Long-Distance Cyclists of Whitman

Photo by Emily Volpert

Most people are aware of Whitman’s impressive cycling team. Lesser known are the handful of students, unaffiliated with the team, who have completed some pretty remarkable rides.

In the past two years, three Whitman students started the school year off with a bang by riding their bikes from their hometowns to Walla Walla.

Last year, then-juniors Reid Shaw and Chris Perkins mounted their bikes in Seattle for a three-day, 300-mile bike ride to Walla Walla. They started the soccer preseason immediately after they arrived.

“We rode about 100 miles a day, which would last from 8 a.m. to sundown, including the time we stopped for meals and breaks. At night we found random fields to sleep on. We had sleeping bags but no tent,” said Shaw in an email.

Shaw’s and Perkins’s route followed I-90 to I-82, and then followed Highway 12 to Whitman, but they were mainly biking on side roads. Reportedly, the weather was beautiful, which allowed them to have peaceful nights sleeping in random cornfields. Despite this, the adventure had its hardships.

“The first day threatened to break our spirits … I told [Shaw] that I knew this sweet scenic route that would avoid more time on the freeway. It’s essentially a two-mile tunnel that’s pitch black on the inside and really cool, but the ride up is on a dirt [and] gravel forest road,” said Perkins.

Perkins said he got five more flats over the course of the next few hours. By 7 p.m. the cyclists began to feel disheartened.

“We sat dejectedly on the side of the road and didn’t really talk to each other. [Shaw] just listened to Taylor Swift and I kicked rocks,” said Perkins.

They did manage to muster their strength and press on to Walla Walla. Shaw, an accomplished Eagle Scout, successfully used a 20-dollar bill to prevent more flats by sticking it in the tire. But one can never count on the first hardship to be the last. Perkins recounts a potentially life-threatening situation they faced.

“We were severely dehydrated and struggled to power our bikes towards Touchet,” said Perkins. “We found someone’s house where some kids were playing with toys in the driveway. I realized the kid didn’t speak English but Reid asked in broken Spanish if we could get some water and he ran inside to get his parents. That was quite literally a life-saver.”

Photo by Emily Volpert

Despite their struggles, these tough times made the best stories and memories.

“Overall it was a great trip. [I] spent a lot of time with a great friend doing something we both enjoy. We were able to enjoy backroads less traveled with great weather,” said Shaw.

Meanwhile this past August, first-year Colin McCarthy rode 180 miles to Whitman from his home in Spokane in two days in order to arrive at Whitman before his Scramble. This very impressive ride is not McCarthy’s first experience with long-distance cycling. The summer before his junior year of high school, McCarthy, his parents and his younger brother rode for 33 days from Spokane to New Hampshire, taking only two days to rest.

The family woke up at 6 a.m., rode 100 miles in about 10 hours, and then did the same thing each day until reaching the East Coast. Two thirds of their nights were spent camping. The rest were spent in hotels.

McCarthy said that biking made it easier to see the landscape around him.

“In eastern Montana it’s just plains, so a lot of times there’s not a lot to look at. When you’re driving in a car you can kind of see the scenery go by. When you’re biking, you have like 15 minutes on the same exact stretch of road, so you really get an idea for what’s there,” said McCarthy.

The McCarthy family faced some navigational challenges but were fortunate enough to use technology to avoid ever getting really lost.

“We didn’t get lost that much. It’s amazing what cell phones can do. Minot, N.D. had flooded that year so we actually had to do a 60-mile detour. There were some bad windy days, some rainy days [and] some really hot days, but that’s to be expected,” said McCarthy.

Rather than biking purely for a good workout, these Whitman students seem to see cycling as a refreshing and enjoyable experience.

“You’d be surprised how easy it is not to think. It’s an experience. I have always done long rides like this. They’ve always been social events with friends and family,” said McCarthy.

On his trip, Perkins was able to bond with Shaw over food and clandestine sleeping places.

“We made it to Cle Elum right at dark and bought 20 dollars worth of food a piece at Safeway and feasted. We slept in someone’s backyard on sleeping pads without telling them,” said Perkins.

McCarthy expressed a desire to do some of the longer rides in the area, and Perkins and Shaw talked about some potential future adventures, including cross-country rides and the Tour de France.

Whatever they end up doing, hopefully it will be just as magical as Perkins described his ride this summer.

“We rode like gangbusters by ourselves on the three-lane highway in the sunset. Call me crazy, but it was a little bit romantic.”




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