ON Sunday afternoon last, Letterkenny man Roger Holmes arrived back home in Drumardagh after spending the summer travelling alone across America.
As well as raising funds for the Irish Cancer Society during his journey on Peggy – a used bike he bought to complete the cycle – Holmes (43) sought to raise awareness among men of the importance of a PSA test, which helps to monitor and pick up an early signs of prostate cancer.
Starting off from San Francisco on June 14 and making the journey from west to east to New York, Roger passed through 13 states, four time-zones, over three mountain ranges, through the desert and the great plains – a total of 3,575 miles.
Roger plans to write a book about it all but right now he is busy planning a wedding and organising the final leg of Trans Atlantic Cycle – from Donegal to Dublin.
So far Roger has raised almost €8,000 for the Irish Cancer Society, but the fund is still open for contributions.
Next Saturday morning, September 10, Roger will leave his home at 10am to make a four day ride to Dublin via Sligo – arriving at the head offices of The Irish Cancer Society on Wednesday morning – three months after setting out from San Francisco.
This week he spoke to the Donegal News about his epic solo and unsupported journey across America.
“Two years ago this week, I had a bad fall from a bicycle, and was at a low ebb for a long time afterwards. With the help and support of my family and friends, the people of Donegal and new friends in America, we have turned that negative experience into a positive outcome. We are all a lot stronger than we might think. I believe that the best foundations are build on rock bottom,” he said.
Crossing America, Roger wore a free T-shirt which he got when he ran the first 5k after that accident. A friend, Patrick, gave him some cycling gear, and gave up his time to come out training while another friend, James, gave him the lend of his goPro camera.
The first couple of weeks were tough. The flat central valley of California, with its beautiful orchards and vineyards, soon gave way to the Sierra Nevada – it took him three attempts to get over Echo Summit.
At 7,382 feet, it was by no means the highest climb he would face, but it came so early in the tour that his legs just weren’t ready and, as a result, he was exhausted by the time he reached South Lake Tahoe.
Spooner Summit was no easier, but again he made it over the top and freewheeled down into Carson City, Nevada.
“I was hot. Very hot. That was where I met ‘The Desert Angels’; twin ladies who insisted on following me across the state of Nevada in their motor home. That was a phenomenal experience, and I have developed a really close bond with them. One of the ladies, M, who lost her husband to prostate cancer, plans to visit Donegal later this year,” he recalled.
It would get even hotter in Utah.
“I remembered a trick I had seen Bear Grylls use on TV and dug a trench to the point where the dirt was cooler, got in and covered myself over. I built up a mound so that my head was shaded from the sun. There was passing traffic so it wasn’t really do or die. It worked,” he laughed.
On another day in the desert, he passed a sign saying ‘Next Services 76 miles’. It was actually 83!
When he got to the city of Moab, the temperature was 110.4f and he had to rest and rehydrate for three days.
In Montrose Colorado, he came within about 40 feet of a mountain lion.
“Thankfully, despite the fact that it bent its ears back and eyeballed me, I had the higher ground and was able to backtrack away to safety,” he said.
Monarch Pass, but his own admission, was ‘brutal’. At 11,300 feet, it was the point where he went over The Rockies.
“I had my late aunt Kathleen and a few other cancer victims and their families in my thoughts that day. I felt a strong mix of emotions when I made it to the summit,” he said.
While descending through a gorge canyon cut out by the Arkansas River, he hit rockfall and came off.
That left him behind schedule, and he had to pick up the pace through Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Ohio, Indiana and West Virginia but by that time he was feeling fit and strong.
After riding on US Highway 50 all the way from California, Roger finally veered north eastwards in West Virginia. US30 was not so kind, with little or no shoulder to ride on as he entered The Appalachians and ran into high humidity. After passing through Gettysburg and having a quick word with Abraham Lincoln, he met another cross-country rider called James.
“We rode together all day, and into the night. We found an abandoned motorway which was like a scene from The Walking Dead! We went through two tunnels; one almost two miles long, and we couldn’t see the light at the other side. Talk about blind faith! I was glad of the company that day. People seemed to come into my path just when I needed them most – and vice versa,” he said.
In Amish Country, Roger met his cousin Maire and when he reached Philadelphia, he stayed with his cousins Helena and Serena.
On the final day, Roger rode through New Jersey towards New York. It was seriously hot and humid. He got lost and asked a man in a church yard for directions.
“It was one of those gospel churches, like the one in the Forrest Gump movie! They were the best of good people. I was given countless blessings and a business card with ‘Jesus’ written on it. Thankfully they also gave me directions,” he said.
Later that evening he took the ferry across the Hudson from Sandy Hook to Wall Street.
“It was pure adrenaline which took me up Manhattan’s West Side and over into Central Park where my fiancé Yesi and her family and friends were waiting to greet me. Tears and a load of emotions came out all at once. As crazy as it seemed at the outset, I had done it. I had cycled across America!
“I spent the following few days riding around Central Park to make up some miles which I had skipped due to the heat in the desert, and following the fall in Colorado. A few days later we went out to Jones Beach, Long Island, where I dipped Peggy’s wheels in the Atlantic Ocean,” he said.
And then, it was time to cross the Atlantic. After a few problems with cancelled flights, Roger eventually got back to Letterkenny on Sunday last where he was given a welcome home party.
“Having tea and home-made scones at the kitchen table with family was exactly what I had been looking forward to. America is a fine country, but God love them, they have no idea how to make a good cup of tea,” he smiled.
The presidential election, the economy and many social issues were hot topics of conversation which couldn’t be avoided.
“I had to be very diplomatic, and constantly bite my lip. Sometimes there was no right answer, so I just let people talk. For some reason, a lot of them opened up to the lone Irishman riding his bike across their country. I met so many good people, and had so many interesting experiences and conversations,” he said.
A media briefing and Q&A session will be held at Safetech Consulting and Training on Neil T Blaney Road on Friday next, September 9, from 4.30pm until 6.30pm.
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