Biking for vets, from Bend to DC

Veteran bikes 3,900 miles across country to raise funds

By Andrew Clevenger / The Bulletin / @andclev


Published Aug 7, 2014 at 12:01AM / Updated Aug 7, 2014 at 11:34PM

WASHINGTON — At the end of his cross-country ride to raise money for homeless veterans in Central Oregon, Bob Sanders got off his bicycle Wednesday with a smile on his face.

The Bend resident left home on Memorial Day and biked more than 3,900 miles over the next 73 days, averaging more than 50 miles a day. Using the Trans Am route popularized during the bicentennial year of 1976, he crossed multiple mountain ranges (Cascades, Tetons, Rockies, Ozarks and Appalachians) and 10 states.

Sanders, 74, beamed broadly as he dismounted, partly because his wife, Kathryn, had flown in to greet him along with friends who gathered to toast him with champagne at the end of his journey. But a large part of Sanders’ jubilant mood was knowing he had raised more than $6,500 (and counting) for Central Oregon Veterans Outreach.

Biking across America had been on Sanders’ bucket list, but turning it into a fundraiser cemented his resolve to keep going, even in the face of 10 days of headwinds in Wyoming, he said.

Any time he thought about packing it in and heading home, Sanders thought about his commitment to COVO and his fellow veterans.

“Making this also to raise some money for COVO was a good motivator,” he said. Any time it got particularly hard, he’d just think of those he’d be helping back home, and he kept pedaling.

Sanders chose to end his cross-country ride at the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial, a nod to the two years he spent in Vietnam in the Marines. The monument features a massive recreation of the raising of the U.S. flag in Iwo Jima as captured in the famous photo, but for Sanders the moment was less about personal glory than honoring his fellow veterans.

Other than wearing a fluorescent yellow cycling shirt with “Biking for Vets” written on the back, Sanders said he didn’t try to call attention to his fundraising efforts during his trip, but sometimes strangers slipped him cash when they learned the reason behind his ride. More often, they offered a place to stay, even if it was a horse stall in a barn or a sheepherder’s wagon.

The proprietor of a fully occupied bed-and-breakfast dragged out a cot and let him sleep in his work shed, Sanders said.

Other times, he stayed in parks or campgrounds, he said.

Kathryn, long accustomed to being separated from her husband for extended periods when he worked as a consultant on international aid programs before retiring to Bend in 2005, said she worried most when she thought about him navigating the long inclines and steep downhills crossing the Rockies. But frequent phone calls and status updates and photos on a Facebook page dedicated exclusively to his cross-country ride helped reassure her of his well-being.

Friends from various periods in Sanders’ life gathered to welcome him Wednesday, exchanging hugs and handshakes as they sipped champagne and recalled working together everywhere from Oklahoma City to Uganda.

“I cannot tell you how impressed I am,” John Gubisch told Sanders as he clapped him on the back. Gubisch also served in Vietnam, although not with Sanders, and he and his brother Chuck, who also attended Wednesday’s arrival with his wife, Susan, have been friends with Sanders for more than four decades.

“He’s been part of our family forever,” John Gubisch offered by way of an explanation for why it was important for them to celebrate Sanders’ achievement.

Sanders made it all the way across the country without any major mishaps, not even a flat tire, he said.

“The worst parts were when you get on, not the real backcountry roads where there’s really little traffic, but on major county roads with 55 mile-per-hour speed limits and no shoulder,” he said.

The closest call came in Virginia, where a truck pulling a trailer passed him and started pulling back to the right before the trailer had cleared the bicycle. The trailer kept creeping closer and closer and almost hit him, Sanders said.

“It shook me up so much that I went around the corner and leaned on my handlebars. Two cars stopped to ask me if I was OK,” he said.

Overall, the trip far exceeded his expectations, and he was a tad melancholy that it was over. But that doesn’t mean he’ll be back on his bike tomorrow.

“I wanted the physical challenge and the mental challenge and the emotional challenge,” he said. “I’m glad I did it, but am I going to ride my bike back? No. It’s being FedExed.”

— Reporter: 202-662-7456, aclevenger@bendbulletin.com