By Jenny Neyman
Cindi Rauch’s bike ride July 10 would be enough to count as a major achievement for most folks. The diminutive, blond, 60-year-old rode 110 miles from Girdwood to Soldotna over 3,642 feet of elevation gain — parts of it into a stiff headwind — all the while dressed a little thinly to mitigate the chilly weather.
That exertion, alone, could warrant a giant congratulatory feast with an extra helping of pride, yet that was a mere crumb in the larger goal Rauch had dished up for herself.
Rauch has spent about three months — 50 days, to be fittingly precise — riding a similar distance in every state. It was her 50 centuries in 50 states in 50 days tour, meaning: ride 100 miles in a different state every day for 50 straight days.
Alaska was the last state of her tour, so as she coasted into the parking lot of the Soldotna Visitor Information Center around 3:30 p.m. July 10, she not only was finishing her ride for the day, she was completing a massive goal that had been over a year in the dreaming, scheming, planning and accomplishing.
“I feel great. I’m glad that it’s done. It was just beautiful. This was a great way to end it,” she said.
Rauch, of Vancouver, Wash., started the riding portion of her journey in Hawaii at a minute past midnight May 21. But in many ways, the actual pedaling has been the easy part. The planning and logistical end of the endeavor has been much more difficult and time-consuming.
The idea to do the trip came about more than a year ago. Rauch has been an avid cyclist for about 10 years now, since a knee surgery forced the former physical education teacher to give up her beloved racquetball and find an activity that was kinder to her joints. She and her husband, Bill, got into bike touring when they rode through the San Juan Islands for their 30th anniversary.
In 2005, Rauch biked across the U.S. alone.
“I guess I’m just good at doing hard things,” she said.
Particularly — dreaming up difficult goals, having the wherewithal to begin them and the tenacity to see them through.
“I thought, after I rode across the country, I might park the bike in the garage, but I didn’t,” she said.
She heard of Dean Karnazes, who ran 50 marathons in 50 days in 50 states.
“I saw that and thought, ‘I wonder if I could ride a century (100 miles) in 50 states in 50 days?’ So I started playing around with a map to see if I could route it and not have so far to drive at the end of the day. ‘How would I do Hawaii, how would I do Alaska?’ And it just started coming together,” she said. “I didn’t want to be 80 years old and regret that I didn’t do the things that I wanted to do.”
She mentioned the idea to Bill, who raised an eyebrow but didn’t raise any objections. Bill died after a battle with cancer in November 2010, and Rauch found herself staring down the calendar toward her approaching 60th birthday. The 50 in 50 in 50 idea became more of a “when” than an “if.”
“The idea was never too far away from my thinking,” Rauch wrote in her blog chronicling her journey. “I planned a bit, and dreamed a bit, and kept myself in decent riding shape, just in case. Well, guess what? Case. This year I turn 60, and my idea has become a reality. The present I am giving myself is the opportunity and the resources to make this trip — 50 centuries, in 50 states, in 50 days.”
The planning began in earnest. What routes would she ride? How would she get to them? What gear would she bring? Where would she stay in between?
“Logistics, ‘The detailed coordination of a complex operation involving many people, facilities, or supplies.’ I love ’em. Which is good, because this trip has a lot of logistics. I have paid close attention to the time of year, the elevation gain of the route, the ‘linear efficiency’ of the route in relation to the state I’m going to next, the scenic beauty of the area we’re riding in, the personalities and riding styles of my companions, the mechanical condition of my bikes and other gear, and the list. Goes. On,” she wrote in her blog.
Rauch knew she couldn’t manage this undertaking alone, as she did her cross-country ride in 2005. She recruited four women to accompany her and drive her truck with all the gear. One completed the entire Lower 48 portion of her trek while the others met up for portions along the way, sometimes biking along with Rauch, other times not, but with at least one person always driving so Rauch could get from state to state for each ride.
“I knew I would need some support people — very specific people, easygoing people, not high-maintenance,” she said.
“People who would see someone through to the end because I couldn’t have somebody quit on me in the middle of Arkansas. They said, ‘Yeah, they wanted to do it.’ I bought the gas and all the food and made the accommodations, arrangements and did all the routing.”
