Everyone fantasizes of the day they can retire and chase a dream they’ve had for many years.
Tim McClaren retired at the end of 2011 and within six months was living out his dream of riding a bicycle 4,470 miles across the United States after a member of his church made the trip 25 years earlier.
“Ever since , I thought it was something I would like to do,” the Lima man said.
The trip across the country was mostly a dream for many years, something to daydream about when he saw someone on a bike or thought of retirement.
But as he neared the end of a 30-plus year career as an audit manager for the Ohio Department of Taxation, the 50-year-old McClaren began thinking more and more about living out one of his greatest dreams. He still had his health and believed he could make it despite knowing there would be some hard climbs through the Rocky Mountains.
“There’s always this fear about what people will you run into and whether they will be friendly. Will you break down in the middle of nowhere? Will my legs holdup?” he said.
He began reading books by people who rode across the country and began planning. He also peppered with questions the widow of the man who gave him the idea because she drove a vehicle with her husband during the 1986 trip.
“I wanted to get a flavor of what to look for,” he said.
While McClaren was planning his dream, he quickly realized how much planning it takes. He had to find someone to mow the lawn and watch the house. Utility and other bills still had to be paid.
But even more than the planning, he had to get his wife, Kim, on board. He needed her to drive a camper ahead, set up and support him.
At first, his wife was against it. Although she works for Shawnee schools and had the summer off, she didn’t want to spend it following her husband as he rode his bike.
“She wasn’t really excited to go. She had to commit a whole summer to this adventure,” he said.
Eventually, McClaren talked his wife into it. After all, it’s a lot easier to have someone carrying all your equipment in a nice place to sleep, their camper, than toting everything on the bike and living out of a tent.
“She was a real trooper,” he said.
After she left her husband each morning while he rode from one location to another, she set up the camper, helped with meals and was a companion to experience some of the great sights in the country such as Yellowstone National Park, he said.
McClaren’s wife enjoyed the trip, too. Her parents went along for the journey only planning to stay two weeks before heading home but they stayed along for the entire journey.
McClaren also knows he owes his wife big for her sacrifice.
“She’s always wanted to take a trip to Hawaii so I think that’s something we will have to work on in the next couple years,” he said.
In many ways, riding was the easy part. The planning and preparation ahead of time was key to a successful adventure. McClaren would have to have enough water, at least four bottles each day or his fun in the sun could turn into a dehydration nightmare.
He also had to take in a lot more calories than he had ever eaten before on a regular basis. That meant big meals and food with him on the bike. Cliff bars and gel packets were his food of choice.
“I couldn’t get enough food. I lost 10 pounds over the course of the trip and I’m not a big guy to begin with,” he said.
He also had to find a campground to stay at every night for the entire route and he had to know where the campgrounds were ahead of time. No guessing, or hoping while asking a local. Most were along the way but some were as far as 10 miles off route, one way. The farthest ones, his wife would pick him up and drop him off the next morning to start at the same location, he said.
The route McClaren chose was laid out by Adventure Cycling Association, and it was a tested route by thousands of cyclists. McClaren rode 60 to 70 miles a day on average, took a day off each week to rest his tired legs while giving him and his family plenty of time to take in sights along the way.
Some of the most magnificent sights along the way came in the Rocky Mountains but that meant getting over some killer climbs.
“The most difficult part was the climbing. You had some elevations you had to climb and it would be multiple points throughout the day,” he said.
To train for the ride, McClaren began riding in January 30 to 40 miles a day. That got bumped up as the weather warmed and he got closer to his start date of June 5. McClaren started in Astoria, Ore. And completed his journey on Aug. 23, in Yorktown, Va.
The trip, for the most part went off without any problems. He kept his wheels in contact with the road the whole time. McClaren also began his days at first light and tried to be off the bike by noon to avoid the heat during this particularly hot summer.
“Even by noon it was getting to be 90-some degrees,” he said.
While he faced some days with temperatures higher than 100 degrees, he initially rode through 30-degree temperatures in Oregon, he said.
He also rode in the rain two days, which was surprising that was all the rain he encountered.
McClaren said he never once thought about quitting. While some days were tough, no day was too tough, he said.
“I was pretty determined,” he said.
While dipping his rear wheel into the Pacific Ocean at the beginning and his front wheel into the Atlantic Ocean at the end of his trip was his biggest thrill, there were other unforgettable memories made along the way.
“Yellowstone was just an amazing adventure. You have animals along the road. You have bison just walking along the road,” he said.
McClaren said the ride was one of the great experiences of his life. He would recommend it to anyone, no matter the age after running into people 15 years older than he was making the same trip.
“Do it. Don’t wait. If you got the health and the time to do it I would recommend it to anyone. It was an amazing adventure,” he said.