For islanders Bruce Morser and Bob Horsley, a journey of 4,300 miles began not with a single step, but with a bicycle tire dip in the Atlantic Ocean and a rotation of the pedals. It ended two months later with a ride through a “finish line” and bicycle tires dipped in Puget Sound at Jensen Point.
Last Saturday, after being gone exactly two months, the duo ended a cross-country bicycle trip that took them from Massachusetts, back home to Vashon. It was a trip the longtime friends and avid cyclists had been dreaming about for years and is now an accomplishment for the books.
Throughout the trip, Morser and Horsley regaled the island with tales of their journey by calling into Voice of Vashon’s Morning Scramble with Jeff and Cindy Hoyt every Thursday morning. The two cyclists called up from a wide range of locations, including a chapel, the side of the road and convenience store benches, but last Thursday, the riders joined the Hoyts in the studio in-person for a final recap.
“It’s nice to be sitting here and looking at you guys as opposed to sitting under a tree or a Subway restaurant or something struggling to hear you on the phone and not knowing when you’re supposed to talk or not,” Morser said as Horsley laughed.
While the Saturday ride down to Jensen Point was the official conclusion of the cross-country journey, the July 6 radio interview offered a glimpse into the duo’s final days on the road. Those days included a familiar ride over Washington Pass in the North Cascades, a harrowing jaunt through Deception Pass and, on the last day, a wrong turn somewhere outside Port Townsend and two flat tires for Horsley as the two raced to make a ferry from Southworth to Vashon to meet up with friends who rode with them to Jensen Point from the north end.
“In this panic, we didn’t quite understand how far the road we had to travel was, so there was this real sense of mystery, and we made this dash for Southworth,” Morser said, “but we still got to the Southworth ferry in time for a Nutty Buddy.”
The Little Debbie snacks are sugar wafers covered in chocolate and peanut butter and were one of the many convenience store snacks the two relied on to keep their legs going through 80-mile days with a severe headwind. Morser said he and Horsley easily consumed more than 100 Nutty Buddies each during the 60-day trip that began on May 3 in Gloucester, Massachusetts, where Morser grew up. They worked their way west through New York, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, North Dakota, Montana and Idaho. They both also kept a promise they made when they started: completing one painting for each day they were gone.
And while the surroundings changed as they ventured west, there was one thing that didn’t: a severe headwind that threatened to derail their push to average 80 miles each day. In the week before arriving home, they rode seven straight 100-mile days.
“We started getting weaker finally,” Morser said. “You’d think after all those miles you’d get stronger, but we began to tell we’d tipped that point.”
Before his Thursday interview, Morser told a story about the stretch of the ride through Glacier National Park and the severity of the headwind. He said he and Horsley were coming down a pass, going downhill, and he was struggling to keep his pace at 6 miles per hour.
That wind, and the fact of being on the road for two months, took a toll not just physically, but mentally as well.
Morser and Horsley both said that for days after coming back, they were in a brain fog, and Horsley said he was unable to put together cohesive thoughts. He said his wife caught him standing in the kitchen staring at the cabinets days after arriving back.
Horsley said a friend later told him he had never seen the duo look as ragged and tired as they did when they pulled into Jensen Point last Saturday.
But Morser said he actually hopes to keep a part of that meditative state he and Horsley found.
“I am determined not to disconnect as much from that (state),” he said. “Everyone wants that, and it’s hard to get in our busy life.”
A simpler state of mind was not all the duo set out to find though. Before they left, both men expressed some trepidation about the prospect of being embedded in blue-collar middle America in the current political climate.
“You sort of went to look for America, and it sounds like you found it,” Cindy Hoyt said.
That trepidation is long gone, and both Morser and Horsley said the experience was a refreshing reminder that there is more that unites people than divides them.
“We were hoping it was going to be the way it was. I think the overall experience left us with a good feeling,” Horsley said. “We found that all the people that we met on the trip were basically very gracious … very outgoing and nice and wanted to interact with us and find out what we were doing. There were no political overtones to anything.”
For Morser, he said the “degree of open warm-hearted” people who genuinely were interested and wanted to talk was surprising.
That said, the duo was relieved to be back on familiar road and found it on June 29 when they left Mazama to climb Washington Pass through the North Cascades — something they had done countless times before.
“I remember we rolled over the pass and dropped down into Marblemount the following night, and we ate at this little restaurant. I remember sitting at the cafe and looking around, and all of a sudden, all the lush vegetation … just sort of blew me away because we hadn’t seen any of that. It was nice to be back,” Horsley recalled.
Morser said it was the air that first led him to fall in love with the Pacific Northwest when he first visited from Chicago 40 years ago.
“When Bob and I came over the pass and started heading down, I got that same sensation of like, ‘Oh yeah, I know this air really well,’” Morser said. “And after two months of being dried out across the rest of the country, it’s like, ‘Oh, I remember this.’ It was a wonderful homecoming.”
And the homecoming continued. Horsley said the response and the interest in their ride from friends and islanders was overwhelming, as the only thing they set out to do was bike, paint and have fun. Morser agreed.
“Getting off the boat and seeing all the people on the bikes … was really heartwarming, and then pulling into the boathouse and seeing the ribbon across the road, that was quite emotional,” Morser said. “I was very touched by the whole thing.”
Both men have resumed rowing with the Vashon Island Rowing Club’s masters’ program and have fallen back into their lives, but they said they are living differently now.
“I’m feeling things more, and I’m really thinking about things a lot less,” Morser said.
Both men compiled not only their daily paintings, but stories and photos from the trip. They are planning to have a public event to unveil them and tell their stories again to the wider island community eventually, but have no set date or set plans.
“We’ll do something, but we’re not sure what it is yet,” Horsley said.