daughter Mari, who is attending college this semester in Amsterdam.
Ginny and Tom are stopping to see Mari, on their way to Venice. Ginny will also be meeting and interviewing bicycling advocates and organizations all over Europe. A couple of months ago they extended an invitation to me to join them. I agreed. My participation has morphed into tour photographer and navigator. I purchased a new camera and that took me several weeks to figure out. Then I picked up a Garmin Edge Touring device. I have not completely figured that out yet, but I am reasonably certain that I can keep us out of Ukraine. (The itinerary includes Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Luxembourg, Belgium, and the Netherlands. We may briefly visit France.)
We have an apartment in Venice for the weekend before heading northwest into the Italian Alps. Tom has a crazy notion of cycling, fully-loaded, over a half dozen mountain passes including The Stelvio, just so that he can write an interesting article for a magazine. Did you ever watch an adventure television show where the protagonist was hanging from a cliff, trudging across a frozen tundra, or surviving on insects and filthy, lice-infested water in the jungle? Did you ever wonder who was doing the filming, exposed to the same hardships as the main character but getting no recognition? That will be me on this trip.