Rather than a step, Mike McGuire’s journey began with a misstep when he broke his fibula on New Year’s Eve Day, 2012.
“I got a road bike a few years ago and got really into it,” 11-year Mammoth resident and self-proclaimed ski bum, McGuire said. “I had been thinking about a cross-country road bike ride for the last year and a half, but I was trying to work out the timing of it. I didn’t want to miss spring skiing, because, well, it’s spring skiing in Mammoth.”
But on that fateful final day of 2012, it seemed McGuire’s plans would be made for him since a broken fibula and five weeks on crutches effectively ended his ski season for the year.
Once off crutches, he started biking on a trainer as part of his rehabilitation. Around this time, he asked his doctor, local Mike Karch, if a cross-country ride would be possible. After all, if biking was good for rehab, why not push it to the max?
Anyone who knows Dr. Karch won’t be surprised that he was all for the idea, and the plan was formally hatched. On April 3, McGuire’s friend dropped him off in Ventura, Calif. where he dipped his toes in the Pacific before heading off toward the Atlantic.
Sometime prior to his departure, however, McGuire decided to put a little more weight behind his adventure and ride for a cause. Mike’s grandfather, Ross McGuire suffers from both wet and dry Macular Degeneration, a medical condition that affects the retina and causes loss of vision and can lead to blindness. Ross can see light and movement but little else.
“My grandfather is 86-years old and hasn’t been able to read for years,” Mike said. “Not being able to read in your old age is terrible.”
And so, the Kentucky native who had owned his own landscaping business prior to moving to the Eastern Sierra, set up a fundraising account, a website and a blog and let the adventure begin. All of the money raised goes to research for a cure for Macular Degeneration. He called his trip “Coast to Coast for Macular Degeneration.”
“It’s something that has hope of being cured,” Mike said of the condition. “I like to see return on my investment. It’s about quality of life versus saving a life.”
When Grandpa Ross, who lives in Indianapolis was told of Mike’s plan, he asked why his grandson wouldn’t just drive his mustang, which was the car Mike drove in high school and what his grandfather remembers.
Today McGuire drives a van, and as he said with a chuckle, “No one wants to give money to a guy driving a van across the country.”
So, with only his end date and place in mind (Mike purchased tickets for a June music festival on the east coast), and a rough draft of how he wanted to get there, Mike began to chart his course.
He touched on 14 states — Calif., Nev., Ariz., Utah, Colo., Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Mass., and New York — during the trip, which took about two months and covered more than 4,200 miles. He was rained on “a bunch,” snowed on four times, and nearly missed being directly in the path of tornadoes.
“It’s bound to be a roller coaster,” Mike said. “Weather can make things challenging, but it also made it more epic.”
He found that even though Kansas is flat, that doesn’t mean it’s a great place for road biking. “A flat road is not good without a tailwind,” he commented.
He saw his grandfather in Indianapolis, who told him not to listen to the naysayers. “You’re doing what you like to do for a good cause,” Ross said.
Utah was the highlight of his trip, geologically, but it did cause him one minor issue when he found himself out of food one Sunday morning and realized nothing was open in the nearest tiny town and the next town was 60 miles away.
“All I had was oatmeal, energy bars and an orange, so here I was cooking oatmeal on the side of the road for lunch,” he said.
But no matter where he went, he found one thing to be consistent: “People come out of the woodwork for cyclists.”
McGuire had never done any touring or fundraising, and was blown away by people’s generosity and genuine interest in what he was doing.
“The highlight of the trip was the people,” Mike said. “I had started to lose faith in humanity, but this reminded me that people are genuinely good. They were nice to this long-haired guy who didn’t always smell the best and took him out to the bar and introduced him to their friends. It helped with the cynicism I had developed for people.”
McGuire was given free lodging a few times along the way (although the majority of the time he camped), free meals, and sometimes people would just hand him $10 and tell him to get a beer on them somewhere down the road.
He likened it to “hitting the reset button,” and said it was a huge eye-opening experience.
“I did get some Jesus jokes as well as some Forrest Gump jokes along the way,” he said, smiling. “I also had some people ask me how I could afford to do something like this. They wanted to know if I was independently wealthy.”
McGuire said he went on a bare bones budget. “You only need $2,000-$3,000 for a trip like this. My one word of advice, however, for anyone thinking of trying it would be to double your food budget!”
The trip also made him realize what people are capable of.
“There are days where everything in you is telling you to stop but you stay with it and you persevere,” Mike said. “I definitely questioned my sanity along the way and some days I just wanted to kick the bike, but I couldn’t fail … that wasn’t an option.”
While he may have encountered some crazy weather, McGuire was fortunate to only have one flat tire during the entire ride, something unheard of for a tour of that distance. It happened a mere 150 miles from the Atlantic.
He also avoided any accidents and only “dropped the bike” once when he forgot he had tightened down the straps on his pedals and came to a stop. Mike does not ride in clipless pedals with fancy bike shoes. He chooses to rock sandals with metal cage pedals, instead.
“I like the air between my toes, plus when you get there, you have comfortable shoes,” he said.
“So many people would tell me they wished they could do what I was doing,” McGuire said. “My reply was ‘What are you waiting for?’ Don’t think about it for too long. As Warren Miller said, ‘If you don’t do it this year, you will be one year older when you do.’”
At press time, Mike had raised a little over $1,900. You can learn more about his trip, plus donate to his cause at www.coasttocoastformaculardegeneration.com.
You can also see Mike this summer performing with his local band, The Core Shots, at Bluesapalooza and Mammoth Rocks.