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Quest for the West - It's a Wrap!

A dream 43 years in the making can take many twists and turns. Not unlike the mountainous, circuitous route of the Trans America Bicycle trail winding from Yorktown, VA to the Oregon Coast. When Jeff first conceived of riding this trail at the age of 18, his notion was to cycle the 4,080 miles self contained and solo. At the age of 60, he found himself gratefully accepting the offer of his wife Karen and his dog Buddy, to be his support team and companions for the ride.

Friendship, support and companionship became the overarching themes for the ride. Jeff made many new friends along the way, and even found one of them waiting for him at the end of his ride. On June 29, 2019, Jeff dipped the front wheel of his bicycle into the Pacific Ocean on Heceta Beach in Florence, OR. Ringing him in with cow bells on the last mile of his journey were family and friends - including Roger Kennell and his wife Mary. Jeff met Roger in Chester, IL, and a bond formed that is destined to be a lifetime friendship.

Jeff’s Quest spanned two years due to emergency eye surgery in Missoula, MT in 2018. Resuming the trip in June 2019 took resolve and tenacity, proving that this undertaking was every bit as much mental as physical. The people Jeff met and experiences he had over the course of his Quest for the West will stay with him for a lifetime. Thank you for being part of the journey.

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The Florence OR celebratory group - missing Ron Brooks, Sharon Holland, and Carol and Rad Hatch

The Florence OR celebratory group - missing Ron Brooks, Sharon Holland, and Carol and Rad Hatch

The Griffin Five

Meeting new people on a cross country trek is a big part of the fun and adventure. But there is a special delight in serendipitous meet-ups with people you’ve known for years. Shaun Griffin is the recently retired Executive Director of Community Chest in Virginia City. It would be hard to name a person who has done more for the communities of Northern Nevada. Shaun is a tireless advocate for the underserved and a gifted poet. He is a member of the Nevada Writers Hall of Fame, and for years has conducted poetry workshops at the Northern Nevada Correctional Center. In addition to all of these notable achievements, he’s also a proud father and an avid cyclist. With eyes barely open in the wee hours of the morning in Dayville, OR, Karen looked out the window of the trailer to check weather conditions. A man was walking through the campground, and the way he was walking looked exactly like Shaun Griffin. To the great surprise and delight of everyone, Shaun, his two sons and two friends were camping in the same park! They started their ride in Oregon, and they’re making their way to Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Tailwinds all the way guys, and an abundance of great memories to take with you forever.

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Jalet and Pat

Word travels amongst cyclists on the Trans Am, and one consistent message has been: “When you make it to Mitchell, OR, you’ve got to stay at the Spoken Hostel!” Staying in hostels can be commonplace for cross country cyclists. However, when you have a van, trailer and dog in tow, that’s another story. Needing a place to stay in Mitchell, Karen and Jeff were greeted warmly by Jalet and Pat, who started the Spoken Hostel as part of their mission with the Praise Assembly. From the moment Jalet was inspired by the idea of starting a hostel, miracles have fallen into place to make it a place of welcome and community. Today it serves cyclists and travelers who may have formerly passed Mitchell by. Build it and they will come was Jalet’s motto, and they are full up most nights. When Karen and Jeff stopped in, no bunks were available. Pat and Jalet offered that the van and trailer could overnight in their small parking lot and the Ross duo could avail themselves of all of the amenities of the hostel. Pat even backed the trailer across the highway and into a tight spot in the parking lot. Watching that was a true miracle.

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Linda

One of the first things you see as you enter Dayville, OR is a giant ice cream cone hanging off the side of a vintage building. Twisted Treasures and Gnarly Goods offers Oregon beers on tap, milkshakes, ice cream cones, breakfast, lunch, coffee and local handicrafts. The invitation for ice cream was enough to lure Jeff inside, where he met Linda, the hard working owner. Linda is the kind of person you meet for the first time and feel you’ve known her your whole life. She radiates good energy. Especially on this late Friday afternoon, as she was looking forward to closing up shop on Saturday to celebrate her son’s wedding.

