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Retiree Eileen Dugger, 65, has cross-country grit

UPDATED: Wed., Aug. 28, 2019

During 24 years at a job in Newport, Eileen Dugger regularly saw people on bicycles pass through town while following a popular cross-country route.

A cycling fan, Dugger dreamed of one day covering the coast-to-coast Northern Tier bike ride. It went on the bucket list. The time to plan it came with her 2017 retirement from Pend Oreille PUD.

After starting June 11, she completed the more than 3,000-mile journey by Aug. 11, with ride assistance from husband Cliff Dugger, 69, who drove a truck and trailer. They ventured from Anacortes to Bar Harbor, Maine, and took in a few side adventures.

“The trip was wonderful, and I’m grateful for Cliff and all his support, and for our family’s help,” said Eileen Dugger, 65.

“We stayed north and went through Washington, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, and then we went up to Ontario, Quebec and into Maine.”

That also meant cycling across the Cascades, Glacier National Park, Continental Divide and the Appalachians, along with prairies, other peaks and valleys.

The couple live near Diamond Lake. During the trip, Cliff Dugger did some golfing, fishing and even a bit of cycling to meet up with his wife, but she covered the entire route on two-wheels.

“I really like to cycle,” Eileen Dugger said. She and her husband regularly have gone on shorter bike routes, including the annual Seattle to Portland ride.

“It’s a 206-mile ride in two days,” she said. “I had a distance in mind for this trip each day that I knew I could handle. The longest day was 106 miles. There were a lot of days in the 60-miles and 70s, and some as low as 45 to 50 miles even. It really varied.”

Along the way, they made time for friends and family. The couple has two grandsons, including 10-year-old Oliver, who took a flight out of Portland to spend about a week with them on the road.

They also took time to see some sights, including ones in Wisconsin and Chicago. “I took about four days off the bike traveling to Chicago and to do a few things.”

For Eileen Dugger, most cycling days went smoothly. Others were challenging. But Dugger also could enjoy the scenery while peddling at her own pace, she said.

“The scenery in Washington is hard to beat; I’m partial to the evergreens. Then you get to Glacier National Park. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to ride the Going-to-the-Sun Road. That one remains on the bucket list. It was closed because of winter weather still, so we went on Marias Pass instead.

“It is gorgeous with streams along the way and one spectacular sight after the other. I hadn’t been east of Glacier, and I’ve never been in the Appalachians that have steep climbs with 10 to 14 % incline. I got into those in Quebec and in Maine. Those were difficult days.”

Another challenging day surprised her closer to home, when climbing the Cascades’ Loup Loup Pass. She’d cycled that stretch before from the other direction and didn’t remember it being difficult. But this time, the weather was hot.

“That was one of the hardest days, because you’re climbing and it’s pretty steep.”

Going across Washington, she had some company, including her friend Stacey Mainer, co-founder of the Spokane nonprofit Partnering for Progress that supports villages in Kenya.

“Stacey is a great cyclist, and she rode all of Washington with me,” Dugger said. “It was so nice to have her company. And my friend Rhonda Thomas rode Newport to Sandpoint with me.”

She also crossed paths with other friends and made new ones. She met a man walking from Florida to Washington to support awareness for adoption and foster care children. She and Mainer talked to a group of four medical students who were riding to Connecticut to raise money for a youth camp.

Many people cross the Northern Tier doing what is called unsupported rides, she said, meaning they carry all their gear and camping supplies with them on bicycles. Dugger only carried a day pack with extra water and food, tools and other essentials.

She took two bicycles with her and switched off. Dugger credits her husband for planning the RV park stays and other trip logistics.

“Cliff had the truck and trailer with us, and we’d start out in the morning,” she said. “Most of the time, I’d leave camp ahead of him. He’d go golfing or fishing and if there weren’t those options, he’d go ahead and set up camp at the next RV park.

“Sometimes, if he felt like it he’d join up with me, but there was never any following behind me. When I left for the day, I was pretty much on my own until we met up for that day. He did all the logistics and planning, so I knew the destination for the day.”

Family pitched in different ways. Their daughter maintained her daily ride blog. The couple’s son and his wife just moved to Spokane, so they stayed at the Duggers’ home and took care of their animals.

“My family did everything they could to help support this ride.”

They followed U.S. Highway 2 for most of the trip, she said. The condition of the road’s shoulders varied, sometimes smooth and other times narrow.

“You get the good, the bad, and the ugly. Most of the time, you’re really not hindering traffic at all. I try to be a considerate of drivers and stay out of the way with a friendly wave. I try to be an ambassador for cycling when I’m out.”

If the forecast called for a downpour, she packed rain gear. She recalled a few days of getting soaked, and a couple of days with cold. “It goes with the territory. You try to prepare, and ride what you get.”

In North Dakota, she crashed. She doesn’t remember what caused it, but she ended up with a concussion, deep bruising and a couple of days off to recover. Luckily, her husband wasn’t far behind when it happened. Within five minutes, they were at an emergency room in Grand Forks.

But she got a green light to continue cycling. The bike just needed a small repair at a local shop, and it’s possible the bike had a tire blowout.

“I’m a strong, careful rider,” she said. “So to have a crash, but I don’t remember it, is frustrating.”

“People asked me if the thought of quitting had ever occurred to me. My husband, he was so supportive. I couldn’t have done this ride without him. He really is the main reason it was possible.”

“We weren’t on any time deadline,” she added.

They returned home this week. Before starting back, though, they did spend an extra day in Bar Harbor for a celebration lobster dinner.

But Dugger is far from lacking things to do now in retirement. She’s on the Partnering for Progress board, and she has a hobby business called Sweet Creations Cakes. She and her husband enjoy horseback riding, snowshoeing and kayaking.

Her advice is simple for others who want to plan a long cycling trip. Don’t wait.

“Life is too short. If it’s important to you, make the time and go get it done.”

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