ILION – To some, the thought of driving from the east end of the United States to the west may seem a daunting trip. How about bicycling it instead? One local man recently completed exactly such an undertaking – bicycling from Hampton Beach, NH, to the Pacific Ocean in Washington State.
Nate Laymon, a 2012 Ilion High School graduate, and his girlfriend Martha Howe, whom he met while attending Green Mountain College in Vermont, embarked on their journey May 23.
“(Martha’s) parents had done it and she wanted to make the trip too,” Laymon explained. “I said I’d do it with her. I basically just tagged along,” he added with a laugh.
“When Nate first told Larry and me that he was going to bike across the county with his girlfriend, we had a lot of different emotions,” Recalled Laymon’s mother, Rebecca Laymon. “We were excited for them, yet worried at the same time. We wanted to make sure he had the right equipment for his trip and that he was prepared.”
After talking with Howe’s parents, who had ridden cross country themselves, the Laymon’s felt somewhat reassured.
“You do worry about if they’re getting enough to eat and if they’re safe,” Rebecca Laymon said. “Nate called or texted every day to let us know where they were and how they were doing. We also followed Martha’s blog and her Instagram.”
Laymon and Howe stuck to a northerly path, passing through Vermont, New York, southern Ontario, Michigan, Wisconsin, South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Oregon and finally Washington. It took 56 days for the pair to cover the 3,611 mile distance.
“I don’t want to say it was stressful, but there were definitely days when I felt like I just didn’t want to ride that day,” Laymon said. “But we got up and rode anyway. And then there were other days, especially in the mountains, when it was so beautiful and you just want to ride more and explore.”
Laymon and Howe depended largely on the kindness of strangers to provide lodging and sometimes food, thanks in part to a mobile phone app that paired the duo with potential helpers – often fellow bicycle enthusiasts.
“That app was the best,” Laymon said with enthusiasm. “It helped us find people that put us up for the night, let us shower, made us dinner and breakfast.”
But it wasn’t always so easy.
“We did a lot of camping, especially out west,” Laymon said. “And somedays we would just knock on someone’s door and hope for the best. Maybe they’d let us pitch our tent in their yard, or even give us a bed for the night.”
Crossing the country in such a way led to Laymon and Howe meeting many people of all sorts.
“One of our best nights out was in Plover, Wis.,” Laymon said. “We stayed with a couple and they brought us to a neighborhood pool party. There were probably 20 people there and everyone was very friendly and interested in our story and experiences so far.”
At another point in their trip, the two met up with a couple from Texas who had quit their jobs to tour the country on their bicycles. The four rode together for a time.
“Overall, the people we met all across the country were great,” Laymon said. “Of course we met some interesting characters too, but most everyone was great.”
Food and lodging aside, the ride itself wasn’t always easy. Laymon rode a Trek 520 touring bicycle with four paniers and a pack on a rack over the back tire. All told, the bicycle and gear weighed about 70 lbs, Laymon said. Howe used a lighter-weight road bike, which the pair discovered wasn’t meant for such heavy use.
“There were a number of flat tires and near the end, we discovered the rim was cracked in eight places,” Laymon said. “It barely made it.”
The riders arrived at the west coast on July 24, and ceremoniously walked their bicycles onto the beach and let the Pacific Ocean lap the tires.
After resting and site-seeing with a family friend near Seattle for a week, Laymon and Howe took a flight back east.
Now, having graduated this past May with a degree in Natural Resource Management, Laymon is job hunting like most other recent college graduates. Unlike most of his fellow graduates, however, Laymon now has a new perspective on life.
“Not many people can say that they bicycled across the country,” noted Rebecca Laymon. “They saw some amazing things along the way. We’re glad they accomplished what they set out to do.”
“It’s changed how I look at a lot of different things,” Nate Laymon said. “I find myself slowing down and taking things in more. Especially when I’m driving. I feel like, I don’t have to go 70 mph. Why be in a hurry?”
“And I’m so much more aware of bicyclists and others on the road now,” he continued. “We had a couple close calls with drivers going fast and passing close. When a semi flies by at 70 mph it almost blows you over.”
His travels also satisfied Laymon that he wants to set up life in the Northeast/New England area.
“Out west there are some really beautiful areas, and a lot of dessert. I mean a lot. More than you realize. But this, the Northeast, is home to me,” he said.
To read the day-to-day progress of their trip, visit Howe’s blog at www.marthahowe.wordpress.com.