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Dennis

The South Fork RV Park is nestled on six scenic acres next to the John Day River in Dayville, OR. Dennis is the owner and manages South Fork’s day to day operations. When Jeff and Karen arrived at South Fork, Dennis was watching his son cut the grass. Their dog, Mo, an adopted Border Collie, was diligently herding the riding lawnmower. Mo was fired from farm life. He had no instinct for herding cattle. Lawnmowers are another story. Dennis sports a hat he has owned and worn for 26 years. His best friend brought it to him from Australia, and it has been keeping Dennis’ head warm, dry and protected ever since.

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Water for Cyclists

The experience of riding a bicycle across the United States has been a testament to the kindness and generosity of people. On a 66-mile stretch of winding forest road crossing three major mountain passes through the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest in eastern Oregon, there are virtually no services or places to resupply with life’s basics — like water. Imagine your gratitude when you spy this sign along the roadway.

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Ron and Ron

The Canyon Station Cafe in Cambridge, ID is a mellow meeting place on a sunny Tuesday morning. Ron C. and Ron S. have been friends and colleagues for over 20 years. Together they travel the circuit of gun and antique shows throughout the West. Ron C. is a Vietnam veteran with two Purple hearts. He was a sniper in the military, sells guns, and doesn’t own one. Ron S. has lived in Idaho all his life. He was an art teacher and the owner of the local pawn shop. He now creates shadow boxes with a Western flair, that he sells on the circuit.

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Li

Sundays are quiet in the tiny farm town of Council in Central, Idaho. A quaint Main Street is devoid of activity, save one man — Li, standing outside the only Chinese restaurant in town. Li invites Jeff and Karen into his restaurant — a converted bar complete with green Naugahyde bar stools and a pool table. A sign out front offers “Free Pool!” to customers. There is no menu at Li’s. Li is the owner and only employee. Once he has you seated at a family style dinner table, he asks what you like to eat. “Sweet or spicy? Chicken, beef or shrimp? Vegetables? Rice?” Once the basics have been established, he steps behind the bar and begins cooking. Li is originally from Shanghai China. All of his relatives still live there. He makes a modest living with his restaurant, fueled 80% by tourists. He says “Local people like to eat at home. Summers are good, Winters are hard.” He lives in an apartment above the bar across the street, and his 12 hour days are dedicated to a son in college and one in high school. When asked if Jeff may take his photograph, he flashes a shy grin and says “Thank you, thank you.”

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Colby the Queen and Molly the Princess

Whitebird Days is a pre-summer celebration that swells the population of the tiny town of Whitebird, ID to bursting. Festivities include a parade, rodeo, food and fun. Jeff met Colby and Molly as they were waiting to enter the parade. Colby is the Grangeville Border Days Rodeo Queen, and Molly is the Rodeo Princess. They were blinging up their horses with glitter when Jeff happened upon them. Meeting rodeo royalty gave Jeff an appetite for a huge piece of Huckleberry pie to honor Whitebird’s tradition.

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Vladimir

As Jeff proceeds West, he is encountering many cyclists undertaking the same feat heading East. At cycling speed, life is less of a blur. In fact, you might even see an image coming towards you that focuses a feeling of familiarity and a recollection of a younger you. Vladimir appeared around a switchback in Northern Idaho near Kooskia. He is from the Ukraine, the same place Jeff’s Grandfather is from. Vladimir said he recognized Jeff as Ukrainian, and laughed that they were both wearing the same gloves. He is taking three months to travel across America, relishing the experience of meeting people along the way and loving each day on the bike.

