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Monday, January 19, 2015

Couple Departs Fort Thomas on Bicycles, Travels 3,624 Miles

On April 21, 2014, Eric Berendsen and Michelle Harris departed Fort Thomas with a goal to bike across the country via the Trans-America Trail.

Eric Berendsen and Michelle Harris at the start of their journey, Robson Ave., Fort Thomas.

Harris grew up in Covington; Berendsen in Fort Thomas. Berendsen says he considers Fort Thomas to be bicycle friendly. "People drive slowly," he says. "Roads are clean, the city has mountain bike trails in Tower Park, and the city is easily navigated by bicycle." 

The couple documented their trip via their blog, Trail of Trolls. Here they help paint a small picture of their journey—both the highs and the lows. 

Total trip miles: 3,624.

Number of states biked through: 9. 

Starting weights of each bike/packs: Eric: 91 lbs.; Michelle: 84 lbs. 

Bikes: Surly Troll with 26" wheels.

Tires: Schwalbe Big Apple 26x2. "I only had one flat and Michelle had zero," Berendsen says. "We are still riding those tires today."

Bags: Ortlieb panniers.

Maps: Adventure Cycling Association.

Shelter: Outdoor Research Bivys.

Total cost of trip: Approximately $9,000, which included cost of bikes, gear, food and shelter.

Best gear tip for future trail riders: "Go lighter," Berendsen says. "When you think your gear is light, you can always go lighter."  

Most miles biked in one day: 106.

Average number of daily calories consumed: "Not enough," Berendsen says. "Four to five thousand."

Example of daily food consumption: 
• First breakfast for one person: 2 packets of oatmeal, 1 cup of instant coffee, 1 12-oz protein shake, 1 multi-vitamin, 2 Ibuprofen.
• Second breakfast: Some form of eggs, chocolate milk, fruit and carbs—mostly potatoes or bread goods.
• Lunch: Protein bars, peanut butter, sliced fruit, or "even a fish fillet pulled from my jersey that I had purchased at second breakfast" (all eaten while bicycling). 
• Second lunch: Ice-cream! "Just a quick stop for an ice-cream sandwich and refill of water, sometimes an electrolyte drink."
• Dinner: "Lots of carbs to have in the tank come morning—noodles, mashed potatoes, bread, 12-oz protein shake."

Something you wish you had done differently: "I did most of the cooking," Harris says. "We brought along our camp stove—MSR Pocket Rocket. I wish we would have done more research about lightweight stoves to pack, but we already had one so we thought it would be OK. Overall, it was, but just like the gear tip, it is always better when your gear is lighter."

Most beautiful wildlife/scenery encounter: "The bear day!" Berendsen says. "First day in Montana, as the day neared end we found a campground and began to look for a comfortable location blocked by the wind and that had a good view of the magnificent valley we were in. While searching for a spot we encountered an adult moose and its calf, not even 10 feet from the road—we startled them as much as they did us. We began to talk about what we might see while in Montana and how it's known for bears, and in about that moment we spotted an elk standing just up the hill grazing in the forest. We continued on and finally agreed on a spot to camp for the night. While unpacking we noticed we have a visitor headed right for the campsite—a grizzly bear! In a few quick moments of excitement followed by fear and terror, we quickly left the site to allow the bear to continue his journey uninterrupted by the colorful, food-smelling cyclist that might have caught its attention. Even in that moment of danger to our lives we agree it was the most beautiful encounter of the tour. To see all of these amazing animals up close and personal and feel like we could all exist together without barriers between us was a feeling that will stay with us forever." 

Worst weather encounter: "First day in Wyoming, moments after taking our photo at the state sign," Berendsen says. "Temps in lower 30s, freezing rain, gusty winds around 30mph and all of this at elevations around 8,000 feet."

Berendsen and Harris, reaching Wyoming's state line.

Best example of kindness/humanity while on the trail: "[Despite Wyoming's terrible weather] it happens to have the best example of kindness and humanity," Harris says. "Eric and I were having a hard time that day, the weather just kept getting worse, but we knew we had to keep pushing on because we were 40 miles, both ways, away from a town. We were at the highest climb of our day, Eric had been riding about 10 yards ahead. I had not noticed him talking to someone in a large SUV until they pulled up next to me and said 'turn around, we're pulling over at that turnoff.' I waited until Eric got to me, and he explained that he could not put us through this day any longer, and this couple just offered to take us to the next town. We only had around 20 miles to go, and my hands and feet hurt. So, needless to say, I was grateful for this couple but I hadn't realized how amazing this couple really was. They had been on a picnic earlier that day until the weather went south, so when they found us, they had wool blankets that kept us warm until the next town, hot coffee to thaw our hands and bodies, and food to snack on. It got even better when we reached the next town. This couple, Paul and Joren, paid for us to stay in a motel. They said they always feel that they should give back and help when it is truly needed. Eric and I definitely feel that way, and we could not believe how amazing this random couple that just happened to take that road turned out to be."

Time you felt most homesick: "Kentucky will always be home to me, and I had been thinking a lot about summer in Kentucky: hiking in Red River Gorge, bonfires with friends, etc.," Harris says. "We had been in Idaho for a couple days, and this one specific road/climb named Lamb's Grade, which was terribly steep, had me concentrating so hard to make it to the top. But once we made it on top of this climb, I swear we were back in Kentucky, in the countryside, looking out on the rolling hills of the Bluegrass. I really missed home at that very moment. It had built up to that moment. I missed walking barefoot in the grass. We had not really seen plush green grass since The Flint Hills of Eastern Kansas. I loved seeing it that day."

