67-year-old Aussie ends trans-American bike trek in Bar Harbor

Posted Sept. 07, 2012, at 9:30 a.m.
Roger McDougall, 67, of Sydney, Australia, at the end of his trans-American bicycle trek. McDougall began his journey with his back wheel in the Pacific Ocean in Anacortes, Wash. Eighty-five days later, his voyage ended with his front wheel in the Atlantic Ocean in Bar Harbor.
Courtesy of Roger McDougall
Roger McDougall, 67, of Sydney, Australia, at the end of his trans-American bicycle trek. McDougall began his journey with his back wheel in the Pacific Ocean in Anacortes, Wash. Eighty-five days later, his voyage ended with his front wheel in the Atlantic Ocean in Bar Harbor.
Roger McDougall used Google Maps to chart his 4,046-mile bicycle route from Anacortes, Washington, to Bar Harbor.
Courtesy of Roger McDougall
Roger McDougall used Google Maps to chart his 4,046-mile bicycle route from Anacortes, Washington, to Bar Harbor.

BAR HARBOR, Maine — Every summer, people bicycle across the country, from the Pacific to Atlantic Ocean. Not many people do it twice in a lifetime. It’s likely even fewer senior citizens pull off the double trans-American.

Roger McDougall, a 67-year-old Australian retiree, joined those illustrious ranks this week. In 2009, he and two companions cycled from San Francisco to Virginia Beach. On Sunday, he ended another cross-country journey in Bar Harbor, 85 days after leaving Anacortes, Wash.

I thought I was getting too old for this nonsense,” McDougall said in an interview Wednesday. “But I decided to do it again. I enjoy the adventure — not so much the cycling. It’s definitely the adventure.”

McDougall’s adventure took him 4,046 miles through Washington, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, New York, Ontario, Vermont, New Hampshire, and — finally, on Day 81 — Maine.

Between this trek and his 2009 trip, he has seen more of the United States than most home-grown Americans. He checked off a few items on his bucket list, including Glacier National Park in Montana and Niagara Falls.

McDougall did some camping, but mostly stayed in hotels and bed-and-breakfasts along the way. In Glasgow, Mont., McDougall took a medical break after an infection in his elbow became critical. A woman working in the hotel he stayed in that night told him it was likely from a spider bite.

She said to me, ‘If you don’t get that treated, the spider venom will eat all your flesh,’” he recalled. McDougall checked himself into a hospital, and stayed off the road for two days.

The thrill of the open road and the unknown dangers called to McDougall. But that wasn’t the only thing that got him back on the bicycle after deciding in 2009 to hang up his panniers and call it a day. In May, after a more than yearlong battle with cancer, his 43-year-old daughter, Cindy, died.

Her death prompted McDougall to take the bike off the rack and get on the road, a kind of yellow-line fever catharsis he said helped him reflect on his daughter’s life.

It was an important recovery for me,” he said. “I found out that you’ve got to live your life. You can’t live in the past, particularly at my age because I haven’t got much time left.”

Vicki Vendrell, finance manager for the Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce, said Wednesday that no one keeps numbers on how many long-distance cycling trips terminate in Bar Harbor, but she said it’s a lot.

That’s partly because of the Missoula, Mont.,-based Adventure Cycling Association. Since 1976, the company has provided maps of bicycle treks around the country. McDougall followed the “Northern Tier” route, and so did Vendrell back in 2005.

Another Adventure Cycling route, “Atlantic Coast,” also ends in Bar Harbor. The company provides detailed maps and advice for making the long voyages. Vendrell said she isn’t surprised the company chooses Bar Harbor as the Atlantic terminus of its bicycle routes.

It’s obviously a fabulous destination,” she said of the seaside resort town. “It’s a great ride, and a great opportunity to be able to bike into Bar Harbor.”

Winona Bateman, a spokeswoman for Adventure Cycling, said Bar Harbor was a natural destination. The Northern Tier was completed in 1983, and the chief router wanted to end in a seaside town.

“It’s a big deal with cross-country trips, dipping the tire in one ocean and then the other,” Bateman said on Thursday. “Bar Harbor is such a great tourist destination. That’s a big part of where we start and end routes: a beautiful location where people want to spend time. That certainly describes Bar Harbor.”

McDougall agreed that the town is a great place to end a trip, but it wasn’t arrived at without sacrifice. On Aug. 30, Day 82 of his trip, he had this to say on his blog about his ride from Bridgton to Brunswick:

The hills in Maine are deadly. They run between 200 and 400 feet elevation and are interminable. You get to the top of one, fly down the other side, only to start the climb again. … This was not enjoyable. It’s simply painful.”

Now, McDougall is in San Francisco visiting his son. But he’s already planning his next adventure. He said next will be a 1,000-mile trip through the United Kingdom, north to south.

“That’s probably a little better for an old man,” he said. “What’s nice about the U.K is there’s a hotel and a pub every 10 miles or so. So that’s nice.”

Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.

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