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After 2,507-mile bike ride from Maine to Florida, Goshen couple’s main takeaway is kindness

Myron-Bontrager-BikeRide.jpeg
Myron Bontrager
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Myron and Dana Bontrager own and operate the Electric Brew coffee shop. But from August to October, they were biking down the East Coast, starting in the Maine town of Calais on the Canadian border and ending in Key West, Florida 49 days later.

That’s exactly 2,507 miles — 59 miles per day.

WVPE’s Jakob Lazzaro sat down with them to discuss their journey.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

~~~

“We counted every mile,” Myron Bontrager said.

“It’s easy to talk about the tough things — the hard days, and so on. But one of the things that really popped out for me is just the kindness of people,” he said.

“One of the later days in the last week or so — we had a flat tire, and so we had pulled over to the side of the road and I was busy changing the tire. I had just pulled the tire off and was working on it, and all of a sudden this guy pulled up next to us,” he said.

“I saw this guy standing there — he said, ‘Do you guys need any help?’ I said ‘No, we’ve got what we need.’ ‘You sure? You want me to take you somewhere?’ And he offered like five different things — you could just tell he sincerely wanted to help us,” he said.

“Course, we had everything we needed, and then he said, ‘Do you have water?’ And I thought, well, we have four miles to go, we don't really need water. But he wanted to give something so badly, and I said sure, I’ll take some water. I’d love to have some water. So, he pulled this canister out of this cooler, and he gave us cold water,” he said.

“It was just a beautiful experience with a total stranger who extended kindness to us. It just refreshed me to understand that people out there — and we had a number of examples like that — where people’s kindness just lifted our spirits and just made our day,” he said.

~~~

“Just travelling at a slower pace and travelling on roads that you don’t normally travel on,” Dana Bontrager said. “I mean, you see things that you don’t normally see.”

“We really enjoyed just going through the cities — and people say, ‘How did you get through New York City?’ And once you got in New York City, they had wonderful bike paths. And it was actually a lot more fun to ride bikes through the city than it is to drive,” she said.

~~~

“We were on those country roads during North and South Carolina, and into Georgia. And they were just some peaceful, beautiful moments of just this tranquility, and riding along and seeing the countryside,” Myron said.

“We rode past a lot of cotton fields and tobacco fields, which obviously you don’t see around here. And as we were riding along, the context really started hitting me. If you took that specific geographic place and went back in time 200 years, what did it look like?” he said.

“African slaves in those fields, those very fields, as we were riding by,” he said. “And we chose to ride past there, past a place where people had no choice.”

“I had four or five days of just that rolling around in my head,” he said. “The context — the slow-moving bicycle, where you saw, you felt, you thought. That was pretty deep for me.”

~~~

“That impacted me as well,” Dana said. “And another thing that impacted me was just, you know, at our age — I’m 63, he’s 65 — just not taking for granted of our health. There’s some people our age that would not be able to physically do this.”

“One morning, he was still trying to get directions and I was out by the road, and there was this guy that came up. And I’m assuming he was a homeless guy — he told me he slept out in the trees. And he said every winter, he heads south, and he was kind of wondering what route we were taking. He said he’s done this for 20 years,” she said.

“And it struck me that we’re choosing to do this,” she said. “And at any point, if something got too hard for us, we could always quit.”

“That really impacted me, and I kept wondering — where’s he at now?”

~~~

“There were times that we were on highways that were just nerve-wracking with the noise. And you haven’t lived until you’ve heard a semi on your left, and a car buzzing up past on your right, and you’re stuck in that middle — and you can hear them both coming,” Myron said.

“As far as safety, there were times cars would buzz us on the side because they were angry at bicyclists on the road. We had some angry motorists that got way too close and scared the willies out of us. But we never had any accidents, so I guess things turned out okay,” he said.

“But yeah, it was pretty treacherous at times — and there were times I thought ‘I hope we get out of there alive,’ just because of the traffic,” he said.

~~~

The couple have been cycling for about 10 years, including a trip around Lake Michigan, a ride from Goshen to Pittsburgh and a ride from Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C.

But Myron said this East Coast trip was the “epic one.” 

“We’re not done cycling, so we’ll figure out what we do now,” he said. “But I don’t think we’ll tackle this one again.”

Contact Jakob at jlazzaro@wvpe.org or follow him on Twitter at @JakobLazzaro.

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