The Becks: Pedal pushers

Karen and Bruce Beck of Mount Gilead have ridden from sea to shining sea on their tandem bicycle and are preparing for a second cross-country trip later this year.

Like many middle-aged married couples, Consolidated Cooperative members Bruce and Karen Beck of Mount Gilead enjoy long, leisurely bike rides together. Their rides, however, are a little longer than most — the last one covered 6,500 miles and took four months to complete. They have another such ride scheduled later this year.

In May 2014, the Becks boarded a train bound for Seattle, Washington, packing along their da Vinci tandem bicycle, then biked down the Pacific Coast Highway to San Francisco. From there, they headed east and north, pedaling all the way to Nova Scotia, Canada, then south to their final destination, Boston.

Bruce made his first cross-country bike trip — Maine to California — in 1981. “When I first met Karen, I told her about that trip and suggested that one day we might make a cross-country ride together. She was totally against it.” “I just couldn’t imagine myself riding all the way across the U.S. on a bicycle,” Karen says. It took 20 years to talk her into it. “I looked at the trip as an escape,” she says. “Our family was going through troubled times, and I needed to get away for a while.”

The Becks averaged 50 to 60 miles per day, usually riding six days per week and avoiding large metropolitan areas whenever possible. Self-contained, they carried everything from clothing, a tent, and camping gear to food and repair equipment in their bike packs. “We tried keeping the total weight of our gear down to 80 pounds,” Bruce says.

Surprisingly, they only had five flat tires during that coast-to-coast trip. “But three of those five flats happened on the same day, in Wyoming,” says Bruce. “We think it was asphalt shards we were continually running over.” Asked about their most dangerous encounters while on the road, the Becks mention two. “Logging trucks passing us on the narrow roads and switchbacks of the Pacific Northwest were always scary,” Karen says. “An 18-wheeler semi driver with an attitude in Iowa forced us off the road. We didn’t crash, thankfully, but that Iowa incident was a very close call. It shook both of us up pretty bad.”

As for the highlights of the trip, Karen says, “The many natural wonders of America — God’s creation — was definitely a highlight, especially the California redwoods.” Bruce also points to the people they met along the way: “We came across people from all cultures and walks of life. A few folks even became our friends who we still keep in touch with. Our bike just seems to be a magnet; everywhere we stop, people walk over and want to talk. Some people even invited us to their homes for a hot shower, a meal, or even an overnight stay. It might sound cliché, but the trip really renewed our faith in humanity.”

The Becks are looking forward to their upcoming trip, planning on hitting the road again this summer. Their previous route took them across the northern states, but this next one, officially known as the Southern Tier Bike Route, begins in southern California and ends in St. Augustine, Florida, requiring about two and a half months to complete.

“With no set schedule, there is a sense of freedom on the road that you don’t experience in any other way,” says Karen. “On a bike, you’re moving at a pace much slower than in a vehicle, seeing the details of the natural world, sleeping under the stars, dealing with weather changes. It’s a very primitive type of travel; you literally take your life one day at a time.”

If a long-distance bike trip with your spouse sounds enticing, Karen adds this last bit of sobering advice. “A cross-country bicycle trip — especially on a tandem — is either a marriage maker or marriage breaker,” she says. “Bruce and I certainly had our moments, but we also know that our marriage is stronger for having done it.”