Bike pedaling sea to sea: a life-affirming odyssey

"When you're riding a bike, you smell everything, including the road kill and how fresh it is,'' Linda Osmundson said of her 3,836-mile trek across the country.

Published August 22, 2006

ST. PETERSBURG - The 10th day was the craziest.

Somewhere east of Elko, Nev., gale-force gusts blasted Linda Osmundson's bicycle from beneath her. She fell hard but popped right up.

Grabbing the handlebars to wrestle up the bike, Osmundson fought a fierce crosswind that blew the Bianchi parallel to the ground like a flapping piece of paper. Finally she forced down the wheels and walked the bike for a mile.

It amounted to the day's dessert. An earlier spill, a tough climb up a peak and a face-stinging rainstorm preceded the blow-down.

"I keep hearing in my head, 'God is graciously preparing you," ' Osmundson said. 'For what?' I keep asking."

Perhaps faith in the idea of hanging in, whatever happens.

More than a month later, Osmundson, CASA's executive director, poured a dollop of the Pacific Ocean into the Atlantic Ocean near Portsmouth, N.H.

It symbolized completion of a 3,836-mile two-wheeled trip across the United States, an expedition organized by New Hampshire-based America by Bicycle.

About 35 riders began the journey June 3 in San Francisco. Most were in their 40s, 50s, or 60s. Osmundson, 57, was one of 20 who made it all the way, coast to coast. It took 52 days.

"It was a life-changing experience in the sense that, first of all, you don't know if you can do it," Osmundson said. Her board at CASA - which stands for Community Action Stops Abuse - granted her a leave of absence for the trip.

Part of the reward came weeks into the odyssey. "Knowing you can do it when you're tired, knowing you can do it day after day," she said. Sometimes a week of riding would bring four "centuries," or 100-mile days.

America rolled out like slow-motion video, day after day, in a way that passengers in a car or plane would never experience. Every day offered a new sensory experience.

"When you're riding a bike, you smell everything, including the road kill and how fresh it is," Osmundson said.

Mountains provided grandeur - and screaming muscles - as riders climbed them. Flying downhill, Osmundson's hands would go to sleep from squeezing the brakes too long.

At least one scenic overlook turned out impressive in its own Midwestern way. It was a feed yard in Dodge City, Kan.

"Cattle as far as you could see," Osmundson said.

The group pedaled through cornfield canyons, passed buggy-borne Amish as far west as Missouri and tackled some of its toughest climbs in New Hampshire mountains.

On the Fourth of July, small-town America showed red, white and blue, baseball and picnics.

Dairy Queens proved to be oases. "The ice cream tasted like gold," Osmundson said.

Farther on, a minister bought ice cream for some cyclists. Then he peeled handed a $20 bill to a rider. "Buy some tomorrow, too," he said.

On a section of the Erie Canal, a crewman showed Osmundson how to fill and empty one of the canal's operative devices. "He was quite proud of his lock."

Meanwhile, friends sent care packages and people she had never heard of sent encouraging e-mails, Osmundson said. Ken Fong, who owns Northeast Cycles in St. Petersburg, arranged an emergency shipment to Osmundson of a vital piece of equipment.

Osmundson returned in time to attend a directors meeting of the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence earlier this month. It was in Saddlebrook, a 75-mile one-way trip from Osmundson's house.

She rode her bike, of course. Is there any other way?