Although Kevin Nee had been taking long-distance bicycle trips for years, he considered himself more of a rock-climber than a bicyclist.
But, around the age of 50, the sport became a bit too rough for an “aging guy like me,” said Nee, a former collegiate gymnast now coaching gymnastics and teaching at Baton Rouge Magnet High School.
So, Nee put aside his rock-climbing equipment and answered the call of the open road.
This summer, Nee, 60, completed his longest bike trip by traveling 4,532 miles on his Surly Long Haul Trucker touring bicycle from Bellingham, Washington, to Virginia Beach, Virginia.
“Life at 10 mph is pretty awesome,” Nee said. “You see a lot more than what you see zooming by in a car at 70 mph.”
Nee began biking in the ninth grade when he rode from his home in Tullahoma, Tennessee, to Huntsville, Alabama, a distance of 60 miles, just to spend the night in a baseball park and come home the next day.
Since then, 22 of Nee’s 32 bicycle tours have been more than 500 miles long, he said, including trips from Chicago to Baton Rouge and along the Mississippi River from Kansas City, Kansas, to Baton Rouge.
International trips have led Nee along trails from Quebec City, Quebec, through the Canadian countryside to Nova Scotia and then on a ferry to Portland, Maine.
“You meet the best people out there,” Nee said. “People are friendly and helpful. They’re interesting to talk to. It’s just awesome.”
It was Nee’s younger brother and occasional long-distance bike partner, Scot Nee, who inspired him to think about a trans-American bike trip.
“I need to do this before I get too old,” Nee said, and the brothers began planning. They began their trans-American trip in Bellingham, where relatives lived, on June 1.
The pair carried all they would need, including camping supplies, extra fleece clothing and a stove, Nee said.
Once they made it through the snow-capped Cascade and Rocky mountain ranges, the brothers shipped home 24 pounds of gear they wouldn’t need in the warmer regions of the country.
They carried about three days of food on them, usually dining on tuna fish in a pouch or canned franks and beans for lunch and dinner, and shopping in towns each time they needed groceries, Nee said.
The brothers always ate a big breakfast in mom-and-pop-type restaurants to fuel them for the day’s ride, Nee said.
“French toast got me across America,” Nee said, adding he lost 25 pounds on the 71-day trip.
The pair spent just nine nights in a hotel and took only five days off from their journey to rest and sightsee, Nee said.
They traveled through 15 states and rode more than 1,000 miles of the journey on the “rails-to-trails” program, where railroad tracks have been replaced with bike and walking paths, Nee said.
Nee will never forget several moments of the journey.
One night while camping at Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming, Nee left his tent to find the bathroom. He noticed a beautiful waxing moon amid stars in a crystal-clear sky and there was the silhouette of Devils Tower, a geological wonder more than 1,200 feet high, standing before him.
“A sight like that,” Nee said. “It just sticks with you. You think to yourself, ‘How many people get to see this?’ ”
The brothers also spoke with a man at Devils Tower who had inquired if they had seen any rock climbers. They told the man where to look and continued on with their trip.
More than a month later, while sightseeing on their bicycles in Washington, D.C., the same man spotted them at an outdoor concert and asked if Nee was the man he had spoken to at Devils Tower.
“It blew my mind that he recognized us,” Nee said.
Other highlights of the trip included touring the Grand Coulee Dam in Washington, seeing the Little Big Horn Battlefield National Monument in Montana, riding the Coeur d’Alene Trail in the Idaho panhandle and visiting the Great Serpent Mound in Ohio.
Once the brothers got through Washington, D.C., they had two days of hard riding, traveling more than 100 miles each day to get to Virginia Beach on time.
The men were ready to be done with the trip.
“We’re like a horse heading for the barn door,” Nee said.
Once they rode into Virginia Beach, they ended their trip by dipping their front bicycle tires in the Atlantic Ocean just as they had dipped their rear tires in the Pacific Ocean to start their trip on the West Coast.
“It was a good conclusion to a great bicycle ride,” Nee said.