An Epic Father-Son Biking Journey Throughout America

Writer Kari Loya has lately printed an inspiring guide about an epic cross-country bike journey he took in 2015 along with his 75-year-old father, who had early-stage Alzheimer’s.

Conversations Throughout America – Excerpt (Days 3-6)

Days 3-6. Charlottesville to Vesuvius

Our first three days bode nicely. We common 75 miles each day on the moist, comparatively flat (aside from Monticello), historic journey into Charlottesville. After sleeping the primary night time on the ground of a church—our Journey Biking Affiliation maps point out locations keen to host cyclists—and tenting the second behind a hearth station the place now we have a Domino’s pizza delivered to our tent, we splurge for a lodge the place we sleep nicely, eat nicely, and hit up a motorcycle store for minor gear changes. 

Biking out of Charlottesville the subsequent morning is beautiful. The solar lastly greets winter-weary UVA undergrads on seaside volleyball courts, aromatic apple blossoms wanting to have fun spring, and storybook vineyards. We’ve deliberate for a lighter day of simply 40 miles to see how we handle our first thousand-foot climb—up Rockfish Hole on the Blue Ridge Parkway, then all the way down to Waynesboro on the opposite facet. Due to our leisurely morning departure, we don’t attain the campground till nightfall, however we make it. Gradual and regular, Merv powers his method up and over the go—after I take his backpack to lighten the load—then enjoys the lengthy descent.

As quickly as we arrive on the campground/RV Park, Dad goes to the toilet whereas I arrange camp. I sneak into the on-site retailer simply earlier than it closes to choose up odds and ends, then whip up a easy dinner. Forty minutes later when Merv returns, his dinner is ready on a desk, however I’ve already completed my very own. Forty minutes? Psychological notice: test on him within the lavatory going ahead.

The subsequent morning, Dad comes out of the toilet sporting his Lycra shorts inside out—the intense crimson crotch padding screams like an odd, speaking bullseye. An sick omen for the day? I silence the damaging thought, make dad conscious of his trend blunder, get him squared away, then we’re off.  

After a full nation breakfast at Weesie’s Café in Waynesboro, we climb slowly 700 toes again as much as the Parkway, then flip south for what must be our longest day to this point—practically 100 miles—seemingly doable given our mileage to this point. However I’ve made a important, albeit well-intentioned, error in getting ready for our cross-country journey: To save cash, I’m utilizing maps I bought in 2000 after we initially explored the journey thought. I assumed any variance with routes, street names, and ancillary sources (cafes, service stations, and so on.) wouldn’t be a giant deal—we’d determine all of it out. What I hadn’t realized, although, was that the older maps don’t embody elevation profiles. With out these, 5 miles may very well be a breeze… or torture. And spotty wi-fi protection alongside the route isn’t serving to. We sadly by no means know precisely what lies forward.

Actuality hits arduous. By early afternoon, we’re struggling atop the Blue Ridge Parkway, which I mistakenly assumed can be comparatively flat after the preliminary climb—and pop begins strolling his bike. Okay, I feel, we regulate

“Dad,” I say, “Why don’t I take your backpack?” He agrees, fingers me his heavy, however prized, possession, then mounts his bike once more to start pedaling. Twenty minutes afterward one other upward stretch, he dismounts. Okay, we regulate

“Dad,” I repeat, “Let me take one among your panniers.” As soon as once more, he agrees, and I strap his left rear pannier onto my again rack beneath the tent. We resume pedaling, however solely get 20 minutes down the street. Okay, we regulate. This new mantra is now cemented in my mind.

Besides there aren’t any extra weight changes to make. This already borders on a comedy sketch, like I’m hauling my life possessions and is perhaps dwelling below a bridge. The extra weight is testing my stability and practically killing me.

The weird warmth—80 levels, welcome in different circumstances—doesn’t assist. So we do what we are able to: we cease often, drink and snack plentifully, even nap on the facet of the street. We simply have to get to the subsequent city to regroup.


We begin descending from the Parkway, using steeply down Route 56, winding towards Vesuvius, removed from our authentic vacation spot, however now a spot to recuperate. Due to the burden of my load, the odor of burning rubber rises from my brakes as we white knuckle our method towards the underside. However midway down, Dad is now not behind me. I pull over to one of many few spots with a shoulder, then wait 5 minutes. Nothing. I yell. Nonetheless nothing. So, I’ve no alternative however to start out pedaling again up

Luckily, I discover Dad after a couple of hundred yards. He has a flat tire, our first of the journey. I hunker down, then spend an hour—an hour—on what turns into the hardest tire change of my life. His new tire is so stiff I can’t get it again onto the rim—and I break a plastic tire lever attempting. Once I lastly get it on, I inadvertently puncture the tube, so it goes flat once more. AHHHHH! After screaming my full R-rated vocabulary as loudly as I can, I understand we’re shut sufficient to the underside that we are able to stroll the ultimate mile into Vesuvius, a one-store city with a three-table store-restaurant. We enter Gertie’s Nation Retailer, the place a heavy-set native on a stool greets us. 

“You felluhs simply come down Route 56?” he asks, pointing his arm east. “Again about ten years in the past, they did the Tour DuPont and Lance Armstrong got here by. He wore quantity 4. They rode about sixty miles, then shot up 56 over there. You know the way quick he bought to the highest, son? Six minutes and forty-seven seconds!” 

He couldn’t be extra excited or proud. Whereas I recognize the pleasant banter and enjoyable reality, we’re ravenous, so we make our option to a again windowless room with a lone card desk wearing an inexpensive, plaid, plastic tablecloth. We piece collectively a pseudo-meal of a hamburger patty and shredded iceberg lettuce (restricted by our gluten-free weight loss program—extra on this later), then sit down, grateful not to be biking. 

