John Bikes USA
Johnny bikes the USA – His Story
for Give America Hope
New cycler Johnny Hennesey, a Damascus, Maryland native and rider for HOPE, says, “I’m riding my bicycle from Delaware to San Francisco. Atlantic to Pacific. My initial goal was one of self-reflection, to gain a different perspective on my life. After talking with my friend Charlie Seymour, President of Give America Hope or HOPE, we decided to partner to raise awareness for the heroin and opioid epidemic that has become so prevalent in our country.
“Opioid abuse is an issue that has touched almost everyone in some way, myself included. I’m 27 years old, only 10 years out of high school, and already I can look through my senior yearbook and, on every page, point out someone who is no longer here because of an overdose. Some of my closest friends have struggled with heroin and opiate addiction, and one of the most frustrating things is that it starts with a prescription for a legitimate physical pain, and progresses into a dependence that seems to dominate every aspect of someone’s life. It makes this epidemic a difficult one, with no easy solution. The best chance we have is to raise awareness through organizations like Give America Hope. If we can educate ourselves on how these drugs work, and how these scenarios originate, we can stop it before it starts. This is not about criminals or deadbeats. This is about my friends. This is about your family. This is about you and me. I am not a cyclist, and I hadn’t been on a bike in at least a year until I started this journey in Cape Henlopen, Delaware on June 17th. And just as the United States can be crossed on a bike, addiction can be overcome. It starts by taking that first step, or pedaling that first mile. Before you know it, you’ll be in the middle of Nebraska with a tan-line that even farmers will be jealous of!
“I’m on this ride by myself, but I can’t give HOPE alone. Together, we can do this! ”
I started my solo bicycle adventure on the beach in Delaware. I had to actually touch the Atlantic Ocean to make it official. Over the next 75 days, I made my way through Delaware, Maryland, DC., West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, and finally California.
Delaware is completely flat, and of course, very small. I made it through on the first day and camped in Tuckahoe State Park in Maryland. I surprised myself by going 60 miles since I hadn’t been on a bike in over a year. In eastern Maryland, I made my way to the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, which does not allow cycling, so I was ferried across by truck. On the other side, I travelled South through Annapolis to Washington, DC. Out of our nation’s capital, I followed the C&O Canal on its windy route to Cumberland, MD. I spent an extra day in Cumberland to finish out my first week on the road.
Up to this point, my journey had been pleasantly flat, but mountains were ahead of me. In West Virginia, I climbed up to 3,100 feet in Davis, my first real trial, and I found myself walking the bike up some of the steeper inclines. I descended the western slopes of the Appalachian Mountains and into Ohio. I took an extra day in Cincinnati as well, where the temperatures were in the high 90s.
My route in Indiana and Illinois took me mainly through flat farmland, and the cities of Indianapolis, Joliet, and Moline. Riding north out of Indianapolis, I had my first 100+ mile day, or century, going a total of 110 miles. In Illinois, I followed another canal along the Illinois River before making my way to the “Quad Cities” of Moline, Rock Island, Davenport, and Bettendorf. Moline and Rock Island are on the Illinois side of the Mississippi River, while Davenport and Bettendorf are on the Iowa side. The Mississippi River itself was a huge milestone for me, being such a notable landmark. I felt like I was actually going West for the first time.
Iowa was a complete surprise to me. I had always been under the impression it would be as flat as the rest of the Midwest, but instead it was an unending succession of hills. Coupled with the fact that temperatures were hitting 100 degrees, this was the first time I contemplated giving up my mission. But every day I woke up and went just a little bit farther until I finally made it to the Missouri River, another milestone. Crossing into Omaha, Nebraska, I was eagerly anticipating the flat terrain that is so famously associated with the state. Technically, going west across Nebraska is a constant uphill ride, but it is so gradual that it seems flat. I think it was something like a 6-foot altitude gain every mile. In western Nebraska, I got my first and only flat tire. On the side of the road, I pulled the tire off, patched the inner tube, and reinflated it with my little hand pump in order to continue on.The next day in North Platte, I replaced both tires and both tubes.
The eastern half of Colorado is much like Nebraska, until you get to Denver at the foot of the Rocky Mountains. Everything up to this point and essentially just been training for this massive obstacle, and I spent a couple days in Denver to get prepared, both mentally and physically. My first day out of Denver, I only made it 40 miles. At some points, I was stopping every 100 yards, not because my muscles ached, but because I needed to catch my breath in the high altitude. I went over two substantial passes in Colorado: Loveland Pass at 12,000 feet and Vail Pass at about 10,500 feet. At the top of Loveland Pass, it snowed on me… in the middle of summer. Vail Pass was the final climb over the Rockies, and for the rest of Colorado, it was downhill. I followed the Colorado River out of the mountains and into Utah.
The first day in Utah, I ran out of water. I had strapped an extra gallon to my bike in addition to the four bottles I usually had, and still I ran out. I ended up drinking about a gallon of water straight from the Colorado River, untreated. I knew it was possible to get sick from untreated water, but dehydration in the high, dry desert is worse. I reached Moab and, after stocking up with even more water, made the long journey Northwest to Salt Lake City. Western Utah and Nevada are a combination of flat deserts and high mountain ranges until you reach Reno near the California border. From Reno, I went south to Carson City and crossed into California at Lake Tahoe.
Crossing the California border was, of course, the most exciting moment on my journey. There were no more borders and no more states. This was it. It’s a tough climb up to Lake Tahoe, but once you make it, you’ve got a full 7,000-foot descent ahead of you. I made my way out of El Dorado National Forest to Sacramento, and from there on to Napa. Napa is a short drive north of San Francisco, so when I got there, I knew I was at the end. The next morning I woke up, rode for about an hour to the ferry terminal in Vallejo, and took the ferry across the bay to San Francisco. With about 10 miles between myself and the beach, I wasn’t quite done. San Francisco is notoriously hilly, and those last miles were no easy ride. When I finally put my hands in the water of the Pacific Ocean, it was one of the greatest feelings in the world.
I lost 30 pounds total on my ride, and found out a lot about myself in the process. I pushed myself harder than I ever had before, and I overcame challenges I never expected. It feels great to look back and know what I’ve accomplished. Weeks upon weeks of sweat and tears. The 4.5-hour plane ride from California back to Maryland made me chuckle.