Moment you grew tired of each other on the trail: "We had made it to Idaho, and we were coming off Lolo Pass, and a sign read 'next 90 miles winding'," Harris says. "Within 20 miles of the winding, I grew tired of everything—and it sounds terrible because it was a beautiful day of riding and scenery. For some reason, I did not like how it all looked the same. The river we were following had the same bends—it was extremely uniform, and I found myself tired of the ride and tired of talking to Eric. How do you explain to your partner you are bored of the ride that day? Especially when that ride is absolutely gorgeous and a small decline. I should have been grateful for that day of riding. I was not, though. He understood, though. We just rode in silence until we finally got to a camp resort. I needed a pick-me-up of some sort. I was hoping for ice cream, but I settled on an orange Fanta. That honestly made the rest of the ride better. Sometimes just getting off the bike for 15-30 minutes and having a treat makes all the difference."

Moment you fell in love with each other all over again on the trail: 
Berendsen: "For me it was the same day as the worst weather encounter. After leaving the Wyoming sign I knew we were in for some trouble—not a single home or structure [was] in view and the next city was over 30 miles away. Our gloves were soaked through from freezing rain and things were getting worse, and Michelle hadn't really said a thing about how bad of a situation we were in. We stopped for a moment and I decided we needed to put plastic bags over our hands so our body heat would warm our fingers up enough to control the brakes and shifting again. At this point I was drained—I wanted to scream at the wind; I wanted the day to be over. And when I gave her a small sandwich bag to put on her hands she just smiled and said, 'We've got this!' I couldn't figure out how she was so calm and positive about the situation. The truth was she knew how bad of a situation we were in, and was able to keep positive and encourage me to do the same. A few miles later I came to understand how strong and amazing of a woman she was to be out there and keep pushing when the easy thing was to just yell at the wind and be mad like I was at first. I couldn't stop smiling for the next few miles when I reanalyzed what this relationship was all about: support."

Harris: "There is more than one moment I fell in love with Eric all over again during this trip, but the first moment was in the very beginning before the riding had even started. Back in November 2013, Eric and I were only working, and we both were feeling bogged down. We were supposed to drive across the country after I graduated college, but it unfortunately just didn't happen. After some months, I began searching the web, looking at adventures, and there it was: Adventure Cycling Association. As soon as Eric got home from work, I asked him what he knew about bicycle touring, then quickly asked him how crazy would it be if we were to ride our bicycles across the country. That very moment he began looking up everything about bicycle touring. A fire had been lit under him—he had some purpose again. An adventure? Yes! He had to make sure it was possible. So, within the next two months we were preparing our adventure across the U.S. Within those months, I knew this man was going to follow me anywhere and vice versa. He talked about support in his moment, and I could not agree more. For over six years we have been supporting each other with every endeavor, no matter how small and large."   

Time you felt most empowered: "Crossing the Hoosier Pass in Colorado," Berendsen says. "It was a multi-day journey to climb to our highest elevation on tour at 11,539 feet. This was the highest Michelle and I had ever been, and we made it there by the power of our relationship and determination to see what is possible to achieve."

Hoosier Pass, Colo. Elevation: 11,539 feet.

Worst day and why: "We really didn't have a 'worst day' on the trail," Berendsen says. "Even in the worst weather, something positive came out of it. When spirits were low, we treated ourselves to a better lunch or dinner. We turned our bad days around."

Best day and why: "First sight of the Pacific Ocean," Berendsen says. "We reached Pacific City, Ore. on July 10, 2014. We knew we had made it—only a hundred miles left to the finish line and that seemed like a walk in the park compared to what we had traveled to be there."

Funniest moment on the trail: "Others may not find this funny, but when we finally made it to Astoria, Ore., we still had to ride through the town to get to the end point of the trail," Harris says. "We were following a bike path on the main road following the Pacific Ocean then the Columbia River; it was a beautiful day and a straight path to the end. Then our map instructed us to turn right—up a steep hill. I couldn't believe it! I told Eric I was turning around. We were five miles away from the finish line, following a straight path, a bike lane, and the map has us turn?! Of course, we turned. I cursed all the way up that hill and back down the other side."  

Arrival city/state/date: Astoria, Ore., July 12, 2014.

Astoria, Ore., 3,624 miles achieved.

Berendsen and Harris are currently living in Richmond, Ky. Berendsen is a manager of a local bike shop and Harris is attending Eastern Kentucky University in order to receive her Master's of Arts in School Counseling and Master's of Arts in Mental Health Counseling. Berendsen hesitates to call Richmond home, though. "I would prefer to call the state of Kentucky our home and not just one city or town," he says. "I have spent the majority of my adult life outside of Fort Thomas and living in anything from nice apartments to a sleeping bag on the ground for three months. Home is more of a concept to me than a place. It is where you feel safe and you know what to expect, it has its comforts but can come in many forms. Right now Richmond is home and hopefully soon I will call the saddle of a bicycle home again."

Next up? A bicycle tour from Canada to Mexico. 

If you know of a Fort Thomas resident with an interesting story, please contact me at

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