Originally published in the Valley Morning Star, Sept. 27, 1981
By Anne Shelander (now Easterling)
Photos by Gary Easterling
Gary Easterling's eyes move with the same quiet determination that his legs must have used to pedal his bicycle for 15 days.
His voice is slow and deliberate as he talks about pumping 12 miles up a hill to the top of Hoosier Pass, Colorado, elevation 11,000 feet. Or about racing furiously to outrun a sudden thunderstorm in Wyoming.
In fact, the wisdom he acquired in a 800-mile bicycle tour he made last month seems like a description of Easterling himself.
"Never push yourself on a bicycle," said Easterling, 27. "Do it the easiest way you can. Don't get in a hurry. Make time to absorb all you can while travelling throughout this land, and have time for the courteous people you meet along the way."
Easterling pedals his bike, in which he carried clothes, food,
a small stove and part of the tent.
Easterling, having insulin dependent type 1 diabetes, made his first bicycle tour five years ago to prove that "I could get out on my own." The eight-person group rode from Carbondale, Illinois, to Yorktown, Virginia, in 1976 as part of the "Bikecentennial" trans-America bike route.
He rejoined Pat Tagart, a woman he met on the 1976 trip, to make another segment of the route. This time, they tackled the section of the nationwide route that spans from the Royal Gorge in Colorado to Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming.
Along with the ever-changing scenery, Easterling and Tagart saw a panorama of pedal pushers from all over the United States.
"We ran into people from all walks of life," he explained. "Doctors, teachers, students. Young people, old people. There was a fellow in his mid-60s who was going all the way from the West Coast to the East Coast."
Their two-person party was impressive in its own right. Tagart is a 28-year-old woman who teaches young Navajo Indians on a New Mexico reservation. Because many school-age children can't speak English, she is trying to learn the Navajo language.
"Pat's a pretty tough girl," Easterling said, explaining that on the second or third day of the trip she began complaining about pain in her knees.
"On our way to Kremmling (Colorado), both knees were aching so bad that she was ready to go to the emergency room," he said. "At that point, I suggested that we terminate the trip. She wouldn't hear of it."
About five miles out of Kremmling, Easterling loaded all of the equipment on his bike, increasing the bike's normal loadded weight of 70 pounds to over 100 pounds. But they finally pulled over, pitched their tend on the side of the road and waited until the next morning.
When the two made it to Kremmling, Tagart telephoned her doctor, who recommended packing the ailing knees on ice. Easterling continued carrying most of the gear until Tagart was able to pull her own weight.
Easterling's bicycling accomplishments are also impressive. A slim blond of average height, he believes being diabetic hasn't hampered his bicycling ability.
"Just know how your body reacts, how to regulate your body," he said.
He explained that his doctor put him through a serious of thorough exams including one immediately after a ride of about 60 miles, before giving his permission for the first trip.
"The second time, I was more concerned about my ankles," Easterling said. "Training before this ride was heavy at first, then I had to lay off."
Once the trip was begun, diet wasn't important. "I could get away with eating candy because I was burning it up," he explained. "Insulin had to stay about the same. I had thought I might be able to reduce it."
Easterling and Tagart filled up on snacks during their breaks on the roadside.
"It was our energy source. What you ate of almost anything, you burned up. So you had to eat more."
Before beginning his trip, Easterling stopped at the Catholic shrine
in San Juan, Texas, for a special blessing on his ankles.
In addition to their physical nourishment, the couple drank up the scenery.
"The land was constantly changing," Easterling recalled, faltering as he attempted to explain it. "But on a bike you get to see enough details and get the whole benefit of the scenery."
The trip gave them a view of the Rocky Mountains, the Royal Gorge, the Grand Tetons and Old Faithful geyser. They rode past mirror lakes and lush evergreens in Colorado, through the hot and windy desolation of Wyoming's flat lands, and back into the inviting greenery as they near Yellowstone.
In all, the two bicyclists crossed the Continental Divide eight times.
They braved a few rainstorms and even saw ice when going over Togerty Pass. Easterling snapped pictures of scenery, wild animals, his friend -- and with the use of a timer -- himself.
In Easterling's opinion, the beauty of the areas they traveled was enhanced by their method of travel. The bike's relatively slow speed allowed him to plan photographs.
"You watch the scene develop in your mind," he said. "In a car you could be past a scene before you think to stop. You can stop on a bicycle and enjoy it."
He said he'll continue bicycling, then maybe collect some other enthusiasts or his friend Pat and take out on another trip. He's looking at the West Coast now.
"Touring on a bicycle is quiet, no distractions," he said. "You are under your own power. The feeling that I get out of bicycling is a feeling of accomplishment."
The two bikers arrive at their goal, Yellowstone National Park.
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As you may have noticed, this story was written by Anne Shelander (now Easterling). That's right. I'm the reporter who wrote this story back in 1981, and this is how I met my husband. Gary graciously allows me to share this story here.
We've been happily married more than 30 years and count our blessings every day!
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