Bicycler reaches 10 year goal, Galesburg to California

by Caroline Porter

In blinding rain, but with the wind to their backs, Preston Johnson and his father, Craig, headed out of Galesburg on May 31st to complete a dream of Preston's for ten years--travel to southern California by bicycle. Preston finished the trip in Jacumba, Calif., 76 miles from San Diego, when his sister, Kim, who lives in a San Diego suburb, picked him up. He had been robbed, but unhurt. He had traveled 1,900 miles in 19 days.

His father, Craig, returned home after traveling 500 miles in five days. Worried about slowing Preston's pace and feeling a bit disoriented, he waved good-bye to Preston in another rain storm outside of Clay Center, Kans. and returned to the town to make arrangements to come home.

''A friend, Alex Moreno, made this trip 15 years ago, so when I heard about it ten years ago I decided to do it,'' said Preston. ''Last year I'd just finished a basketball game and was hurting and decided if I ever was going make the trip I'd better set a date.'' May 31st it was, come hell or high water--and a some of both were experienced.

''It was a deluge for 20 miles but the wind was from the east. Everyone said we should travel east so the wind would be at our backs but the hurricane from Texas caused a tailwind. We had overcast and cool days for the first nine days. That helped, ''said the 34-year-old Johnson.

Preston had drawn a straight line from Galesburg to San Diego across eight states to map the trip. ''Preston always had maps--so we talked to the local people for best directions to the next town,'' said Craig. ''In a restaurant in Memphis, Mo., a family gave us directions to Kirksville. We had to take Highway C to another highway. While we were on that route a pick-up truck passed us, it looked a little suspicious. When we reached the intersection where we were supposed to turn, the pick-up truck was waiting for us and it was the couple from the restaurant, checking up on us. People were very friendly.''

Not far down the road they talk to a farmer just entering the road. He told the two bicyclers that his sister lives in Paris, France, and he had seen Lance Armstrong win the Tour de France. This--in the middle of nowhere, Missouri.

The continuous hills and winding roads in Missouri were a shock to both men. They never knew what to expect around the curve or over the hill. Preston would head the team to fend off dogs and other creatures in the road by yelling to get rid of them and warn his father. Once Craig barrelled over the rise to find the creature in the road was a large bull in a very bad mood. The pair turned into a farmhouse to figure out how to pass safely, and the bull shortly meandered out of the road.

Craig describes the trip into Kirksville. ''The last 11 miles into Kirksville, which took an hour, we were in a deluge. We arrived in town and the gutters were overflowing. Just as we arrived at the hotel, the sun came up. There were crowds milling around and we found it was graduation weekend (for the University of Missouri). We got the only remaining room. The problem is, everything in Kirksville is on an incline. Just getting out of the restaurant in the morning was a chore.''

During the night, Preston had decided to re-pack and lighten Craig's load. Craig mused, ''I was beginning to feel like I was in basic training for 61-year-olds and Preston was the drill instructor.''

Always with a dry sense of humor, Craig says the signs were not encouraging for him. On the way out of Kirksville they passed a sign that said, ''State Park of 1001 Hills.'' '' I wanted to quit right there,'' he said. ''Then we came over a hill and there were about seven vultures in the road. They were looking right at me.''

Not too far out of Kirksville, they saw the man who had seen Lance Armstrong. ''You haven't gotten very far,'' he chided.

The day they reached Clay Center, Kans., about a third of the way across the state, father and son traveled 122 miles. ''And Clay Center was on a hill,'' cracked Craig. The next morning Craig said he was quite nervous. He he was afraid he was holding up his son and he wasn't able to eat. Preston had a time limit and wanted to travel about 100 miles a day.

''I wanted to get home to see my daughter,'' said Preston. After traveling a ways out of town that morning, they parted company and Preston continued on. Craig said, ''I thought I could do it. Maybe I could have with more time and less weight.''

Ahead of Preston were the rest of Kansas, Colorado, the deserts of New Mexico, mountains of Arizona, the Rockies and the hottest, scariest part of the trip from Blythe, California to Brawley, when it was 114 degrees. At lunchtime he was in Palo Verde and had to travel 40 miles across the desert to Glamis in the afternoon. The restaurant owner was concerned.

''I underestimated the desert,'' said Preston. ''I drank a lot of liquid for lunch and took five water bottles. After 30 miles my water was gone and it's lucky the last ten miles were flat or I would have been in trouble. There is absolutely nothing out there.'' He traveled 112 miles that day.

Preston said the most beautiful part of the trip was the section between Flagstaff and Prescott, Ariz. ''But you can't enjoy the scenery because you're whipping down the mountain,'' he said. The longest distance he traveled in a day was 154 miles from Garden City, Kans. to La Hunta, Colo. He traveled on good roads and sometimes the interstate, but was picked up twice by the California Highway Patrol for riding on the Interstate. ''The further West you get, there are fewer secondary roads available. After I'd been stopped twice, I thought I'd better get off the interstate.''

Problems? Well, very few. Preston said his knees are weak and that was his main concern. After crossing the Rockies he sent his camping gear home, which they carried for use between towns. They had some close calls. Craig remembers, ''The trucks would sit behind us and blast their horns during a rainstorm. On a two lane highway, with a crosswind, that could be intimidating.''

But they had no accidents or flat tires. ''I used Kelvar tires, made of the material used in bullet proof vests,'' said Preston. ''You have to have a good bike.'' His father interjected, ''You have to be mentally unstable--but have a good bike.''

''I bought a touring bike,'' said Preston. During the mountain's descent, you don't want anything to break or snap. Mechanically, I didn't have to worry about the bike.''

''This was not a spur of the moment idea,'' said Craig. ''We'd prepared since last September, but the longest we had traveled was 74 miles.''

''If you can handle the extremes--the Missouri hills, the deserts, the mountains, the rain, you can take the trip,'' said Preston. ''Your body gets accustomed to it in about a week. You have to stay positive. You can't worry about the rain or wind, the weather, you can't control that. You just have to take what comes.''

Craig Johnson is the owner and CEO of Galesburg Electric Supply of and Preston heads their industrial tools division. ''The guys in the company were great; they covered for us, said Preston.'' On the wall at Galesburg Electric is a map where employees were charting the progress of the trip.

Would he do it again? ''You couldn't pay me to do it again,'' said Preston. But he's pleased he accomplished a longtime goal. He stayed overnight with his sister in La Mesa but flew home on June 19th, sunburned and only seven pounds lighter.

Uploaded to The Zephyr Online June 30, 2001

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