Even before Chris Schwenker could be seen cycling around the bend in the street leading to his Jamesport home, the cheering, hooting and cowbell ringing began. With “Eye of the Tiger” playing, confetti shot in the air as he slowly coasted in front of his house, to be greeted by family and friends Friday afternoon.
What was all the fuss about?
Mr. Schwenker’s long journey was over. And what a journey it was.
Starting at Half Moon Bay, south of San Francisco, Mr. Schwenker, 50, rode all the way back to his Jamesport driveway. In all, he covered 3,873 miles on the trip, which took 59 days, one day less than had been planned, to complete.
“I have mixed feelings,” he said. “I am happy to be home and see my family and, of course, this [reception] is overwhelming, but it was an incredible experience and I wish it could have lasted longer.”
Through his cycling odyssey, Mr. Schwenker said he raised $12,000 for the DIRT Dad Fund, which assists people facing financial hardship.
This ambitious bike ride had been in the works for a couple of years. Rudy Schwenker, Chris’ uncle, said: “We were just in a family gathering and he said, ‘I’d like to ride across the United States.’ I said, ‘I’ll drive.’ That was it.”
Simple as that.
Rudy Schwenker handled the logistical planning and drove a 2022 recreational vehicle that included Chris’ wife, Kristin, and acted as mobile support for him.
The question remained: Why? Why do this?
“Well, you know, the real reason why I did it has nothing to do with riding a bike,” Chris Schwenker said. “It’s much more the experience of seeing the country on two wheels is something that don’t get when you’re in a car.”
Was there any doubt he would be able to complete the long ride?
“Oh, I had doubts every day,” he said. “Yeah, it’s a daunting task to have to wake up every morning and have to ride your bike between 70 and 100 miles. I never knew how my body was going to respond, but I always knew that I had support.”
Day Three in California presented the biggest challenge.
“I rode from the base of Yosemite Valley to the top of Tioga Pass, which was a 60-mile climb,” Chris Schwenker said. “So I gained 12,000 vertical feet in 60 miles, and I went to over 11,000 feet of elevation, so that was a really tough day. That was nine hours in the saddle.”
After navigating that tricky day, he said he knew he would make it the rest of the way.
For his part, Rudy Schwenker had no doubts about his nephew’s willpower. “His determination is beyond understanding,” he said.
Over the course of the journey, Chris Schwenker got to see some of the best America has to offer: the Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands and Capitol Reef national parks as well as Mount Rushmore. He crossed the Sierra Nevada and Rocky Mountains. By Day 50, he was at Niagara Falls.
The weather worked in his favor, for the most part, although one day when he parked his bike, he learned there was a tornado 10 miles away. As far as any other difficulties, he said: “I guess the biggest thing would be cars in some of the urban areas. I had a couple of really close calls.”
Chris Schwenker began Friday in Fishkill, N.Y., biked into Connecticut and took a ferry from Bridgeport to Port Jefferson for the final stretch on a baking-hot day. Awaiting him were “Welcome Home” signs, 23 smiling faces, including those of his son, Conor, 22, and daughter, Kayla, 20, as well as the family’s dog, Cane, a black labrador retriever.
“I think the lifetime goal of him riding across America, I think that was his Mount Olympus, so I’m proud of him,” said Conor Schwenker.
Chris Schwenker, who is retired, had owned and operated a physical therapy practice with his wife. He has been cycling for about 20 years and had done some impressive things on a bike before.
“I’ve ridden my bike the equivalent of Mount Everest in a day,” he said. “That was 12 hours at one time. And I raced my bike up Mount Washington, which is a fairly significant undertaking. You know, that’s considered the most difficult climb on a bicycle in the world, and I did it five times.”
He added: “I’m fanatical about everything that I do, basically. I don’t do anything halfway, as you can tell.”