Photo: Tina Larkin
Cycling solo from the Canadian border to Arroyo Seco
On May 28th, 2010, Tom McCampbell had quadruple bypass surgery. It was a big surprise, he said, because he had always been athletic. Shortly a year afterwards, he rode a bike alone from Glacier National Park, Montana, to Taos.
He started July 31st and finished August 29th . The trip took him 27 days and he went around 1,470 miles, sleeping in a tent.
“It was kind of a test,” McCampbell said. And he definitely passed it.
“I found out that my heart works great, though my knees hurt,” he said.
A spirit of adventure guided him throughout the road. One of the greatest pleasures he had during his trip was getting on his bike and exploring a new road. “I began pedaling and got a sense of freedom,” he said. “That was the best part of it.”
It took him a while to get into the routine. “But after the first week, it just becomes your life,” he said. “You get up, make sure you have enough to eat, look at your map and start pedaling.”
The wildlife he saw was also a great part of his adventure. Deer, moose, bears—that were startled to see him. “Animals are used to seeing cars and trucks going by and don’t pay attention to them, but when they spot a bike, they don’t know what to make of it,” he said. “They actually freak out!”
Sometimes he rode 80 miles a day, which meant six or seven hours. He tried to start his daily journey at 7:30 a.m., or even 6:30 a.m. if it was going to be a hot day. “But of course, I stopped to take breaks,” he said.
From the Canadian border he rode south toMontana, and fromMontanatoIdaho.
McCampbell credits this trip with giving him a new outlook in life. “In the middle of the mountains and the rivers, you feel so tiny, just a speck in this great planet,” he said. “That was an overwhelming feeling I had quite often, to realize how small we are in the world.”
The journey also changed his time perspective. “When you travel at ten miles an hour, speed becomes a relative term,” he said. “It slows you down so much that that you start seeing things in a different way, paying attention to the landscape and looking forward to meeting new people.”
Some of the people he met asked him, “And what are you doing here?”
Life should be an adventure and a challenge, McCampbell said, and that was precisely why he was there.
Originally from Indiana, McCampbell has been inNew Mexico since 1971, most of the time inSanta Fe. He was President and Executive Director of Ski NewMexico, a nonprofit trade association, for 19 years. In 2006 he started Single Resource Communications to provide clients with a wide range of communications services.
He moved toTaos8 years ago. Presently he works part time for Taos Land Trust as an outreach coordinator.
He also enjoys skiing and hiking, but riding a bicycle is a Zen kind of experience for him, McCampbell said.
“I still remember the first day I rode a bike without training wheels, when I was five years old, and the sense of freedom I felt,” he said. “I could go anywhere! It opened up this whole world of opportunities and adventures.”
He even met his partner, Mary Hockett, on a bike ride, and they haven’t stopped riding together. “We ride almost every weekend,” he said.
He doesn’t see riding as just a kind of exercise. “It is a way to explore and to push my own limits,” he said. “I am not into racing bikes, though I like to watch it. For me, it’s more a mental discipline, rather than physical.”
McCampbell admits that the hardest part of the trip was accepting both the hardships and the good times, and being grateful for both. “It could be a beautiful ride downhill, with the sun shining, or it could be raining, freezing cold, with lots of traffic, but the two kinds of experiences are valuable in their own way.”
He spent several days inMontanaand then went into the northern corner ofIdaho.
“Montanais incredible, with so many mountain ranges and all so different from each other,” he said. “There are also big, breathtaking rivers and deep canyons… You never get tired of looking at the scenery.”
TheCentennialValleyin the Idaho Border was another place to remember. “Hardly anybody lives in the area and there is no town as such, just a few ranches.”
He went on the west side of theTetonMountainsand crossed overTetonPassintoWyoming.
The biggest challenge was carrying water acrossWyoming. “When you are on a bike, you realize how important water is, especially if you have to go 50 miles without any place to find it,” he said. “I thought of the first settlers who were on their way toCaliforniaand how desperately they needed water for them and for their livestock.”
Once in Utah, he passed by the DinosaurNational Monument, where dinosaurs’ remains are still embedded on the rocks and clearly visible. “Kids would love it!” McCampbell said.
He feels completely recovered now and looks forward to doing more trips, but hasn’t forgotten the heart scare.
“Men need to pay attention to their bodies,” he said. “If you feel fatigue or chest pain, you need to see a doctor, particularly if there is a history of coronary artery disease in your family.”
As for the best lesson he learned from his trip, “You see how geography shaped our world,” McCampbell said. “Why the first settlers took the routes they did and how the search for water guided them. Also, you get a feeling of what’s going on in the country. After meeting so many people, I can honestly say that we Americans are generous and kindhearted folks.”
Tom McCampbell biked solo from the Canadian border to his home in Arroyo Seco a year after he had heart surgery.