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Journey of Discovery

This is the title of an entertaining and inspiring book by Wayne Aho, who rode his bicycle across the United States on the TransAmerica trail at the age of 74, a distance of about 4200 miles. He was a successful businessman for several decades, then had a second career as a business professor at Western Carolina University. He finally retired completely in 2020 and did the ride with three other friends shortly thereafter. They also had the support of one of the friend’s wives, Mary Ann, who followed them with a pick-up truck.

I’ve read various books about people cycling across the US, but this one caught my eye because of Wayne’s age, which is a few years older than I am. He and his friends also used an interesting approach. They carefully pre-planned the entire route with the aid of maps from the adventure cycling association (which grew from the group that planned the “bikecentennial” across the US in 1976). They then pre-booked hotel reservations at appropriate intervals, so that they would average about 70 miles per day. This is a good idea from a comfort standpoint. In other books I’ve read about similar crossings, people have spent a lot of time camping, or if they stayed in a motel just scrambled to find one at the last minute when they came to a town. The downside to the pre-planned approach is that it makes you stay precisely on schedule to get to your accommodations each day, but they managed to pull that off.

Having Mary Ann along turned out to be quite a luxury. Imagine running out of water twenty miles from your stop for the day on a hot day, with a headwind, when suddenly your guardian angel shows up with ice and drinks in the cooler. But her presence was more than a luxury when mishaps occurred, like when Wayne got attacked by some dogs in a rural area and ended up with a pretty serious calf injury, and she was able to get him to the county hospital.

Wayne has an enjoyable writing style and described many highs and lows they encountered on the trip. There were many areas described that I would love to go see. There were some downsides, like the incident with the dogs, but his overall impression was positive. It is very inspiring that Wayne accomplished this at 74.

In the epilogue, Wayne was describing his ongoing adventures including now participating in Senior Games time trials. But then a plot twist showed up: he was diagnosed with atrial flutter, a close cousin to atrial fibrillation. This ended up being cured by cardiac ablation. But he also considered the experience a wake-up call, wanting to make sure going forward that he prioritizes health over performance in his activities. As he put it, it is more important to be still enjoying cycling when he’s 90 than trying to go 1 mph faster now. He described the research on endurance exercise and health in The Midlife Cyclist (a very useful book I reviewed here). He especially recommended the final chapter “the mindful cyclist”, which has good suggestions about staying active in a way that promotes good health and minimizes possible consequences of overdoing (like heart arrhythmias). That prompted me to go back and re-read that chapter, and make sure I’m not getting over-obsessed with performance goals like Strava Koms.

I higher recommend Wayne’s enjoyable and inspiring book.

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