November 7, 2011
Mission of mileage: Man tours across country on bicycle
NEVADA, Mo. — He knows he doesn’t look like Lance Armstrong. He really doesn’t care.
All that matters to Frank Briscoe is that he set out to do something and he did it. He rode across the United States on a bicycle.
Sure, people do it all the time, a couple thousands annually, in fact. But Briscoe is 65. He has a teddy bear physique. And it was one of the hottest summers on record.
He also has had a total knee replacement and a colon resection. In short, he’s an old guy on a bicycle, and that’s what he calls himself.
“And yet I was still able to make it across America,” he said last week in a visit outside Joplin’s Spokes & Spandex Bike Shop“. It’s just what you set your mind to. That’s what I’m proving. You don’t have to look like Lance Armstrong; just get out and live your dream.”
Briscoe grew up in Crystal Lake, Ill., a suburb of northwest Chicago. Like most kids, he rode a bike until he could drive.
His idea for a cross-continental ride was born as a Boy Scout in 1957.
“I thought, ‘I’m going to do that someday’,” he said. “I just didn’t know it would take (this long) to do it.”
About five years ago, he began logging serious miles, about 17,000, more or less.
Then he took on the challenge of the MS150 bike ride and heard a speaker who was living with multiple sclerosis.
“That touched me very dearly,” he said. “Inspiration and motivation are key elements for me. I was blessed to have been inspired by a very wise man, who just before he passed at age 77 said to me, ‘don’t wait until you’re 65 to begin enjoying life. Do it now while you’re healthy and able.’”
So in May, just two months before turning that magic age, Briscoe packed five fast-drying T-shirts, a towel, a headlamp, a helmet-mounted video camera, an air mattress, a sleeping bag, extra bike gear and his laptop for blogging.
His goal: make it across the states in three distinct stages, and raise $10,000 for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
He traveled by minivan to Virginia to meet up with the Bike the US for MS group, set to depart from Yorktown, Va.
May 31, he didn’t sleep so well, as documented in his blog entry: “My anticipation of facing the most challenging test of endurance and determination for me yet, wondering to myself is this Old Guy up to the test. I keep telling myself ‘yes I can, yes I can,’ just like the Little Engine That Could.”
On June 1, after a dip of the bike tires in the Atlantic Ocean, he headed out on his red, white and blue road bike dubbed “Spirit” on a westward journey on the Trans-American Bicycle Route.
Along the way Briscoe tackled the heat and wind of prairies and the steep climbs of mountains.
“It’s hard to believe how slow I ride compared to everyone else on this crew. It’s the hill thing and lack of food,” he wrote on June 3 after putting in 88 miles near Charlottesville, Va.
The next day, he would climb 4,969 feet in about 43 miles.
His payoff: the joy of coasting downhill.
“I love downhill riding as much as I hate climbing them. Any idea how fast an overweight person of my stature can go on a bicycle? Pretty fast … I made a video of my ride down; my highest speed clocked was 48.2 mph,” he blogged at the end of the day.
Briscoe celebrated the end of his tour with the MS group on Aug. 1 in San Francisco with a dip of the bike tires in the Pacific Ocean. There, he reclaimed his minivan, which had been used by the group as a support vehicle, and drove to Anacortes in upper northwestern Washington.
Victory in Virginia
The second stage saw Briscoe strike out on his own, cycling along the Pacific Coast, after which he once again was reunited with his minivan to begin his vehicular trip across America to the farthest point south: Key West, Fla.
There, he began his third stage on the bike: a 1,400-mile leg north along the Atlantic Coast.
His destination: the intersection from which he began 126 days before. Along the way, he successfully navigated muggy, mosquito-ridden swamplands and across a landscape devastated by Hurricane Irene. His showers often were under garden hoses, his beds often the floor of a public building — a school, a fire station, a wilderness rescue center.
In Yemassee, S.C., (population 867) he was given the key to City Hall, where he bunked for the night.
“It took me four years to plan and save for the crossing. It took the inner strength garnered from the hundreds of folks I met on the crossing, as well as the support and kind words of the readers of this journal, my friends one and all to accomplish the crossing. The crossing of America has been so much more than a physical adventure — it has been a journey of self-discovery,” Briscoe said.
On Oct. 4, he made it to the intersection of state highways 156/106 and 5 at 1:05 p.m.
“By the Grace of God I had successfully completed this 54 year promise to myself to one day ride across America on a bicycle,” he blogged that day.
Distance traveled from corner to corner crossing America: 6,343 miles. Of that, he rode his bicycle 5,275.
He returned home to Nevada on Oct. 15.
“My ride made me a new person. And I have a lot more pride in America,” he said last week after a trip into Joplin to visit Spokes & Spandex. “We may have empty storefronts, empty towns, and that needs work. But the beauty and strength of our country is in our people.”
Without hesitation, Briscoe said he would go across country on a bicycle again.
“The world is much bigger now,” he said. “I have a ‘Wanderlust’ spirit. I think maybe next time I’ll start at the headwaters of the Mississippi on the Great River Trail and work my way down to New Orleans.
“I’m doing a lot of reading now — travel books, you know, like ‘Charlie & Me.’ By Steinbeck. Who knows what inspiration I’ll find”?