Zach Dickstein (left) and Cale Yates (right) take a break for a photo during their 3,806 mile bike trek.
By Dianne Girmus
The Nebraska Signal
Back in the 1890’s, Catherine Lee Bates, was visiting Colorado Springs and a trip up the mountains inspired her to write a poem about the beauty, she saw. That poem became the U. S. patriotic song, “America the Beautiful” that portrays the beauty and diversity of the U. S.—celebrating its vast landscapes, historical landmarks and spirit of its people.
This past summer, two young men from Chicago had the privilege of being able to experience the beauty and magnitude of that song.
2009 Fillmore Central graduate Cale Yates, 32, son of Deb and Steve Yates of Geneva, and his friend, Zach Dickstein, 30, husband of Melanie and son of Ron and Barbara Dickstein of Deerfield, Ill., pedaled and rode their bicycles across the United States, riding a total of 3,806 miles and ascending over 122,000 cumulative feet across 16 states.
The two young men began celebrating the words of that famous song, “from sea to shining sea” on April 11 when they dipped the back wheels of their bikes into the Pacific Ocean, to begin their journey and two months later, on June 10, placed their front wheels into the Atlantic Ocean, near Portland, Maine, concluding their trip. The sixteen states were: California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.
It was fate—the two met at the Hexe Coffee Company in Chicago, where both were employed, both sharing the love of cycling and soon all their conversations turned into a reality plan. So many details—best route, best time of year to avoid snow on the mountains and 100+ temps in the desert. And so much more to consider!
“It didn’t take long to plan as Zach had a lot of years of experience with bike camping,” Yates said. “Once we got going, we would plan the next few days on the ride.”
Taking the Amtrack South West Chief to Los Angeles so they could depart from Venice Beach on April 11—Yates peddling his Fuji Traverse 1.7 and Dickstein on his Specialized Diverge—“Grand” Style road bike, averaging 60-65 miles per day and then when the terrain became easier—70-75 miles per day on the second half of the trip, with a wide variety of roads traveled, ranging from the shoulder of 1-15 in California, state highways, country roads, trails and even dirt roads in the mountains of Vermont.
The words of that famous song echoed around them.
“We saw truly “spacious skies” in the west, “endless waves of grain” throughout the Great Plains and Midwest, in Colorado, incredible colorful and majestic mountains,” Dickstein said. “Food was a major focus on the trip—burning an incredible amount of calories every day,” Dickstein said. “I would usually eat some cold oatmeal, a banana and protein bar in the morning before cycling and continue to snack the rest of the day, stopping at gas stations, grocery stores and at fast food places for dense calories. At night, a favorite was refried beans and avocado on a flour tortilla.”
They stayed with family and friends a few times, but camped throughout the trip, using their own personal equipment, in a variety of places—state parks, national forests, private camping grounds, RV Parks and more. Didn’t go to a single laundromat—washed whenever they had a place to stay or at hotels. Lots of campgrounds had showers, so they washed their clothes in them at night.
In general, the weather was pretty good, with the most severe being in (you guessed it) Nebraska where they were met by strong headwinds, rain and storms, one even “driving them” to a hotel in McCook.
The young men were blessed daily with acts of kindness from the people they met, “crowning this country’s good with brotherhood.” They met so many people from different walks of life who were genuinely curious about them and their trip, offering kind and helpful words and good deeds.
“We were blessed with incredible hospitality from strangers, one man in Illinois buying us coffee and bagels and, most notably, a man in Utah let us stay overnight in his basement, shower and do laundry—topping it all off with breakfast in the morning!” Dickstein said.
Yates said, “We went through sprawling metros, sparse farmland and everywhere in between and met more people than we can remember wanting to know what we were doing. So, that vastness, uniqueness, friendliness and curiousness all lends itself to the beauty that is inherent in our country.”
Few countries contain as much diversity as the U. S. Wherever you are, wherever you go, there’s always something to see—Dickstein stating that Utah was his favorite state for all of its diversity with its high snow-covered peaks, red canyons, desert landscapes—breathtaking views every day.
“Each state offered us unique experiences. When you’re traveling on a bicycle, you feel more amongst everything. You’re moving much slower so you have time to really take in what’s around you, rather than just passing through,” Yates said. “We were going through a very picturesque canyon in Utah, a huge lightning bolt cracked, thunder rolled right afterwards and then the rain came down—feeling like it was out of a movie.”
“The trip was a spectacular thing to do—an incredible journey with physical and mental challenges with no two days being the same. Great sense of accomplishment. I saw the country, met amazing people, saw fantastic scenery, learned a ton about myself and the world around me,” Dickstein said. “We were blessed to ride through so many different, amazing things. No pictures or videos could capture the true beauty that we saw.”
Yates and Dickstein saw, experienced and, today, share the feelings of Catherine Lee Bates—our great country is “America the Beautiful.”