Ride of a lifetime

Published 6:55 pm Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Coast to Coasters — Dick Schindler, Jerry Ulwelling, Julie Thomsen, Roe Erlandson and Terry Fox — stand in the Atlantic Ocean, the end of their ride. - Photo provided

One month, 3,500 miles, several flat tires and a broken clavicle later, a group of men who set out to cycle across the country are back home in the Midwest.

Four of the five men dipped their bike tires in the Atlantic Ocean at the end of their journey on Sept. 1. Dave Thomsen, 71, was the only one of the group who didn’t make it to the end due to a broken clavicle sustained in a fall off his bike in South Dakota.

The Coast to Coasters got to see the best of America during their fundraising bike ride for cancer rearch. - Herald file photo

Roe Erlandson, 68, Jerry Ulwelling, 65, Dick Schindler, 69, and Terry Fox, 64, set out from the Pacific coastline in Oregon and made it the 3,500 miles to the Atlantic Ocean finish line. Julie Thomsen, Dave’s wife and driver of the group’s support RV named Pearl, said it was an emotional, exciting moment.

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“Everybody was really on Cloud Nine — there was no doubt about it,” Julie said of the moment the men reached the ocean. “Every single one of them had their head down and not a single one was talking. It was a very sad departure.”

The trip has been in the works for nearly two years, when Julie decided to help Dave plan a nationwide bike tour for his 70th birthday. Dave has been an avid cyclist for years and has participated in bike races and marathons across the Midwest.

Although Dave had to come home to Austin halfway through the trip to have surgery on his broken clavicle, he said the 1,400 miles he cycled were scenic, and he used the 100 plus mile days to continue training and keeping in shape. Julie said it was hard to send Dave home, but she wanted to see the trip through with the other four men.

“They probably didn’t expect me to go on (after Dave broke his clavicle),” Julie said. “But I wanted to see it through to the end. There was a lot of personal investment in this.”

Part of the coast-to-coasters’ mission was to raise money and awareness for the Hormel Institute. The ride was dedicated to the memory of Dan Ulwelling, a bicycle enthusiast and founding partner of Rydjor Bike Shop, who died of cancer in 2006.

The riders took good care of themselves along the way, making sure to eat plenty of food, stay hydrated and take breaks when they needed it, Julie said.

The men needed to take care of themselves, considering each day began at 5 a.m. and sometimes didn’t end until 11 p.m. Although the riders usually arrived at the next night’s campsite by dinnertime, the rest of the night was spent on bike maintenance, eating, cleaning and updating their trip blog.

“It was perpetual motion,” Julie said. “Truly, it was like the blink of an eye. It was amazing how quick those days disappeared.”

One of the most interesting parts of the trip was meeting the locals in small towns throughout the country and meeting bikers who were also crossing the country.

“It was neat to see the people out there who were doing the same thing,” Dave said.

“People don’t realize how many people do this,” Julie added. One of the couples the group encountered on the trip was taking 120 days to cross the country on bike. The two people weren’t avid cyclists, Julie said, but they were taking each day 20-30 miles at a time so as not to overdo themselves.

“The whole trip, in a nutshell, was absolutely out of this world,” Julie said. “It was so interesting to see the whole country mile-by-mile on the back roads.”

As for the bikers, Julie said they’re all back to life as usual, but the whole last month “those guys were like machines.”

—Reporter Trey Mewes contributed to this report.