By Rachel Shatto, Diablo Valley College’s The Inquirer
When Anne Breedlove and Jim Eldredge told friends and family they were going to bike across North America, they were met with shock and dismay. “The vast majority of friends, family and co-workers genuinely believed [we] had gone off the deep end,” she said.
Despite their loved ones’ disbelief, the former DVC history instructor and her husband Jim set out from their home in Martinez on a 7,254 mile bike ride that would lead them across the United States, up through parts of Canada to Bay Harbor Maine, where they headed back, stopping in Texas because they wanted to catch a flight to make it back for Thanksgiving.
Breedlove’s passion for bike riding began when as a teenager she got her first 10-speed bike. But her cross-continental plan began 11 years ago, following a similar trek in France.
“The big challenge about the whole business of traveling by bicycle for us [was]…you always have to get back home by a certain date to go back to work,” Breedlove said. It wasn’t until her recent retirement that she was able to take months and really explore the roads.
While preparing for their trip with a great amount of research and pouring over maps, Breedlove stumbled across an online group called WarmShowers.com. “You offer your home to bicycle tours who are coming through in exchange for them offering their home to you,” she said.
Her research paid off. Although most nights were spent in a tent and sleeping bag during their six months on the road, she and her husband also ended up staying with 28 “complete and total strangers” who ranged from oil painters to Quakers and even a tri-athlete. “The only common ingredient was the bicycle,” Breedlove said.
She has kept in contact with many of them, sending e-mails detailing her adventures from along the road.
“I’ve actually made a Christmas list and will send cards to many of them,” she said with a laugh.
The trip was transformative for Breedlove. The enforced, slower pace changed her attitude toward time and timeliness as well as how she saw the country. “For one thing, you see the country,” she said. Breedlove was particularly taken by the beauty of Oregon and Idaho.
It wasn’t all tranquility and picturesque vistas, however. Breedlove faced unexpected problems and dangers on the road.
“Food is a real problem,” Breedlove said. “We went through enormous bread basket regions of America where the quality of the food we experienced was just disgusting. Pretty much until we got to Quebec, from the time we left the Bay Area, the food choices suffered.”Breedlove described an unexpected lack of produce in grocery stores and a wasteland of “greasy spoon” restaurants. This created a problem for the couple who now required almost double the normal daily caloric intake. “We mostly ate breakfast and dinner at campgrounds. When we crossed over the border [from Ontario] into Quebec, we went from an Anglo-Saxon culture to a French culture, and the quality of food choices just skyrocketed.”Despite grim culinary prospects, the greatest danger the couple faced were the roads themselves ? and the cars that shared them.
They encountered many aggressive drivers who were loath to share the road, particularly in Oklahoma where Breedlove said they were overtly antagonistic in their “big trucks.”
“Canada was the scariest, because the Canadians don’t spend any money on the shoulder,” she said. But scary drivers, bad food and poor roads haven’t put Breedlove off her passion for cross-country treks. The couple is heading out on their next six-month cycling journey early next year, this time in Australia.
For those interested in embarking on their own bike riding adventure Breedlove offers some advice: “Get a bicycle with low gears…do one mile the first day, pat yourself on the back, and build up from there.”