In 24 states Rauch found accommodations through Warm Showers — an online network that connects touring cyclists with hosts willing to let them at least camp out in their yard and use their facilities. She stayed with friends in four states, including Alaska, and used public and private campgrounds in the other 22. Her gear list was extensive and exceedingly particular, each item evaluated for necessity, efficiency, reliability and packability. Her food list was just as preplanned, though she did budget for eight-hour riding days with snack stops every 10 to 15 miles, whether it be to refuel with food she brought, to sample local cuisine or just satiate an ice-cream craving.
Budgeting for the trip was another upfront climb, rivaling the difficulty of even the 4,180 feet of elevation gain she muscled through in New Hampshire. She started substitute teaching, after having taught more than 30 years ago before staying home with her kids, to generate some money. Much of the funds came from “dejunking” around her home, she said. She figured on paying an average of $4 a gallon for gas — totaling $2,500 for the more than 625 gallons she estimated would be needed to crisscross the southern, then northern, Lower 48. Airline tickets to Hawaii and Alaska were about $1,300 a pop. Daily expenses were budgeted at $40 for food and $25 for accommodations, with some extra padding to the budget to cover miscellaneous costs, such as tolls, parking, ferries and maintenance on the truck and her two bikes — a custom-built Rodriguez touring bike and a Litespeed Titanium Blue Ridge.
“I am thinking, and hoping, that when everything is said and done, the trip will cost around eight grand. Does that sound like a lot? For the ultimate road trip? I think it’s a bargain,” Rauch wrote in her blog.
She used a computer program to map out her routes and ended up rerouting in several states under advisement of
friends, hosts, area cyclists and other folks she met along the way.
“Most of it was good, some of it was pretty bad. It was pretty bad in New Jersey and Massachusetts. The worst thing that happened to me is a dog peed on my tent in Arkansas — that was bad. Then we had a terrible thunderstorm at Kaw Lake in Oklahoma,” she said.
She rode through 100-plus-degree heat in Oregon, 97-degree-heat with sopping humidity in New Hampshire, and a dust storm in Arizona’s Monument Valley that was so thick Rauch couldn’t see through it. The only injury came in South Carolina, where she and one of her riding partners wiped out crossing rain-slicked railroad tracks. Her friend needed her leg bandaged, and luckily a couple driving by had a first aid kit and the heart to help.
“I know the continuous riding days in May, June, and July will take its toll. But I also believe that the body is an amazing thing — it adapts. Perhaps you have had a job where the physical demands were high, and the first few days were pure torture. But as your body adapted, you were then able to do that same work, day after day, with no problem. That’s what I’m hoping,” Rauch wrote in her blog. “… There are those three contact points which need to be pampered — the hands, the butt, and the feet. All are important, and I will take care of them. But my trump card? Well, I like to think it’s my mindset.”
She knew starting out that a trip like this would not go off without a hitch. Not only were challenges expected, they were met with Rauch’s indefatigable, can-do attitude.
“Someone in an online blog figured that something ‘was bound to go wrong during my trip,’” Rauch wrote in her blog. “Seriously? Isn’t that what life is? Things planned, and then things mucking up those plans? The happiest people are those who can take those things that go wrong and mitigate them — reduce them to shrugs, a scratch of the head, and an idea to move forward. Color me happy.”
The actual riding portion of her trip began, fittingly enough, with a bit of a snafu, but one which Rauch overcame. Setting off at midnight for her ride in Hawaii — because she needed to catch a flight to California that afternoon, her trusted, 40-watt light wouldn’t work. Instead, she pulled out her much-dimmer headlamp and pedaled off into the night.
“It was dark. I would’ve loved a full moon, but the moon was nowhere to be found. I did find the rumble strip a bunch of times. Let’s just say the rumble strip served its purpose — it kept me awake,” she wrote in her blog entry.
She titles all her state log entries with a quote, and ends most entries with one, as well. For Hawaii, the quote is from the movie “Soul Surfer:” “I don’t need easy, I just need possible.”
Derivatives of that thought were a common motivator for Rauch throughout her trip, and come up in different eloquent variations in her blog, such as:
“Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?” — Robert Browning;
“Never let the body tell the mind what to do. The body is not tired if the mind is not tired.” — George Patton;
“Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.” — Johann Wolfgang von Goethe; and her own words of wisdom with which she signs off most her blog postings:
“Maybe you can’t, because you won’t.”
