July 28, 2010

Long-haul cyclists retracing explorers’ route

The Lewiston Morning Tribune
 

A total of 23 bicyclists, with an average age of 62, pedaled their way west out of Lewiston Tuesday morning on another leg of a two-year adventure to retrace the route of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

Many in the group have already crisscrossed America together on bicycles from west to east and north to south. The group’s leader, 45-year-old Lori Willert of Northwood, Iowa, said the current trip is a product of both urgency and the desire to slow down.

“We said, let’s not wait another 10 years, because some of us would be dead,” she quipped. “We’re also doing it to slow life down and learn the history of Lewis and Clark at a go-slow pace.”

Original members of the group first pedaled in 1995 from Long Beach, Calif., to Washington, D.C. Later, members traveled from the mouth of the Mississippi River to its source in northern Minnesota.

“So then we decided to do the Lewis-Clark Trail,” Willert said.

The cyclists traveled last summer from St. Louis to Fort Peck in Montana. On July 10 of this year, they restarted at Fort Benton, Mont., and will continue toward the Oregon Coast over the next few weeks. Averaging about 60 miles a day, they planned to stay in Pomeroy Tuesday night before wheeling away again this morning along U.S. Highway 12.

“It’s been challenging, some of these passes,” 78-year-old Vern Terlouw, a Sully, Iowa, corn and soybean farmer said of coaxing his bicycle throughout the mountains the past several days. “But nothing makes me feel more alive than being on a bicycle.”

Cole Willert, the youngest in the group and the son of Lori Willert, said he likes pedaling along, but really enjoys the tours and places they visit along the way. “Going through Montana was a lot harder.” His 12-year-old sister, Kelsie Willert, is also part of the group.

“I send postcards to people sometimes,” Cole Willert said of keeping in touch with people back in Iowa.

The group, calling itself the Lewis-Clark Bicycle Tour, stopped in Lewiston to rest and partake Monday in a backyard dinner provided by John Nydegger, a retired Lewis-Clark State College professor of theater and a relative of Lori Willert. Besides a history lesson, the menu included hamburgers, brats, potato salad, ice cream and other culinary fuels geared to providing pedal power.

“I thought it was a good idea,” Nydegger said of the group stopping at his home, where local historian John Fisher offered a predinner talk about medicines used by members of the Lewis-Clark Expedition.

Lori Willert, a school teacher, said the group has suffered “just a few flat tires,” but no accidents and very little lagging, if any. “We’re using Adventure Cycling (Association) maps,” she said of how the group is negotiating the trip. While the mountain passes have presented a challenge, Lori Willert said pedaling in the scorching heat is a matter of comparison.

“We’re from Iowa and we get heat and humidity, which I think is more miserable.”

Willert’s mother, Linda Nydegger, is married to John Nydegger’s cousin. She’s traveling behind the group in a motor home. “I am the motor home mama,” she said of bringing up the rear and providing a place of equipment, food and other supplies along the way. Additionally, two or three vans have been shadowing the cyclists and offer transportation once the group stops in towns along the way. In Lewiston, people spent the night at various locations according to their own desires.

“We’ve had some long days, and it depends on the terrain,” Lindy Nydegger said. “But the whole trip has just been wonderful.”

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