Cross-country trip full of beautiful surprises
Jackson man completes lifelong goal of biking across U.S.
Greg Smith’s Adventure Cycling group pedals along the highway outside Alpine, Texas, en route from San Diego to its destination in Florida. For Smith, the trip fulfilled a lifelong dream of biking across the country. DENNIS COELLO / COURTESY PHOTOView our entire photo gallery >>
By Miller N. Resor, Jackson Hole, Wyo.
December 5, 2012
On Nov. 17, Greg Smith completed a lifelong goal by dipping the front tire of his road bike in the Atlantic Ocean two months after his back tire emerged from the Pacific.
Smith said he had always wanted to make a cross-country bike trip and finally this summer decided he would not put it off another year.
“I had talked about doing it with friends over the years, but it never happened,” he said. “This summer I looked up the trip on Adventure Cycling out of Missoula, Mont., and saw they had one spot left on the fall, southern-tier trip, and I decided to pull the trigger. I had a few friends ask me to wait and do it next year, but I knew I had to do it.”
Adventure Cycling’s mission is “to inspire and empower people to travel by bicycle.” The nonprofit has helped develop 41,420 miles of bike routes around the country, and its maps allow the organization’s members to discover the most bike-friendly roads to explore.
Smith joined a 15-person guided tour across the southern states from San Diego to St. Augustine, Fla. Known as the southern-tier route, Smith chose it because the warmer temperatures allowed him to go in the fall when he had time off and was in shape after biking all summer.
“I’ve been biking since my early 20s,” he said. “I probably ride about 2,000 miles every summer.”
The 3,200 miles across the country would nearly double his summer total.
The trip was not too difficult for Smith, although he remembers riding through Glammis, Calif., in 110-degree heat.
“We had to carry a gallon and a half to two gallons of water to get across the 80-mile stretch of desert,” he said. “I came across three bikes on the side of the road and was a little worried because I couldn’t find the riders. I eventually found them huddled in a culvert beneath the road enjoying the little bit of shade.”
More than anything, Smith found the trip to be filled with beautiful surprises.
“It took us three weeks to arrive in Texas,” Smith said, “and three weeks to cross it.”
He had expected Texas to be a barren wasteland, “nothing but desert.” Instead he found the route — that started in El Paso and passed through Del Rio, Austin and Navasota — to be the most beautiful section of the entire trip.
While staying at a hostel in El Paso, the group ate at a grungy Mexican restaurant where no one spoke English and had the best dining experience of the entire trip, he said.
Phoenix and Austin surprised Smith by how bike-friendly each city was.
As the trip entered the southeastern states, Smith admitted that he was prejudiced.
“I was going through the southern states and expected to find a lot of rednecks who were trying to run bicyclists off the road,” he said. “Nothing could have been further from the truth. Most people were really kind and interested in what we were doing.”
One woman in the group started referring to southerners as ‘road angels.’ Smith explained that on several occasions somebody in the group needed help getting to the next town with a broken bike or because of fatigue. Every time a road angel seemed to appear out of nowhere, coming to the rescue and saving the day.
“I was most impressed by the kindness of people across the country,” Smith said.
About half of the group was from Europe and South Africa, and, with the exception of one 18-year old, the entire group was over 50.
Smith has lived and worked in Jackson for 40 years. He started off in hotel management in the park before buying the Hatchet Resort. Now, he drives for START part time.