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Jeff and Roger - June 12, 2019

On a Bluebird morning, Jeff mounted his bicycle on Lolo Pass, resuming his Quest for the West. Today’s ride is dedicated to the experience of meeting people whose essence stays with you forever. Last year, on the Illinois bank of the Mississippi River, Jeff met Roger Kennell. Roger was riding the Trans Am with his friend Joe. Roger and Joe continued to ride with Jeff, leapfrogging all the way to Missoula. In solidarity, Roger intended to return and ride the remainder of the Trans Am through Idaho and Oregon with Jeff. This final leg of Jeff’s ride is dedicated to Roger, who drove all the way out West only to suffer a serious medical condition that required surgery and ended his ability to ride (for now). In anticipation of Jeff resuming his ride, here are the words of encouragement Roger shared with Jeff: “As you prepare to leave tomorrow, store in your mind what Mako said to me last year at the Otis Cafe.  This short Chinese woman came up to me to ask if I was on the Trans Am and explained she had done the Southern Tier earlier in the year.  With arms spread and with joy radiating from her face she said: “Isn’t it wonderful to be on a bicycle?  Each day is a joyous wonder of discovery.  In the middle of the desert I was bucking a headwind.  I  laid my bike down and did a dance of joyful thanks in the middle of the road.  When I was done I picked my bike up and had a tailwind to push me on.”

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Quest for the West - Part II

2019 brings a fresh start to Jeff’s Quest for the West. On June 12, he will pick up where he left off in July 2018 when emergency eye surgery brought a dramatic end to his bicycle ride across the United States. Jeff, Karen and Buddy will soon be making their way back to Missoula, Montana where Jeff will be riding the Transamerica Trail from the border of Montana through Idaho and on to Florence, Oregon. On this map it looks easy. Last year, Jeff cycled 3,200 miles spanning the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, the Appalachian Range of Kentucky, the Ozarks of Missouri, the flats of Kansas, the Colorado Rockies, the Wind River Range of Wyoming, and the Bitterroots of Montana. What’s left? Only the Sawtooths of Idaho, Cascades of Oregon, and coastal range. Eight hundred fifty miles of cycling bliss. Follow us as the Quest for the West resumes, with many more interesting people to meet along the way.

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Finish Line

On July 9, Jeff awoke looking forward to completing his cycling journey in Montana, and ready to begin the Trans America Trail Route in Idaho. The plan was to visit the Adventure Cycling office in Missoula (the originators of the Trans America Trail), to let them know he is three quarters through the ride with only  about 900 miles to go of the 4,200 mile trek. The finish line was in sight. However, life sometimes makes other plans. Over the past several days, Jeff was having vision problems. He decided to lay over a day in Missoula and get things checked out. Thank goodness for this, as he was diagnosed with a detached retina and had surgery the same day. This is a very serious situation, especially for a man who makes his living with his eyes.  So Jeff’s health now takes precedence and per doctor’s orders, Jeff will not be getting back on the bike for a few weeks. The good news is that for all the rural communities Jeff has been cycling through, Missoula has excellent medical facilities and two of the five retinal surgeons in the whole State of Montana. The prognosis is good and when Jeff recovers, he will certainly be making plans for how he will complete the remaining miles of the Quest for the West. Thank you all for following Jeff’s journey, and we will keep you posted when it resumes. 

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In Memoriam - John Egbers

It is with great sadness we share that John Egbers, the Trans America Race Across America cyclist Jeff met and photographed on June 14, succumbed to the injuries he suffered when he was hit by a car that same day near Scott City, Kansas.  John fought valiantly to recover from a host of terrible injuries.  His heart stopped on July 5.  His wife, Susan, kept a Caring Bridge blog on John's fight to recover from his catastrophic injuries.  In reporting the news of his passing, she said "Wherever his next ride takes him, we find comfort in knowing he is pedaling his ass off."

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Alex

Riding through Montana's long, grueling mountain passes can be tough work.  Unless you've got a young, strong woman to draft behind.  Jeff first met Alex in Virginia City, Montana while savoring some Huckleberry ice cream.  Alex had been on the road for only 10 days on her quest from Park City, Utah to Jasper, Western Alberta Canada.  Alex lives in Park City and cycling is her passion.  While attending the University of Utah, majoring in product design, she is spending her summer off trying out some long distance cycling. Alex departed from Park City and immediately got sunburned.  Thus, she slathered up with a combo sunscreen and bug repellant.  Need we mention there are more mosquitoes per square inch in this part of Montana than any other place on the Trans Am thus far?  Look closely and you'll see that bug splatter isn't limited to windshields.

