Chris Winkler found himself wanting to conquer a longer ride. He had already biked from Seattle to Portland a half-dozen times. Once, he even cycled from Tri-Cities to San Francisco. That particular trip “kind of whet my appetite,” he says. “I toyed with a forty-eight states ride. Then I thought: how about a coast-to-coast ride?”
From June through August 2021, Winkler (’86 Chem. Eng.) cycled from Portland, Oregon, to Portland, Maine. Technically, he started his ride on the Oregon Coast, so it was truly a coast-to-coast tour.
In all, the former Coug basketball player biked 3,797 miles in 69 days across the northern US, pedaling through 14 states, enduring one RV break-down, and surviving one crash. While crossing an intersection “somewhere in the Midwest,” he was caught off-guard by a dip in the road. His hand slipped, and he “took a tumble.”
He wasn’t badly hurt and, for the rest of the ride, the biggest speed bumps were weather and terrain. Some days, temperatures soared near 100 degrees. Others, he had to contend with rain, wind, and hills.
No matter, he says.
“You just enjoy the ride. You’re in the fresh air. You’re really fortunate to be out there. It’s about the experience and not knowing what’s going to happen and what you’re going to do to overcome it. That’s what I like. I like riding long distances on my bike. I’m a pretty good solo rider. It gives me time to think.”
The entire trip from the West Coast to the East Coast and back took 89 days, and he and his wife, Cheryl, put just over 10,400 miles on the Fleetwood Jamboree RV, or the “Jambo,” they bought especially for the cross-country adventure.
“Part of the fun was not having to set up camp or worry about where we were going to camp,” Winkler says of the RV. “Plus, I wanted my wife to go with me. It just made perfect sense.”
She drove the rig and tracked his progress on an app, meeting him at points along the pre-planned route to check in and refill his water bottle. “If it was super-hot, we’d meet maybe every twenty miles. Most days, she’d meet me about halfway.”
He rode around sixty-five miles per day, aiming to not overdo it so he would still have energy to explore small-town America in the evening. Everything east of Montana “was all new,” he says. “I hadn’t been to any of those places. I looked at a lot of different routes, and I figured summer was probably the best time to go. Once you decide on summer, it takes the southern portion of America out of the equation because it’s just too hot.”
While he can’t pick a favorite town or stretch of road, “there were some spots in the Midwest, like Wisconsin and Ohio, where the riding was really good. In some of those areas, you’re in farmland, and there are all of these backroads, and nobody’s on them, but they’re paved and they’re really nice roads. It was such great riding because you wouldn’t see a car for an hour or more. You’re just completely surrounded by cornfields.”
There was more great riding along the route, too. “Going through the Adirondacks in Upstate New York was really pretty. And there’s some nice riding outside of Walla Walla to Lewiston, too.”
Winkler sported a WSU jersey on the first day of the journey and most days of the ride. While he rode alone most of the time, a few family members and friends met up with him along the route, riding portions along with him. And his adult children flew out to meet him at the Atlantic Ocean. A camera crew from a local TV news station in Maine met him there, too.
Lessons learned from the entire experience: “It’s a big country. And there are some really good people out there. There were a couple of times when I was riding my bike and people would just slow down and ask, ‘Do you need anything? Do you need any water?’ It kind of hits home. There’s a lot of things that need to be fixed and a lot of bad things out there. But there’s a lot of good, too.”
He didn’t do any extra training for the trip. “I was already in decent shape,” Winkler says. “I’m thankful that I have my health.”
His advice to advice to cyclists contemplating a coast-to-coast ride: “Take time and really figure out the route. Don’t overdo it. Don’t overschedule yourself. Allow yourself time to really enjoy the time. I can ride 100 miles in a day. I’ve done it about 50 times. But I didn’t want to be completely dead-tired in the evenings so that I could enjoy seeing places or going out to the pub or café.”
The Hillsboro, Oregon-based Winkler, a territory director at Nike headquarters in Beaverton, worked out a 90-day leave-of-absence with his employer in order to go on the adventure, which ultimately took him and his wife through 29 states in all.
“And I tell you what: I loved it,” he says. “If I could, I’d be out there doing it still. You have hard days. But that’s the beauty of it. I enjoyed the hard days as much as the good days because it’s all part of the experience.”
Enjoying the ride
Here are some excerpts from Chris Winkler’s blog detailing each day on the road from June 12 to August 19, 2021. Or, you can read through the entire journey here.
Day 1: We hiked down to the beach for the ceremonial Instagram photo, and it occurred to me what a fantastic adventure we were ready to embark on. … We grabbed some sand and will carry it with us to Portland, Maine …
Day 2: Day two and a flat tire! … Weather forecast is for rain again tomorrow. Too bad summer in Oregon doesn’t start until July 4.
Day 22: It’s hard to believe but we have been in Montana for 11 days and about 670 miles! … we had lunch (at) a nice restaurant called Powder River Stockman’s Club. The smoked pulled pork sandwich was delicious. We actually met a couple of WSU Cougs sitting at the bar. They were drinking 32-ounce beers. (Go Cougs!)
Day 34: Big day for a couple of reasons. First of all, it is my ninth consecutive riding day and tomorrow is a rest day! Secondly, and most important, is that we will hit the 2,000-mile mark at mile 43 of today’s ride. Super excited about that. Hopefully that means we are over half-way completed, but as we’ve seen so far, with changes to the route and my poor sense of direction, we may be over 4,000 when it’s all said and done! Though there are many more miles to ride and memories yet to create, it is a time to reflect and celebrate where we have come. I never said this was going to be “fun.” I always said it was going to be an “experience.” There have been some unbelievably fun times, but a few challenging times to be sure.
Day 47: One thing that this trip, and especially the past five days, has taught me is to be patient, flexible, and optimistic.
Day 58: Today is my birthday and, not surprisingly, one I will never forget. … We had to hit another local drive-in. This time it was Orbakers. Been around since 1932. Great food, and they even had red velvet cake ice cream. Red Velvet cake is my birthday tradition. … I couldn’t find my phone, and my watch said it was out of range. Damn. So, I retraced my steps and as I approached the office where the RV was parked I saw a man with what appeared to be my phone in his hand. A sigh of relief that he had my phone turned to horror as he handed it to me. It had been run over and was completely smashed. The new case I purchased a few weeks ago said it was good for drops up to 6 feet but didn’t mention anything about being run over by a truck.
Day 67: We have had four straight days of climbing as we work through the Appalachian Mountains with one more day to go.
Day 69: … Today is the day I dip the bike tires into the Atlantic Ocean, completing the journey I started June 12 at Fort Stevens State Park. … I put Fort Allen Park into Google and let Siri provide directions in my ear piece. … I missed the turn where (wife) Cheryl and the TV crew were waiting. Yep, zipped right on by them.
A TV news report about reaching the Atlantic Ocean on Day 69