COLOMA — Bonny and Joe Barrett are getting the most out of retirement.
Over the summer, the Coloma couple rode their bikes 3,680 miles in 75 days, traveling across the country from Washington to Maine. Through three flat tires, a tornado warning, fun encounters with strangers, and overcoming tumultuous mountains, the couple found solace on the road.
Their coast-to-coast journey has been on Bonny’s bucket list for more than 15 years. However, the Barretts chose not to pursue the endeavor until both had retired.
They started in the state of Washington on June 13, where they ceremoniously dipped the back tires of their bicycles in the Pacific Ocean. More than two months later, on Aug. 26, the Barretts capped their trek in Maine by dunking their front tires in the Atlantic Ocean.
“It didn’t hit us until we got home,” said Bonny. “We didn’t go fast.”
Prepping for the arduous journey took about a year to train and plan out.
Their efforts began by consuming as much information about the possible routes that previous riders have taken. From viewing blog posts on personal experiences to parceling through a website that had digital maps of possible routes, the Barretts came prepared.
As a precursor to the trip, they even biked from Holland to Grand Rapids and back again.
They chose the Northern Pier route, taking them through the northern-most states. They looked for turn-by-turn directions that could give them an idea of food and shelter options – if needed.
“We also talked with four or five people who did it and picked their brains,” Bonny said. “We then met with a professional who gave us a crash course on bike maintenance.”
The first couple days
The Barretts flew to Washington a few days early, having shipped their bikes ahead of them. After using the shuttle from the airport to get to the shop that had received their bicycles, they rode everywhere.
By the second day, they sent home some supplies they didn’t need.
“We had an extra toolkit and sent home shampoo, headphones and books,” Joe said.
They carried their own equipment across the country. Their packs added to the difficulty, giving them an extra 45 to 55 pounds to transport.
In addition to the luggage, the Barretts were pedaling heavy duty touring bikes that had racks attached to them, to support the equipment.
“They were tanks,” Joe said of the bikes. “The tires were much thicker than a regular bike. We were not setting any land speed records.”
The couple averaged 53 miles a day. Through the 75-day journey, they gave themselves only six days of rest.
Four of those days were spent with their daughter in Michigan. One came in Minneapolis, while another day of rest was spent in Montana when the weather didn’t play nice.
Originally, Joe said their goal was to finish the trip in 90 days.
Between their two bikes, the Barretts had three flat tires caused by hitting glass and wire.
“We started with one type of tire, but it wasn’t robust enough,” Joe said. “In Minneapolis, we arranged to get new tires that were more heavy duty. After that, none of them popped.”
The state of Montana proved to be especially difficult in more ways than one.
“I know we made a wrong turn in Montana and did 77 miles that day,” Bonny recalled. “It was a long day for us, but it was a good day.”
Next, they conquered some steep mountain ranges and inclement weather. It was in eastern Montana when they were hit hard with rain.
“The rain was the biggest surprise for us,” Joe said. “We were expecting some rain, but not as much as we got. We even had a tornado warning at one point.”
According to Joe, the two cyclists were witness to 29 days where it rained during some portion of the day. If there were thunderstorms that rolled through, they tried to secure lodging.
“We tried to find places that had laundry. We were lucky with campgrounds,” Joe said. “We washed (our clothes) at least every three to four days.”
Biking at elevation proved to be a big challenge.
“We don’t exactly have mountains in Michigan,” Bonny said. “I never doubted we could finish it, but getting over the mountains in the West was difficult. One took five hours to get up it.”
Joe said the mountains only got steeper as they cycled.
“The grade was 4 to 6 percent out West,” he said. “We took frequent stops. Out East, mountains aren’t as high, but steeper because there were back roads. The highest grade level was 12.4 percent. It was enough to put us to a dead stop.”
Their favorite part of the trip was meeting new people.
Bonny, who is 60 years old, and Joe, 63, met an an 80-year-old couple who were riding the length of the country for a second time.
The Barretts also met a guy from the United Kingdom who had been on the road for the last two years. They said it was just “his way of life.”
“We met people going both directions,” Joe said. “Some were doing 80 to 100 miles a day.”
They also met a woman in Fergus Falls who paid for their meal and wanted to know how they went about planning the trip. The Barretts were even hosted by a group of monks in North Dakota, who ate breakfast in silence.
“The people we met and the scenery was amazing,” Joe said. “I mean, strangers were offering us places to stay if the weather turned bad.”
After their friends came out to Maine to pick them up, the first thing they decided to do was buy Lobster dinners to celebrate.
Both said they enjoyed the trip and would consider another one. However, things would have to be different the next time around.
“I would be up for a shorter one,” Bonny said, “but we don’t have anything planned at this point.”
Contact: twittkowski@TheHP.com, 932-0358, Twitter: @TonyWittkowski