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Jim

Jackson, Montana is located at the foot of the Big Hole Divide between the Bitterroot and Pioneer Mountain Ranges in Southwestern Montana. The population of Jackson is 38, but Rose's Cantina in Jackson's tiny downtown serves population surges of thirsty and hungry travelers passing through on their way to Dillon or Missoula.  Jeff met Jim at the Cantina while stopping for lunch on his way to Wisdom.  That's Wisdom, Montana, not some new, enlightened state of being.  Jim was having lunch with his son and daughter-in-law.  He is 89 years old and has lived somewhere between Jackson and Wisdom for close to 60 years.  When asked if he is retired he replied "No.  I can't afford to retire!"

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The No Name Band

The Beaverhead Brewery in Dillon, Montana, sponsors a street festival on July 4th, featuring local musicians providing entertainment to accompany food and beverages served up by the Brewery and local food trucks.  Jeff and Karen capped off their Independence Day by pulling up their camp chairs in a shady spot in the park where they listened to music while enjoying a brew and tasty BBQ.  A local group played covers while encouraging the crowd to sing along.  Upon being approached by Jeff in the aftermath of their set, they confessed they're simply a bunch of guys from Dillon who enjoy playing and singing together and they don't even have a name.  

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Doug

Small town America is the ideal place to celebrate July 4th.  Ennis, Montana, population 838 and a fly fishing haven, does it up right.  A rodeo kicks things off the evening of July 3, firefighters sponsor a pancake breakfast the morning of July 4th, followed by a parade, classic car show and BBQ in the City Park.  After filling up on pancakes, scrambled eggs and sausage, Jeff and Karen made their way to the parade on their bicycles and were enjoying the action when they were approached by Doug, who makes it a tradition to visit family in nearby Alder the week of July 4th.  He was attracted by Buddy hitching a ride in a basket on Karen's bike.  Doug is an environmental engineer working for a chemical company in Houston, Texas.  For two cross country nomads enjoying a patriotic holiday in Ennis, Doug provided the connection that made Jeff and Karen feel right at home.

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Deb

Riding a bicycle through the Wind River Range near Dubois, Wyoming can be a lonely experience.  Vast expanses of rangeland lay before and behind you, with only a few outposts to serve the needs of travelers.  Crowheart is a tiny community in the middle of the Wind River Indian Reservation, and Jeff made a stop there on his 74 mile journey from Lander to Dubois.  While perched on the side of the road, he did what any tech savvy cyclist would do -- he tested cell coverage and tried to make a phone call.  This action intrigued a passing motorist who knew cell coverage in Crowheart was sketchy.  Deb was on her way home to Nebraska, and saw what she thought was a stranded traveler trying to access his lifeline.  With typical Midwest hospitality, she stopped to assess the situation and offer assistance if needed.  Jeff declined her offer to toss his bicycle in the back of her pickup truck, and parted ways with Deb encouraged that he's never really alone on his two wheeled journey West.  

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Mike

Lander, Wyoming is a renowned location for hunting and fishing.  It's also near the convergence of a number of historic trails -- the Oregon Trail, the Mormon Pioneer Trail, the Pony Express Trail and the Trans America Bicycle Trail.  If you're a smart business person and you're angling for cyclists, what do you feature in your historic downtown Lander bike shop?  Free ice cream sandwiches and beer for Trans America Trail cyclists, of course!  Jeff took the bait.  At Gannett Peak Sports, Jeff was reeled in by Mike, who lives in, works in and loves Lander.  Mike says Lander is a great place for cycling and at Gannett they like to chum the Trans Am riders, learn about their travels, assist them with their ride needs, and wish them Happy Trails.

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