While serving on the USS Columbus submarine at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, Petersburg native Ken Barnes and shipmate, Pat Quealy, of Minneapolis, Minn., thought it would be an incredible adventure once they finished their time in the Navy to bicycle across the United States.
This, they thought, would help make up for all the months they spent under water by instead enjoying the fresh air.
“The two talked about the trip the entire time they were there,” said Mary Jane Porter, Barnes’ mother.
Some of their friends had already completed a cross-country bicycle trip. Touring the country by bike would offer a unique glimpse of the country.
“We could cover way more ground than we could by hiking but not miss the small town gems that could be easy to pass while driving like great ‘mom and pop’ country stores and local treasures like county turtle racing and homemade pies!” Barnes messaged.
As of July 1, they were approximately 4,000 miles into their 5,000-mile journey and had traveled through 17 states. They began their coast-to-coast trip on April 27 with their back tires dipped in the Atlantic Ocean on the coast near New York City.
They estimated it would take 88 days, and they would travel through 20 states, while biking over 100 miles per day most days, depending on the weather. Their finish line will be when the front tires of their bicycles touch the coast of the Pacific Ocean near Long Beach, Wash.
Rather than taking a direct route across the country, the two have taken alternate routes that will connect them with cities and friends they wanted to see.
They have used a few of the Adventure Cycling Routes, the Philadelphia Alternative Route via the Atlantic Coast to avoid the hills in West Pennsylvania and have followed the Transamerica Route most of the way, zigzagging across the country.
Recently, they traveled as far south as Dalhart, Texas, before heading north again to make their way to the Pacific Northwest.
“This trip has honestly restored my faith in humanity,” said Barnes. “I always assumed my home state of Tennessee or most of the south had a monopoly on hospitality, but we have seen gestures of kindness at every single turn.
“From families leaving snacks on our helmets when we’re stopped for a quick hike to strangers buying us coffee in the morning after hearing about our trip, it has been an eye opener to the kindness you can find in every state, not only in Tennessee,” Barnes wrote.
“So many people have opened their homes, businesses and churches to make our trip possible, and we have met amazing people all along the way.
“The most challenging part is mentally overcoming the magnitude of the journey we took on and how much further there is to go when cold mornings, swarms of mosquitos or sore legs weigh us down.
“But the downhills, the interesting people, and the fact that we are able to see so much of this amazing country make it worthwhile,” Barnes explained.
The two have biked through flood damage on the Mississippi River, tornado damage in Missouri, strong head winds in Kansas, the heat of Texas, snow drifts in Colorado and hail storms in Wyoming, but it is all part of the American story, Barnes said.
“It makes me so proud of our country to see the beauty of the landscape and the perseverance of people through hardships.”
Barnes recommends that anyone interested in even a week-long bicycle trip visit the website www.adventurecycling.com. Maps of routes all over the country are available with information on which roads are safe, where they can find biker-only camping and “tons of cool tips to help plan your own trip,” said Barnes.
Ken is a 2007 graduate of Lincoln County High School and studied quantitative economics at the United States Naval Academy, graduating in the Class of 2011.
Upon his return to Tennessee, Barnes plans to pursue an MBA at Vanderbilt University with a focus on healthcare administration.
Quealy attended the University of Colorado in Boulder before joining the Navy and plans to head to Washington, D.C., to embark on an engineering career.