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Epic Encouragement for Your Next Goal

Posted on Monday, April 8, 2024
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by Outside Contributor
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By: Jennie Treadway-Miller

Encouragement
Photography by Bryan Justinski

More than forty years ago, when he was 22 years old, John LaMacchia rode his bike across the United States, from the west coast to the east. It was a random spark of an idea. He asked his friend and co-worker, Dave, if he wanted to join him. There was a pause, followed by, “Yeah, that sounds good.”

They had no plans, and they didn’t train. They just… left.

“There was no real motivating factor,” says John, now 66. “It was just to see if I could do it. We started south of San Francisco, dipped our wheels in the Pacific, and rode 56 days to Asbury Park, New Jersey, and then dipped our wheels in the Atlantic. It was extraordinary.”

After he recovered, the thought of doing it again lingered. Time passed, years, then decades, and John and Dave kept in touch. Every so often they’d talk about going again.

And then, last year, John decided it was time. He was 65 years old and in excellent shape. He called Dave, just to double-check, but Dave offered a firm no, saying he’d meet up when John cycled through Ohio where he lived.

“Dave’s a remarkable guy,” says John, laughing. “I understood his reasons. I chose to do it solo because, for me, it would be far safer. This ride was so intense and dangerous that I had to have total concentration. It would be better for my mind.”

The first time John cycled across the country, he and Dave took what’s called the Middle Route, the TransAmerica Trail that takes adventure seekers from Astoria, Oregon to Yorktown, Virginia. This time, he would go with the Northern Tier, which begins at Anacortes, Washington and ends at Bar Harbor, Maine. However, John arranged for his tour to end in Boston since his oldest son, also named John, lives there. (His other two sons, Pierce and Michael, live in Knoxville where they run the family business, K Brew.)

“I couldn’t afford to second-guess myself. I laid it out on the line with so many people. You can’t make those proclamations and then quit, or at least, I can’t,” says John. “If I’d had an injury or something significant, I’d have to stop, but there’s already so much I’d done – the plane ticket, getting my bike and equipment out there, securing the sponsors, etc. It wasn’t last minute. I’d worked hard for a year and a half to set it up, so the week before, I was ready.”

On June 28, 2023, John woke up in a little coastal town in northern Washington, packed up his supplies, readied his bike and his mind, and got on the road for what ended up being a 93-day journey across the northwestern states and through the Midwest. After a few days’ ride with Dave in Ohio, John cycled through New York to Massachusetts. He was sure to dip his wheels in the harbor to make it official.

“I only started feeling relief when crossing the Ohio border to meet Dave. It had been so difficult crossing the Cascade Mountains in Washington that I was 13 days behind schedule. I was feeling the pressure, but once I’d made it to Syracuse, I thought, I can make this. All I had to do was get through New York.”

The trip, as one would expect, was filled with highs and lows. Though he planned to camp along the way, sometimes the weather presented a challenge. There was a particularly hard day in North Dakota when the rain was so punishing, and the roadside options were too few, that John accepted an offer to be driven to the nearest motel.

“I said yes immediately,” says John. “I’d learned, or what I was forced to learn, is that when you’re in a difficult situation, if you’re standing there with no options, I was forced to learn that the only way forward was through. I had people parachute into my life in moments of immediacy to help me. It felt like cheating, but I was out of options. He drove me to a tiny motel about 40 miles away.”

John experienced everything you could imagine – exhilaration, isolation, a sense of wonder, physical strain, and, the most challenging of all, mental and emotional fatigue.

On October 1, as Boston came into view, knowing his family was there, along with a professional photographer poised to capture the moment, John pedaled with fervor. Everything had aligned, and suddenly those extra 13 days didn’t matter at all.

“It was an incredible feeling – out of body. Did I really just do that? That was my first thought,” he says. “And then, I wondered who I’d inspire, the people who may be encouraged to do something epic. I fulfilled an objective, so there was a real sense of victory.”

Yet, John doesn’t want his accomplishment to be his own. The second part is crucial – the encouragement, the inspiration – and part of that includes raising awareness for three local organizations dear to him: Alzheimer’s, the Thompson Cancer Survival Center, and the Cerebral Palsy Center.

“Everyone thought it was a pipedream at my age, that I should be home watching ‘Andy Griffith’ – and I like Andy Griffith!” John says, laughing. “If you ask me today would I do it again? No, but I’ll probably feel differently later. If I do it again, I’d do the Southern Tier.”

“It was an incredible feeling – out of body. Did I really just do that? That was my first thought.”

And then, I wondered who I’d inspire, the people who may be encouraged to do something epic.”

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