5 minutes later, a girl rushes into the restaurant.

“Can somebody name 911?!” she shouts. Somebody is having a coronary heart assault outdoors. My AT&T cellphone doesn’t have reception, so I ask Dad, with Verizon, if he does. 

“Nicely, I feel so, let me see…”  

Whereas he reaches for his cellphone on the desk, I look at his bars and see none. And not using a phrase, I bolt out the door to assist. 

Simply across the nook is a 60-year-old overweight man mendacity on his again on the bottom. The native who’d shared the Armstrong story is kneeling subsequent to him, performing chest compressions.

“C’mon, Randy!” the girl who’d shouted for 911 cries out. “Don’t you permit me! C’mon, Randy…” 

I crouch reverse our new buddy, who’s out of breath, sweating bullets, and dangerously near cardiac arrest himself.

“Let’s rotate,” I counsel. I haven’t practiced CPR in years—and I’ve by no means carried out it on an actual individual—however now we have no choices. He does 30 compressions, the sufferer’s companion administers two breaths, then I take over. I’m so amped on adrenaline that I proceed my units for 5 minutes whereas our buddy catches his breath. The sufferer’s face has turned blue, and his stomach is swelling. 

Ten extra minutes go earlier than first responders arrive—the unlucky actuality of rural areas. 

“We had intercourse up on the campground,” the girl explains between sobs to a paramedic. “Then he began complainin’ of chest ache…” She continues crying. “Don’t you permit me, Randy!”

I step apart and the paramedics now take over in entrance of a crowd that has grown to twenty individuals, seemingly half the city. I walked again into Gertie’s, the place Merv remains to be fiddling along with his cellphone. 

“Nicely… hmmm… I believed I had… reception…” he confesses, puzzled. “However I assume I don’t…” He units the cellphone down and appears up. “So… somebody had a… coronary heart assault? Boy, oh boy…” 

An hour later after we depart, we be taught the person didn’t make it. The temper is somber. We stroll our bikes a half-mile throughout city simply earlier than nightfall to pitch our tent within the yard of a church the place we’ve obtained permission to remain. I simply need to sleep—and I dread that I nonetheless should deal with the cussed tire within the morning.

However sleep soothes the soul. And so does a correct meal. After granola, fruit, and a Rock Star iced espresso that we’d lugged from Charlottesville, I set to work on the tire whereas Dad relaxes.

Merv’s tire feels as a lot carbon fiber as rubber. I take advantage of my complete physique to stretch it whereas leveraging my one remaining tire iron. Endurance, I remind myself, then take a break. Utilizing Merv’s one bar of cell reception from a nook of the church lot, I Google “bike retailers” and one thing comes up twenty miles away. I name and a person picks up, clearly stunned on the early-hour inquiry. 

“Sorry,” he says. “We’re closed… and we’ll be closed tomorrow, too.”  However then he throws me a lifeline: “Strive soaking it in soapy water.”

I suds-up the tire, let it soak, then strive once more. Lastly, after half-hour of wrestling, bingo! Thank God. Drawback Quantity One solved.

Now I’ve Drawback Quantity Two: I would like to go quantity two. Luckily, a blue Port-o-Potty stands on the sting of the church lot. Simply as I’m questioning the place Merv is, the Port-o-Potty door swings open, and Dad strolls out. 

“You going to make use of… the toilet?” he asks politely as I make a beeline for aid.

“Yeah! I gotta go unhealthy!” 

“Nicely… simply watch out…” he cautions, pausing briefly. “…the bathroom splashes.”

WTF? What does he imply the outhouse bathroom splashes? Geez, am I going to wish to assist him with this now, too? 

I enter the plastic chamber, immaculate by Port-o-Potty requirements, then sit down. However Dad’s phrases echo in my head. Why would I must be cautious? Curious, I carry my cheeks off the seat, twist awkwardly 135 levels, then peer into the abyss the best way youngsters may if on the lookout for the boogeyman with a flashlight. It’s unusually deep, perhaps eight toes, and good cobalt blue. Like Crater Lake, sans Wizard Island. Sarcastically, stunning is the phrase that pops into my head.

My thoughts travels again to highschool physics: if you happen to drop a useless object from a given peak, the thing won’t rise above the unique peak. I’ll spare the small print, however I spend the subsequent 20 minutes utilizing flimsy paper towels—thank God there are some—to scrub up a nationwide park-size mess. It’s simply Day 6 and I’ve already reached all-time low… with my backside. 

However sitting on my humble throne, I then replicate on the final 24 hours, smile, and begin laughing. If we are able to make it by this, we’d… we’d… we simply may need an opportunity to make it throughout nation.

Conversations Throughout America is a couple of father-son journey of a lifetime: a 73-day, 4,600-mile cross-country bike journey Kari took in 2015 along with his 75-year-old dad, Merv, who had early-stage Alzheimer’s. Their journey reminds us of the ability of perseverance and flexibility within the face of uncertainty. It’s additionally a heartwarming instance of listening and discovery, together with 300 quick conversations with individuals who approached them alongside the best way, offering a wealthy snapshot of America, particularly rural America.

Conversations is a mixture of Blue Highways, Tuesdays with Morrie, and People of New York… on a motorcycle. As you learn, you possibly can’t assist however replicate in your relationship with your personal father and kids, whereas gaining perspective on Alzheimer’s—which now afflicts greater than six million People—and getting a way of the TransAmerica Bike Path and America itself. Above all, you can be impressed to seize-the-day with somebody you like—no matter which means to you.

The brand new guide, accessible on Amazon as an e-book and in paperback, is Conversations Throughout America: A Father and Son, Alzheimer’s, and 300 Conversations Alongside the TransAmerica Bike Path that Seize the Soul of America.


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