Two thoughts came to mind when I heard about somebody making a 4,200-mile bike ride: 1. Forrest Gump and 2. The truism that often behind every great man is a greater woman.
Forrest Gump was smarter, braver, more resourceful and more capable than most people gave him credit for. It can be an asset when people continually under-estimate you.
In the movie, a fantasy played out over the soundtrack of our lives, the Tom Hanks character runs coast to coast, and then keeps on running. Just like he did when he ran for his first touchdown for Bear Bryant’s Crimson Tide.
I thought about Gump when I heard that Tom Skoloda and Alice Newlon, a Bradenton couple in their 60s, had recently pedaled their bicycles from Yorktown, Va., to the Oregon coast.
Not because the husband and wife team doesn’t have plenty of brain power — she’s a CPA and he’s an associate professor of psychology at Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine.
But because they weren’t daunted by the challenge of such an epic ride.
At least Alice Newlon wasn’t. Her dad, Jay Newlon, now 92, had attempted a similar ride twice, but was forced by circumstances to cut it short each time.
Alice wanted to make the journey for her dad — it took just a little persuasion to get Tom to go along.
They are both happy they did, gaining a renewed appreciation for the beauty of America’s vast landscapes across 10 states, and the decency and kindness of strangers they met along the route.
“People went out of their way to help us,” he said.
Among those they met was a young man pedaling coast to coast on a unicycle, and usually staying ahead of them.
Support along the way was provided by another couple in an RV.
Tom, 67, reckons it took 83 days of pedaling to make the trip, pausing in Wichita, Kan., to fly back to his 50th high school reunion, and also to attend a 70th wedding anniversary.
They also took some time to tour the Grand Tetons, Monticello and Yellowstone along the way.
“We had at least 10 flats and some minor mechanical problems,” Tom said.
The couple are avid cyclists. Tom, who retired after 30 years with the Veterans Administration, used to ride seven miles to work each day. But his longest previous ride was 70 miles.
“A lot of this was along two-lane roads without shoulders. Out west, the shoulders are wider, but the traffic is a lot faster,” Tom said.
The couple averaged 52 miles a day, and Tom lost 20 pounds along the way.
Alice turned 65 as the couple gained the summit of the 11,000-foot Hoosier Pass in Colorado.
“It was really just a wonderful experience,” she said.
When they reached the Oregon coast, Alice called her dad and pointed the phone west.
“I want you to hear the Pacific,” she told him.
Reflecting back on the experience, the formerly doubting Thomas now notes they met a couple who were 77 and cycling their way across the United States.
“It’s doable,” he said.
Next up: a planned ride between St. Augustine and San Diego.
James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee Editor, can be contacted at 745-7021.