Photo by Joe Chitwood
Photo by Joe Chitwood
Standing for a picture (click to enlarge)
Tim Williamson parked his bicycle carrying his dog for the night Sunday at the Lake Maloney outlet campgrounds, past the halfway point of a trip across country.Williamson, 58, and his dog Milo are traveling from Jacksonville Beach, Fla. to Eugene, Ore.
Williamson suffered a stroke two and a half years ago, forcing him to give up his 35-year over-the-road truck driving career, at least until his health improves.
He took several short bicycle rides as part of rehabilitation. He enjoyed them and kept getting more ambitious. Once, he rode 170 miles from North Carolina to the beaches on the Atlantic.
Encouraged by what he’d accomplished, he set out to fulfill a childhood dream to ride a bike across America.
"When I was about 10 years old, I heard about people doing this and thought, ‘there's no way,’" he said. As he grew older, he learned that some people do bike from coast to coast and he decided to make this trip, even though he was afraid he might have waited too long.
"I was worried about my health, but so far, I feel real good," Williamson said.
Milo, his Jack Russell terrier, rides on a padded blanket in a bicycle basket.
"I found Milo when he was 10 weeks old while I was driving a truck in New Mexico," Williamson said. "Someone left him at a rest stop with a rope tied around his neck and a note saying anyone could have him.”
That was seven years ago, and since then the two have been constant companions.
So far, Williamson’s trip has been trouble free, going east across Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana into Texas then to Oklahoma, Kansas and now Nebraska.
"I ended up taking a highway to Wichita Falls and on to Childress, Texas where I hooked up with U.S. Highway 83. I have been coming north on it ever since," he said.
He plans to take U.S. Highway 30 through Wyoming and into Idaho.
Williamson hopes to reach Oregon by Sept. 1. He has traveled 1,900 miles and will travel 1,400 more before reaching his destination. He averages about 30 miles a day.
"Today I went a little longer. People in McCook told me there was a filling station in Wellfleet," he said. "There was, but it was closed and I was out of water, so we rode here -- a total of about 65 miles today," he said.
"I have been blessed, it has only rained on me during the day a couple of times. At night it rains, but I am camped and safe in my tent," Williamson said.
His bike, given him by an elderly couple in Jacksonville, is more than 25 years old. He made a couple modifications, and despite its age, it has been very dependable.
"I had an old beach bike and took the better seat and handlebars from it,” he said. “The only other thing I added was a basket for Milo.”
He said he learned to pick established camping spots.
"I stopped at a place in Paris, Texas. The field was nice and smooth and I thought, ‘wow somebody made a great place to camp,’" he said. "Later on in the tent, I found out what had made it so smooth. Wild hogs were rooting around the campsite.”
Williamson said he spent the night holding Milo to keep him from barking and instigating a hog attack.
"They are pretty big and dangerous," he said.
Since then, he has taken care to scout areas and pick safe campsites. Police have been helpful in directing him to good places.
Williamson said the best part of his trip is meeting people.
"I have a sign on the back of my bike that tells people I am biking across America," he said. "It also says ‘donations accepted,’ but that doesn't necessarily mean monetary. A good conversation is a donation, a bottle of water -- anything like that is appreciated.”
He believes our country is the best place in the world.
"I have met good people, helpful people, and overall I would have to say everyone I have met have been great," he said.
When he stopped for a cold drink in Oakley, Kan., a woman walked up and told him to wait at the station for a moment. She came back with a motel key.
"She told me I needed a soft bed and a good shower now and then," he said.
Sometimes people give him money to help with expenses.
"It's funny, but usually it’s people down on their luck or going through problems who offer to help," he said. "Everyone has been good to me. I was kind of down on people when I started, not knowing whether to trust them.”
Now, he believes there is great hope for the future in America.
“People still have a lot of good in them," he said. "When you get out amongst them, good people come out of the woodwork and restore your faith in our country.”
Williamson relies on his faith in God for day-to-day directions. He doesn’t carry a cell phone, have internet access or even a camera.
"I just believe God is good to me and gives me what I need everyday," he said. "I don't know if I will ever bike across America again, but I am already thinking of taking more long distance trips.”
He said it is in his blood.
"Most truck drivers are nomads and never settle down," he said.
But his days as a truck driver could be over. He plans to find new employment when he gets to Oregon.
"I think I might find something different, I believe I am retiring from the truck driving," he said.