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Sports >  Outdoors

Oregon woman tells of adventures in 5,350-mile bike ride

Emily Loberg, 24, of Salem, Oregon, traveled four months solo cross-country by bicycle. (Molly J. Smith / Associated Press)
Emily Loberg, 24, of Salem, Oregon, traveled four months solo cross-country by bicycle. (Molly J. Smith / Associated Press)
By Whitney M. Woodworth Statesman (Salem, Ore.) Journal

SALEM, Ore. – In June, Emily Loberg readied her 1985 rebuilt touring bike and set out on a 5,350-mile solo journey.

Her months-long adventure would take her over the Cascades, near two oceans, across the Great Plains, up the Continental Divide and through 15 states.

“This has always been a life-long dream of mine – to bike across the country,” said Loberg, who was 24 when her journey started. “I bike everywhere I go. My dad taught me how to ride a bike when I was 5 … It’s always been a big part of my life, and I love to travel.”

Loberg had gone on long cycling trips before. She trekked 380 miles to the Oregon Coast and back with a friend, and she rode with a group on a 300-miler to Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky. But she had never embarked on anything close to a cross-country trip.

The North Salem High School graduate had been planning the trip since she was a teen. After graduating from college, she returned to Salem and worked for Cherriots and at South Salem Cycleworks. In November 2015, she doubled down on saving and began seriously planning her cross-country adventure.

She rebuilt a 1985 Trek 620 by adding new components to its vintage steel frame and researched gear. Using four Adventure Cycling Association maps, she patched together a route starting in Salem and ending in Bar Harbor, Maine, where her brother lived.

Her mother wasn’t happy about the idea of her riding across America alone, but she was incredibly supportive, Loberg said.

She packed the tent that would be her home for the next four months, a sleeping bag, biking clothes and a stove and rode north away from Salem toward Washington.

The first week proved to be a big hurdle. Even though she biked every day, she wasn’t quite in touring shape. The 5,477-foot ascent up the Cascades, combined with an early summer heatwave, left her “sunburned, looking like a lobster and dead tired,” she said.

Soon, riding 65 to 75 miles a day got easier. She followed Adventure Cycling’s Northern Tier route through northern Washington, across a sliver of Idaho and into the vast wilderness of Montana.

A three-day detour in Glacier National Park became the highlight of her trip.

Not only was it possibly the most gorgeous place she had ever seen, Loberg said, but she was able to meet up with other solo riders. No one knew each other, but the group of 12 just “magically came together like a bicycling family” and camped in the park for three nights. They woke up at 4 a.m. to ride the Going-to-the-Sun Road, a steep, winding route closed to bikes after 11 a.m.

As the sun rose, they biked past waterfalls and cliffs up the Continental Divide and back down again. The quick friends dined on pizza and went their separate ways.

Loberg, who had planned a few more stops in Montana, had to bike back up the Continental Divide and veer off the route.

“That’s why it’s so squiggly there,” she said, pointing to a map tracing her path.

Her dad grew up in Montana. She wanted to stop in Bozeman and Stanford to see the town her grandparents lived in.

She said she didn’t know why she felt compelled to visit a town her relatives no longer lived in but decided to brave two more mountain passes and biked the extra miles.

“I got there and had this really rewarding experience of seeing their town,” she said. “I got to stay with friends of my grandparents and hear stories about them. It was definitely worth it.”

Some days, especially toward the end of her journey, extreme exhaustion would set in. But the hardest part of the journey were the nights spent camping alone. More than once she spent the night with wind pelting the tent and thunder claps thudding like cannons. Another time, she awoke with a jolt to the sound of animals fighting right outside her tent. It took her at least an hour to fall back asleep.

People were shocked to hear she was doing the trip alone. The kindness of people on the road continued to surprise her.

“I was constantly running into people who would offer to refill my water, buy me food or offer me a place to stay,” she said.

When she stopped by a Wisconsin ice cream parlor, the cashier informed her the group in front of her already paid for her order. Another time, a couple took her out to breakfast and shared their campsite after hearing about her journey.

“I had lots of experiences like that, where people I had just met were incredibly generous,” she said.

Toward the end of her trip, the nights got colder and morning dew covered her tent every morning. She arrived in New England in time for autumn, where she was greeted by fall colors, the Atlantic Ocean and her brother in Maine.

Now back in Salem, she already has her next epic trip planned. Adventure Cycling hired her as a bicycle tour leader. She’ll train as co-leader for a Death Valley trip in March, and in May, she’ll lead a group 4,253 miles from Williamsburg, Virginia, to Florence, Oregon.

Despite the sunburns, saddle sores, thunderstorms and exhaustion, Loberg said it was the journey of a lifetime.

“It was a blast,” she said. “I would recommend it to anyone who wanted to do it.”

Thinking of going the distance? Emily Loberg has a few tips

1. Plan. “Start planning months in advance,” she said. “Start getting in biking shape and researching gear.” Get a decent bike you’re comfortable riding for days on end. It doesn’t have to break the bank, but it should be comfortable and durable. She suggested having a route planned out and bringing a detailed map. She recommended Adventure Cycling maps because they list services and campsites available along the route.

2. Be flexible. It’s good to have a goal or idea of the next camping spot, but it’s impossible to plan out every single night. She suggested having a back-up plan if the day’s journey falls short. Inevitably, things are going to come up, Loberg said, which led to her next tip:

3. Know how to fix your bike. “Make sure you at least know how to fix a flat,” she said. She got five flat tires, two broken spokes and a busted chain on her trip. Being able to quickly repair her bike kept the inconveniences from turning into major setbacks.

4. Be realistic with food. Some people bring a stove and cook along the way. Others eat at restaurants and rely on uncooked meals. At first, Loberg would whip up stir-fry on her stove but eventually switched to soups and mac and cheese supplemented by peanut butter and jelly sandwiches – sometimes as many as five in one day.

5. Stop and enjoy the sites. Loberg spent 38 days of her 119-day journey off the bike and visited friends near her old college in the Twin Cities, South Dakota and Indianapolis. It was always a struggle trying to balance her desire to tackle as many miles in a day as she could with stopping to enjoy the sites and views. Taking a break to jump in a lake, visit a friend or go on a hike would help turn a hard day on the road around. “For me, it was more about the journey than the destination,” she said.

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