Laie man bikes across the U.S. mainland

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Mike Weber in California

[Story by Mike Foley, originally published in Kaleo, June 2010; photos courtesy of Mike Weber]

So, what are you going to do this summer? If you’re looking for adventure, you’ll have to go a long way to top Mike Weber, an associate professor of physics at Brigham Young University–Hawaii, who recently completed a 2,884-mile bike ride across the mainland U.S.

Weber, 53, explained that up until 2005 he was basically a runner and had completed a number of marathons, “but then I started having a lot of injuries that just wouldn’t go away. That’s why I bought a 27-speed road bike, and for a couple of years I would run and bike.”

Then in 2008 another long-distance cyclist from Laie — Eric Marler, Executive Vice President of Hawaii Reserves, Inc., who road cross-country in 2008 —“sparked my interest,” Weber said. “In late 2008 I really started training seriously for this.”

“Back then I was doing maybe 200 miles a week,” Weber continued, noting he often rode from Laie to Dole Plantation near Wahiawa — a distance of about 50 miles round trip — “Monday through Friday, and Saturday I would do something longer. But then in the last six months or so of the end of 2009 I started riding around 300 miles a week.”

In addition to the adventure and exercise, Weber said he undertook the journey to help raise funds for the nonprofit, volunteer-run Spastic Paraplegia Foundation co-founded by his brother: “The somewhat rare disease has confined my brother to a wheelchair,” he added. He also pointed out only one of his 15 other fellow riders used the trip for fundraising.

“I paid a company who facilitates cross-country rides, so any money donated goes to the foundation.” The company escorted the bike riders across the country in two vans — one for the mechanic and the other carrying luggage.

Weber recalled he and his bike flew to Los Angeles — research showed bike fees ranged from about $100-$200 each way, and the group left Costa Mesa on May 18. “We started with a wheel-dipping ceremony in the Pacific Ocean,” he said. “At the end we also rode to the beach at Tybee Island, east of Savanna, Georgia, and dipped our wheels into the Atlantic.”

Asked to describe a typical day on the road, Weber said, “We would wake up around 5:30 each morning, eat breakfast at the hotel at 6 o’clock, and then we would start riding. After 30 or 40 miles, we would stop and get some food — Granola bars, bananas, refill our water jugs. Then after another 30 or 40 miles, we would stop for lunch. There was one day, however, where we road a total of 144 miles, and we had three stops.” He added that all the participants had to be able “ride fast — about 15-20 miles an hour. In other words, it was for people who were dead-serious about going fast. We averaged about 15 miles per hour, but one day in Texas with tailwinds we averaged over 22 miles per hour.”

“We’d usually finish riding around 3 or 4 o’clock, check into a hotel, shower and eat dinner. Most of the time I went to bed between 7:30 and 8 o’clock at night: My legs weren’t really tired, because I was in shape, but my body was physically beat. I brought along all these books, thinking I would have all this free time. Ha!” He also pointed out he lost about 10 pounds during the ride, “and when my wife saw me, she said I looked anorexic.”

Weber said riding up a 10,000-foot mountain in Arizona was one of the hardest parts. “There were steep switch-backs, and it snowed on us,” he recalled. “I hadn’t brought any winter clothes, and it was freezing. Another difficult thing, when we got into the rural South, was it seemed that everybody owned a dog and we were getting chased every 5-10 minutes and, of course, we would have to sprint to outrun the dogs.”

“There were also plenty of other times when it was just hard. One hard day, for example, we had strong headwinds. That was just plain discouraging. We also rode through a lot of poor and dying communities. That was a real eye-opener for me.”

He added that during his cross-country journey he used every one of the 27 speeds on his bike, but never had a flat tire, “although one guy had 11.”

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Weber in Georgia

“Otherwise, most days were fabulous, and they always seemed to end up on a good note. Most of the time we were riding on state highways and country roads. It was amazing,” Weber said.

“When we finished, everybody was super-ecstatic: It was very difficult physically, but it was a fun trip. Everybody got along well,” he continued. However, he admitted that by the last three-or-four days, “I just wanted to get home.”

Asked if he would repeat his ride, Weber quickly said, “No. With all the training, it was a big sacrifice for my family. The last few months I was cycling four hours a day, plus more on Saturdays. It was worth it, for once, but otherwise this was just a one-time deal.”

Asked about his future cycling plans, Weber said he’s going “to try running again, to see how it goes. I’m not going to be doing anything extreme.”

“I also learned you’ve got to persist. For example, my daughter called and asked what I did when it snowed, and I said we just kept going. That’s a good lesson.”

For more information on Weber’s ride and the Spastic Paraplegia Foundation, read his blog at http://rideforspf.blogspot.com.