Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Rick Gritters' (and others') big trip

RICK GRITTERS on his low racer, shown here on Blue Star Highway, north of St. Joseph, on Aug. 14, was quite a contrast compared to riders on regular bikes. He was riding here with Doug and Joy Lutke of Dorr, Mich. (Photos by Mike Eliasohn)

By MIKE ELIASOHN, MHPVA vice president

Rick Gritters of Pella, Iowa, usually pedals about 4,000 miles a year – a lot more than most cyclists, it's safe to say.
But this year, he and a lot of other cyclists are pedaling 3,881 miles in only two months.
Rick is one of the fastest riders in Human Powered Race – America events in the Midwest, and races on bikes he built. He's also built several low racer recumbents for other racers.
But rather than racing, Rick is riding in the Sea to Sea: Ending the Cycle of Poverty tour conducted by the Christian Reformed Church in North America and the Reformed Church in America.
Riders started their long journey June 30 in Seattle and will finish Aug. 30 in Jersey City, N.J. The route is longer than most coast-to-coast trips because of the leg through Michigan, done because both churches have their headquarters in Grand Rapids. Overnight stops were in South Haven on Aug. 14, Grand Haven, Grand Rapids Laingsburg and Richmond (on Aug. 19), before crossing into Canada.
To aid in those two churches' programs to help end poverty worldwide, cyclists riding the entire 3,881 miles were asked to each raise at least $10,000, and those going part of the route, $4,000. Rick said the goal was to raise $1.5 million, but as of when I (Mike) met with him in South Haven Aug. 14, close to $2 million had been raised.
Rick's personal goal was $10,000, but he and another rider from Pella raised almost $28,000 combined. “It takes a lot of letter writing,” Rick said.
You can read about Rick's adventures along the way at, which has links to the Sea to Sea Web site and for making a contribution.
About 125 riders, including Rick, are making the entire trip. Others are riding part way. For instance, about 60 riders joined the group in Grand Rapids to ride the final leg to Jersey City.
Rick is riding one of his front-wheel-drive bikes he previously raced. For the tour, he made substantial changes. Both wheels are 20 inch/406 mm size. He replaced the original drive wheel with one using a Sturmey-Archer 8-speed hub gear. He added two sprockets for a total of three. That, plus two chainrings gives him a total of 48 speeds, and gearing good for a range of about 5 mph to 40 mph.
Despite some reservations about going up mountain passes, Rick said the bike did fine. The only time he's gotten off and walked was to cross some bridges with a rough surface. And downhill, of course, and on flat surfaces, if he wants to, “It just flies...”
Rick rebuilt his low racer from the down tube back, in order to raise the seat and to get a steeper head tube angle. To make the bike easier to transport, he made the bike a take-apart, the joint being where the down tube meets the main horizontal tube. Three bolts on each side hold the two parts together.
Although Rick rides a lot of miles each year, he said, “Basically, this is my first tour of any kind.”
Interestingly, to those of us who think recumbents are the ultimate in comfort, Rick said his low racer is one of only five recumbents being ridden the entire 3,881 miles – three two-wheelers, including the Rans Mike Mowett mentions below, and two tricycles.
Since riders only have to carry items they need during each day's ride, most of the bikes on the tour from what I observed are road bikes, not touring bikes.
The shortest daily distance on the Sea to Sea was 41 miles; the longest, 113 on two consecutive days, followed by 100 miles on the third day. The most climbing in one day was 5,723 feet, with the ride that day totaling 95 miles. Each Sunday is a rest day.
UPDATE: On Aug. 30, Rick and about 190 other cyclists completed the Sea to Sea Tour, though not everyone went the entire distance. Final statistics, from Rick' s blog: Total miles, about 4,100; tires changed, two; no falls or accidents; and the only mechanical problem some broken front wheel spokes.

RICK GRITTERS and his homebuilt low racer, at the Sea to Sea overnight stop at Baseline Middle School in South Haven on Aug. 14. As of then, and hopefully for the rest of his journey, he had few problems with the bike. "Just in case," spare tires and an extra front wheel are among the items he carried in the semi-truck trailer that transported riders' belongings.

(Editing and some comments added by Mike Eliasohn)

