September 24, 2009 in Washington Voices

Adventure on wheels

Kindness of strangers helps family’s long trek
By The Spokesman-Review
 
Courtesy of Barb Stuebing photo

KellyAnn Cameron, Bob Cameron, Barb Stuebing and Erin Cameron dunk their bikes in the Atlantic Ocean on Aug. 17 in Ocean City, Md., at the end of their 3,050-mile, 67-day bicycle ride. Courtesy of Barb Stuebing
(Full-size photo)

On the Web

Find more photos and details about the trip at www. kellyannerin bikestheusa.com.

Fourteen-year-old KellyAnn Cameron and her sister, Erin, 13, went on a bike ride with their parents over summer vacation. That might not sound as exciting as a trip to Disneyland, until you know the rest of the story. The bike ride covered eight states and one Canadian province. It spanned 3,050 miles and took 67 days.

The family began their trip at Salk Middle School in north Spokane on June 12 and ended in Ocean City, Md., on Aug. 17. But according to the girls’ parents, Bob Cameron and Barb Stuebing, the idea of the adventure began long before.

“We’ve biked forever,” Cameron said. He and his wife took bike trips while dating. When their daughters came along, he said, “We started them out in their car seats in a Burley trailer.” The family began taking weeklong bike trips when the girls were still infants, riding along the Oregon Coast and the Olympic Peninsula.

In preparation for this summer’s journey, they biked across Washington last year. “It took 11 days,” said Cameron. “We started at Whidbey Island and ended in Spokane.”

Their trek across the state gave them confidence for this summer’s cross-country adventure. Their start wasn’t exactly smooth, however. “The first day in Chattaroy, KellyAnn threatened to throw her bike in the middle of the road and hitchhike home,” Erin said.

And there were navigational issues, as well. Erin rolled her eyes at the memory. “Dad can’t read a map,” she said.

Cameron grinned and shrugged. “I didn’t learn how to use the GPS system.” After discovering a road he’d chosen would have led them down a dirt path and into a bog, he said, “Barb took over the navigation.”

The couple had given much thought to the route they would take, poring over copies of Adventure Cyclist magazine. They packed light, fitting all they needed into panniers slung across each family member’s bike. A laptop and a cell phone with Internet capabilities kept them in touch with friends and family along the way. In addition, they set a simple goal that proved highly motivating to their daughters – find great ice cream at least once a day.

“There were only one or two days that we didn’t get ice cream,” Stuebing said. “But some days we got it twice.”

All four agree that the roughest day of the trek happened in Montana. “We got 10 flat tires in seven hours,” Erin said.

Cameron shook his head. They’d brought a small bike pump and packed a couple of foldable spares, but that wasn’t enough for a 10-flat-tire day. However, amid the crisis, the family experienced something they did often throughout the trip – the friendliness and compassion of people they met along the way.

While her parents struggled to mend the flats in the pouring rain, Erin flagged down a passing truck. The motorist loaded their bikes and gear in the back of his truck and drove them to the nearest town. Another stranger let them camp in his backyard, fixed them breakfast in the morning and pointed them to a garage where their tire problems were solved. “All the way across the country we experienced the kindness of strangers,” said Bob Cameron. “It was universal. People were completely warm and welcoming.”

Each night they found a place to set up camp, mostly in city park campgrounds or people’s backyards, Stuebing said.

The family enjoyed seeing America in a way that can’t be done by plane or car, they said. Erin Cameron showed off an unusual trip souvenir – a road-kill journal. “I saw lots of UFOs – Unidentified Flat Objects,” she said. Gophers made up the majority of the victims, but they did spot a dead goose, which they found unusual.

But far lovelier was the ever-changing landscape. They spent time in Glacier National Park, went white-water rafting in Pennsylvania and rode 400 miles of rail-to-trail routes in Pennsylvania and Maryland. Erin loved the sunsets and KellyAnn said she enjoyed the lush green trees and the mist rising from the ground in the eastern states.

One family highlight was the Cedar Point Amusement Park in Sandusky, Ohio. When they finally reached Ocean City, Md., they completed a bicycling ritual. The year before they’d dunked their rear tires in the Pacific Ocean at Whidbey Island. At the end of this journey they dipped their front tires in the Atlantic. After a few days of visiting family in Maryland, they took a train back to Spokane.

For each of them, the adventure was a journey of discovery. “One thing we really learned was how much the kids could do,” Cameron said.

Stuebing said she’s found an old cliché has proved true. “The end of the trip was anticlimactic,” she said. “It really is about the journey, not the destination.”

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