Rauch found ample inspiration to complete her task, especially in the kindness and generosity she experienced along the way.
“The people that you meet. It’s the best. I know that people get cynical about Americans but I am here to tell you that Americans are generous, wonderful, helpful people by and large,” she said.
And she, in turn, wants her 50 in 50 in 50 journey to be inspirational to others.
“It started as a personal quest, I just thought it was something I’m supposed to do. I think of it as a way to inspire other people,” she said. “… It’s fun because every now and then you hear back from somebody that you have affected.”
She got an email from a woman also named Cindi, who found Rauch’s online blog about her 2005 bike tour across the country after doing a Google search on her own name.
“And that blog was called, ‘My ride to no regrets,’ and she said that in July she started running and she was hoping to run a quarter mile without dying. And then she said, ‘But this Saturday I’m running a half marathon and I’m going to call it, ‘My run to no regrets.’ And it was this blog that she read that inspired her to start running and say, ‘I want to do something for myself,’ and it turned into her running a half marathon. So every now and then you get a little feedback,” Rauch said.
The feedback July 10 as she coasted to a stop of the day’s ride, and her journey, was overwhelmingly positive. Visitor
center staff had put up balloons and encouraging signs to cheer her on. And local cyclists kept her company along portions of the route. Jeffrey Kellard, of Anchorage, heard about Rauch’s journey, drove to Soldotna, rode out 20 miles to Sterling to meet Rauch and rode back into town with her.
“Some cyclists do riding like this, but how do you organize it all?” he said. “That’s the most amazing part — how do you organize 50 states in 50 days?”
Kjell Risung, president of the Kenai Peninsula Cycle and Ski Club, rode all the way from Girdwood to Soldotna with Rauch.
“I think it’s great. It’s quite an undertaking. That’s why I jumped at the opportunity to help her with this last leg. It’s a really neat thing to do, and I had the day off so there were no excuses,” he said.
Rauch said she was happy for the company, especially because she was unsure of what the route through Turnagain Pass would entail.
“This, today, was about 3,600 feet of elevation gain, so it was at the upper end (of what she’s ridden),” Rauch said. “Plus it was cold and we had a headwind the last part, but Kjell was in the front so I had it easier. And I was thinking about that as I was riding behind him, ‘Everybody’s been looking at my butt for about 48 days, and today I got to look at Kjell’s butt for the whole last part of the ride.’”
She’s had some route intel — and safety equipment — provided by the friends she stayed with in Soldotna, Jerilue and Mike Hopley.
“I was asking about the road to Anchorage, ‘Is there a good shoulder, is it a lot of climbing?’ And she says, ‘Well, wear bear
bells.’ And I laughed out loud, ‘Yeah, right.’ And she wrote back and said, ‘No, I’m not kidding, they see bears on that road.’ And then, four days later, I get some bear bells in the mail. And I have them,” Rauch said, jingling the bells attached to her seat post.
Jerilue and Rauch went to high school together and have kept in touch over the years.
“She was my niece’s PE teacher. I mentioned to Kelly (the niece) that you were doing this and she said, ‘Are you kidding me? That figures.’ So there’s no surprise that she would do it. I’m kind of surprised that anybody could do it, but if somebody could, it’d be her,” Hopley said.
It’s Mike’s summer profession as a fishing guide that sealed the deal of Alaska being the last stop in Rauch’s 50 in 50 in 50 journey.
“I thought about starting in Alaska, and everybody said, ‘End in Hawaii so you can lay on the beach.’ But I said, ‘Nah, I want to end and go fishing.’ I’ve never been here and so I thought, ‘What a great way to end it by riding to Soldotna and then go fishing for a couple days,’” Rauch said.
Like many things Rauch gets it in her head to do, that’s exactly what she did. She loaded her bike into the Hopleys’ truck, spent the next day halibut fishing in Cook Inlet and the day after king fishing on the Kenai River. Then it was time to pack up her bike and gear and head back home to Washington. On Saturday, her blog post ended with a fitting update:
“It is over. I am home, chillin’ and watching a Mariners game. The Rodriguez has been put together and I have sorted through my mountain of mail. I didn’t ride for three days, and that was long enough — I’m back in the saddle and loving it.”
For more information about Rauch and her journey, visit http://50centuriesin50statesin50days.blogspot.com.