Local residents complete coast to coast bike ride

Submitted by Anne H. Oman
Reporter at Large

September 28, 2016 1:00 a.m.

On the sunny Monday afternoon of September 5, two road-seasoned Fernandinans, Sallie and Carl McDonald, pedaled onto the wharf in Bar Harbor, Maine and smelled the Atlantic Ocean.

Brother and sister pair, Sallie and Carl McDonald on the last leg of their journey at Bar Harbor, Maine.

“I had tears in my eyes,” Sallie recalled. “I was really proud we had achieved what we set out to do.”

The brother-sister pair had set out three months earlier from Anacortes, Washington, on the Pacific Ocean, and cycled 4,533 miles, not counting the “warm-up” ride of 160 miles through Washington’s San Juan Islands. And they did not travel light. Each bike was laden with some fifty pounds of gear: a two person tent, a camping mattress, a sleeping bag, 3 sets of biking clothes, 2 sets of off bike clothes, sleeping clothes, a pot for boiling water, a camping stove and fuel, a French press for coffee (which doubles as a mug), toiletries including a chamois-like camping towel, peanut butter, tortillas, Ramen, tuna, instant oatmeal, coffee, and canned vegetables. Plus, in Carl’s case, tools for anticipated repairs en route and maps of Adventure Cycling’s Northern Tier bike route plus a few alternative routes..

bike-photo-2“We both have steel bikes that can carry the weight,” explained Carl. His is a Co-Motion Americana, and Sallie’s is a Trek 520. Carl rotated the tires on both bikes after about 2,500 miles and reported: “We had zero flats. The tires we used are still on our bikes.”

This was the second cross-country cycle for the McDonalds. During the summer of 2011, the team of two biked a different route, from Fernandina Beach to Astoria, Oregon. That trip raised more than $21,000 for Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), where Carl spent ten years as National Law Enforcement Manager.

“Every day was dedicated to a particular family who had suffered a loss due to a drunk driver,” he said.
His own daughter, Carlie, his only child, was killed in 1998 in a drunk driving collision. She was five years old. The blog he wrote on both trips was entitled “In Memory of Warmer Summers.”

Summers with Carlie.

This trip, said Carl, was sort of a victory lap, a kind of retirement celebration.

“My career was concluded, after 34 years in traffic safety,” he said, first as a Wyoming State Trooper and later with MADD. While at MADD, he helped develop options courts could use in custody agreements to reduce child endangerment, such as requiring ignition interlock devices in cars.

While the 2016 trip was not a fundraiser, “we still ride in memory of warmer summers,” he said.

The ride held daunting challenges and dazzling rewards.
“The first thousand miles was all mountains,” recalled Sallie, especially Washington Pass in the North Cascades. “It was thirty miles of climbing without any switchbacks – the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life.”
Another challenge was keeping clean.

“Not all campgrounds have showers,” said Carl. “We took showers in Laundromats and truck stops, bathed in cold water pumps, and in lakes.”

They especially enjoyed swimming in Lake Michigan.

“Clear water and no alligators,” said Carl.

The most beautiful day, they agree, was cycling through Glacier National Park on the Road-to-the-Sun road, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. The view of Niagara Falls from the Canadian side ranked a close second. And Carl posted regular “Beauty Breaks” on his blog: Thunder Hole on Mt. Desert Island, a flower by the side of the road, a sunset on a mountain lake. He also posted photos of people they met along the way: fellow cyclists, the owner of the Flexit Café and Bakery in Ellsworth, Maine, who, when he heard about the trip, said his cash register was broken and refused to charge for breakfast, a retired military man in Minnesota who had converted an old barn into a bunkhouse for cyclists.

The worst day of the trip was actually a stormy night in Medora, North Dakota, when a piece of wire fencing came loose and ripped Sallie’s tent. This was when Bob Eaton, Sallie’s husband, the team’s “Command Central,” played a crucial role. Bob had outfitter REI send a replacement tent to Sallie, c/o General Delivery in Fargo. Sallie shipped the damaged tent to Bob, who returned it to REI for a refund.

On a typical day, Sallie and Carl got up about six, broke camp, and ate a breakfast of instant oatmeal and coffee from their individual French presses. Breakfasts were not always a deux.

“One morning, in the Old Forge campground in the Adirondacks, we had a black bear walk out of the woods and make a slow stroll through our camp, not 25 feet from us while we were drinking our coffee,” recalled Carl. “They say you should try to look big, so I spread my arms. He paid no attention to me, but saw that Sallie had a grocery bag over her bike saddle. Bears get used to people in camp grounds, and this one knew enough to recognize a grocery bag, which he associated with food. But there was nothing in it, so he wandered away.”

“We ate well on the trip,” said Sallie. “We’d stop around 10 for a break at a convenience store or a café, and sometimes we’d stop for ice cream in the afternoon.”

Sallie celebrated her 66th birthday in Libby, Montana, with a Big Boy ice cream sandwich. (Kid brother Carl is 62.)
On a trip like that, cyclists are supposed to consume about 6.000 calories a day, according to Carl.

‘Our challenge is not to eat like that now that we’re home,” he added.

Are they planning another trip?

“We’ve talked about biking around Europe,” answered Carl, “but maybe not another three-month trip.”

Meanwhile, they both bike several times a week with the North Florida Bicycle Club here. Sallie, who moved to Fernandina in 2007 after retiring as a senior executive with the US Department of Homeland Security, also volunteers at the hospital and the dog park, helps run the Friends of the Library Book Club, lifts weights at the Y, and swims laps at the Atlantic Avenue Rec Center.

Carl moved to Fernandina in April, and is still getting settled.

“I just had time to unpack some boxes before leaving on the trip,” he said. He’s not sure how he’ll spend his retirement time, but will continue to be active in initiatives to curb drunk driving.

“While we were on the ride, MADD contacted me and asked me to serve on an expert panel on child endangerment,” he said.

His most important take-away from the trip?

“There is so much attention paid to the 24-hour news cycle which is filled with disaster stories that we are in danger of losing touch with the fact that people in this country are fundamentally good and very supportive. The people we met were genuinely friendly and interested in what we were doing. They helped us and bought us meals. The horror show on the 24-hour news cycle is not a true picture of this country,” he said. “Our travel experiences prove that America is a great country.”

From sea to shining sea.

For more information and photographs of the cross country trip, go to www.warmersummers.com.

Editor’s Note: Anne H. Oman relocated to Fernandina Beach from Washington, D.C. Her articles have appeared in The Washington Post, The Washington Star, The Washington Times, Family Circle and other publications. We thank Anne for her contributions to the Fernandina Observer.

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Lynne Anderson
Lynne Anderson(@lynne-anderson)
7 years ago

Way to go Sallie and Carl. You two are beyond AMAZING!!

Dave Lott
Dave Lott(@dave-l)
7 years ago

An amazing accomplishment. Congratulations for a feat that few have attempted, much less completed. Great job!

Robert Warner
Robert Warner (@guest_47966)
7 years ago

Sometimes good folks do something hard and make a difference. It’s energising and motivating for all of us to see the transformation that happens when folks just “get away” from the constant static that exists everywhere today. A better way. Good stuff.

Penny Landregan
Penny Landregan (@guest_47972)
7 years ago

Congratulations Sally and Carl. You guys are my heroes! While I sat at home in front of my computer reading Carl’s daily blogs, I would always wonder “how can they endure all that they encountered everyday of this trip which such big smiles on their
faces?” You showed us what true grit is. I am in awe of you two.