North Dakota welcomed Bryan Lorber with a punch to the gut.
The sprawling mid-western state blasted the Barrington resident with an unrelenting, unforgiving wind, which might not have been so bad if Mr. Lorber were not attempting to cross the country on a bicycle loaded down with gear.
“It was a 61-mile day,” said Mr. Lorber, “but that wind was unbelievable. You would get thrown off the bike if you didn’t lean into it. It was disheartening to work so hard and then look down and see you were going four or five miles per hour.”
But there was no quit in Mr. Lorber. The 55 year-old Barrington man continued on and finished his cross-country bike tour in just 51 days, riding 3,265 miles from the edge of Narragansett Bay (the shoreline at Barrington Beach) to Washington’s Puget Sound. And now he is hoping he can use the experience to power a grass-roots campaign to make Barrington a more bicycle-friendly town.
“My ultimate goal is to have Barrington awarded the prestigious designation of ‘Bicycle Friendly Community’ by the League of American Bicyclists,” wrote Mr. Lorber in a recent email, “but I’m not sure the culture of Barrington would support such a ‘progressive’ outcome.”
Mr. Lorber envisions a town with shared roadways and bike lanes and residents who are just as likely to pedal their bikes to the market to pick up a loaf of bread as they would be to hop in a gas-guzzling, fume-spouting SUV.
He has seen plenty of bicycle-friendly towns, especially in Wisconsin. He said the state known best for its cheese has immaculate roads, great, functional bike paths and plenty of signs reminding motorists that they need to share the roads with bicyclists.
Mr. Lorber was pedaling hard for a few weeks before he ever reached Wisconsin. The local man started his cross-country tour on May 17 on a comfortable day in Barrington. He pedaled the first leg with two friends, Ted Schwartz and Mike Pomerantz, and reached the Red Carpet Inn in Ashford, Conn. about 66 miles away just in time for dinner.
“The hills in northwestern Rhode Island were not too bad but in northeastern Connecticut they were relentless!” Mr. Lorber wrote in his online journal. “I was completely beat when we rolled into the motel lot.”
He rode through Connecticut on the second day and crossed into Massachusetts near Southwick. Mr. Lorber pedaled through towns called Lee and Pittsfield in Western Massachusetts and reached New York near New Lebanon.
Mr. Lorber kept track of his trip with a journal and captured hundreds (if not thousands) of photographs of everything from farmhouses to large statues of beavers to rundown buildings in tired old mill towns. He also logged detailed notes about the weather and meal breaks.
“Nice down hill into New Lebanon, NY where we stopped for quick lunch at Bucky’s Bagel,” he wrote. “All the way to Albany on (Route) 20 was up and down. A few storms passed through with high winds and cold, soaking rain. Rode for a short while and took shelter under porch of highway department. Sun came out but for the rest of the day we saw storms passing all around us.”
The trek, which required months of preparation and planning, carried Mr. Lorber through upstate New York and into Canada on Day 9. He snapped a selfie in front of Niagara Falls. “The power is awe inspiring,” he wrote.
Eight days later, Mr. Lorber reached Wisconsin and soon after fell in love with the bike-friendly approach.
“The rural roads are without cars. Road surfaces are clean and well maintained. It’s such a pleasure to ride here,” he wrote. “Lovely farms, fertile soil, and everything so green and healthy looking. The roads wind and they climb and the downhills are great. I even saw sandhill cranes at the edge of a field.”
On his 27th day on the road, Mr. Lorber entered North Dakota. He had traveled more than 1,700 miles and was starting to long for his hometown and for his family. Then he pushed off into a relentless wind. Mr. Lorber said he had felt strong winds before, ridden through them on his bicycle, but never like the gale that pounded his body on the long, straight roads on the way to Enderlin, N.D.
“Tomorrow is a very long day and if the wind is the same, I’m in a difficult position,” he wrote.
But tomorrow, said Mr. Lorber, turned out to be wonderful. The Barrington resident woke with a different mindset, he said, and rode 112 miles across rolling landscape.
“It was the longest day I’ve ever done,” he said.
The turnaround set the tone for the rest of the ride, which continued on across the west. On Day 33 he rolled into Montana, and 12 days later reached Idaho. He captured postcard landscapes with his camera and moments later found glimpses of a different world — there’s a photo of bumper stickers on a pickup in Montana that preach slogans like “Save an elk herd, kill a wolf” or “I like my Canadian wolf fried.”
“The sentiment is clear,” wrote Mr. Lorber under the photograph.
Finding a good meal was a challenge, Mr. Lorber said, especially one that included vegetables. He said he visited more than a few towns along his route which punished his tastebuds as badly as a winding uphill climb ruined his legs. He recalled one restaurant in particular where he asked the waitress what the vegetable side dish was — she listed off a half-dozen varieties of fried potatoes.
“It was pretty sad out there,” he said, adding that his best meal of the trip was at a Japanese restaurant in St. Paul, Minn.
On July 7, Mr. Lorber finished his trek at the Puget Sound — “We then walked over to the small beach just to the left of the landing known, not surprisingly, as Ferry Landing Beach. I dipped my wheel, we took a bunch of photos, and then it was done. Just like that,” he wrote.
With one goal accomplished, Mr. Lorber is now focusing on his second. He said he hopes to build some momentum for making Barrington more bike-friendly: fewer cars on the roads, more kids and adults using their bikes to get around town, to work, to school, to the beach, to wherever.
“I’d love to see the mindset change. I would,” he said.
Work already underway
Barrington Town Planner Phil Hervey wants Bryan Lorber to know that a more bike-friendly Barrington is already in the works.
Mr. Hervey offered a list of recent projects in town that bolster biking. He said the recent improvements made to the town beach included 12 new bike racks (as well as the reduction of numerous car parking spaces). “I’d like to see people use those racks a little more,” Mr. Hervey added.
In addition, new bike racks were also installed at the White Church, the recently-renovated Bayside YMCA, and Police Cove Park properties, and are included in the plans for Latham Park improvements.
The Safe Routes to Schools program improved the bike-friendly nature of Hampden Meadows School, adding more racks to the school, a bike lane along Kent Street and better, more noticeable signs alerting motorists to bike traffic in the area.
Mr. Hervey said similar projects are “in the works” for Primrose Hill School and the middle school.
The town is also planning a series of streetscape improvements to the downtown shopping district, and included in that work is a new bike path connector running along Wood Street.
The town planner said he would like to see Barrington achieve the designation “Bicycle Friendly Community” by the League of American Bicyclists.