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Tonight, I had the opportunity to see Rick Gritters and the Sea to Sea: Ending the Cycle of Poverty group.
Rick's been in Michigan since Thursday, Aug. 14, and several Michiganders got to see and support him. Mike Eliasohn, our vice president and blog editor got to have dinner with him in South Haven on Thursday. The route came within a few blocks of Mike's apartment in St. Joseph.
John Foltz on his Baron rode with him Monday as the group neared Lansing. Don Smith on his Velokraft NoCom rode with him today on most of the leg. Tomorrow, the group crosses into Canada via a ferry across the St. Clair River.
The travelers were camped out this evening at Richmond High School f and I got there about 7:30 pm, as they were doing their nightly discussion/riders' meeting. I didn't get a chance to ride with Rick due to my work schedule.
An interesting announcements at the meeting were that you can't cross into Canada carrying potatoes or berries on your bicycle. The organizers cautioned against that.
Rick said more than half of the riders are Canadians. This past weekend, 60 new people joined the group for the final leg from Grand Rapids to the Atlantic coast. More than 200 riders are doing some or all the portions of the trip. About 125, including Rick, are riding the entire 3,881 miles from coast to coast. Rick said it is the largest group of bicyclists to ever cross the U.S. in an organized trip, bigger than even the RAAM event. About 10 people have dropped out so far for various reasons.
Rick gave me a booklet showing the route. The preparations that went into this ride were enormous by some individuals, including Ed Witvoet, who drove the entire route in February, logging all the mile markers, distances, elevation gains from his GPS, and checking in and making reservations/arrangements at each school or park they are staying at.
This big of a trip requires a lot of planning and commitment from the riders and the volunteers who are making it happen. At the riders' meeting, several speakers shared about why they are here and what led them in their life to go on this trip, considering it is for such a long time (up to two months). There was spiritual guidance involved, and the guidance of others.
People are from all over the country on this trip. Rick only really knew one person, before the trip, a gal from Pella, Iowa, but she had to drop out after hooking her handlebars on a brush or tree one day and crashing badly. In sharing more stories of how riders came to meet and know each other, some other amazing stories unfolded. Rick said he was out riding one day on a trail in Iowa, and came across a group of cyclists. In that group was a gal from California. Rick mentioned his trip, and she asked, "Is that the Sea to Sea trip?" She already knew about it, because her brother-in-law was going on it, and he wound up being with Rick in the same small-group nightly discussion group.
Tonight's featured topic was about a man named Mark, a Rans recumbent rider. He was a church pastor who put a considerable amount of his time and energy into making this trip happen, not only for himself and others. Unfortunately, Mark died suddenly of a heart attack in February, before he could go on the trip.
Two speakers spoke about him, and how he influenced them to go on the trip. One said he was contacted by Mark's wife to see if someone would be willing to ride his Rans recumbent on the trip, as sort of tribute to Mark. That was only a month before the trip, and the speaker was worried that everyone had their bikes already, and to switch to a new bike at the last moment was a risk few would take. After e-mails to the group, someone volunteered to ride the Rans, feeling greatly fulfilled to do so.
One rider received money from Mark's church to do the ride on a Friday, just before Mark had his heart attack on a Monday. The last speaker was Mark's wife, who gave a moving testimony about his life.
Rick told me it must be remembered the important thing about the Sea to Sea tour is not the ride but its mission to end poverty. The money the riders raised all goes to that purpose. (He said the goal was to raise $1.5 million, but close to $2 million has been raised so far.) The money needed to support the riders and the truck caravan came from corporate sponsors.
One semi-truck trailer Rick showed me houses a commercial kitchen, where workers traveling with the tour prepare breakfast and dinner for the riders and a lunch they carry with them to eat on the road.
Another semi trailer is filled with row upon row of shelves, filled top to bottom with white laundry baskets holding all the riders personnel belongings. Each rider gets two baskets. Non-breakable items, such as tents and sleeping bags, go in duffle bags which go in the trailer's center aisle. Each rider is allowed only 60 pounds of goods, counting their tent. (Among Rick's items are spare 20-inch/406mm tires and an extra front wheel.)
Such things like a portable public address system and folding tables and chairs also are transported and set up for the meetings each night.
Rick said 20 support staff are on the trip, with the motorized fleet including the aforementioned two semis, another semi truck carrying food, two motor homes and two 12-passenger vans. One trailer carries a portable toilet, for use at rest stops, which are set up about every 20-25 miles.
Rick is currently doing a tour of duty on the "sweep crew,” which has to clean up the campground or school property in the morning after the other riders depart. Everyone else has to be on the road by 9 a.m.
Members of the sweep crew rides check at rest stops with volunteers, who check in each rider as they pass through. Riders have gotten lost when going to stores and it may take hours to find them and get them back on the route. Each night, a sheet of paper is given to each rider, showing them the route for the next day.
There isn't a professional bicycle mechanic on the Sea to Sea, so Rick and some others have become the unofficial mechanics. While we were chatting, one lady asked him to check her tires. It seems most of their air pumps are worn out by now, according to Rick. I can imagine they were put to good use! (He said the group is averaging about 20 flat tires a day.)
Rick said he only had to change his front Schwalbe Stelvio tire, due to it getting damaged by something and then flatting. The rear tire is still going strong – with more than 3,000 miles on it since before the start of the trip. (He also uses Stelvios for racing.)
The weather was getting cold when I left. Rick said they had a lot of very hot days in the first half of
their trip, before about Missouri. Now the days are getting shorter and he says riders have to spend more time waiting for the sun to come up in the morning.
Photos I took are at:

THE DRIVETRAIN of Rick's bike consists of a Sturmey-Archer 8-speed hub, which he fitted with three sprockets, and dual chainrings, for a a total of 48 speeds. Since Rick uses the big chainring most of the time, shifting to the smaller chainring and back is done by hand; there's no front deraileur. The big chainring is on the inside, the opposite of normal, for better chain alignment. Notice that the bottom run of the chain runs directly from the chainring to the hub sprockets. Despite lack of an idler, Rick said the arrangement works fine.

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