McDonough, 24 and Schimmel, 22 each San Lorenzo Valley High School graduates, embarked from Mount Hermon on July 9 on a trip that took them across the country in 2 ½ months. It was anything but smooth sailing.
“It was so much worse than you expect it to be,” McDonough said, reflecting on the trip last month.
The duo’s grandioso plans were in serious question after only the third day of their journey.
After two 90-mile riding days to start the trip, with close to 100 pounds of gear strapped onto their bikes, they were exhausted and McDonough’s health took a turn for the worse.
“My (left) knee blew out. It was done,” he said. “We were having a serious conversation about whether we can do this or not. My knee was bad and his knees were clicking every time he moved them.”
Desperate, the duo stopped near Fair Oaks and re-evaluated their plans. Schimmel had brought nine pairs of socks. They had five propane tanks for cooking, a video camera and tripod along with four sets of riding gear. McDonough ditched his four bottles of sunscreen. To cut down the weight, they even cut their toothbrushes in half. In all, they lowered their gear weight to about 40 pounds.
Rather than push the envelope, the partners cut down on their mileage and built more rest days into their journey. They began to ride 50 miles per day in an attempt to build up their strength.
“It was so emotional after that,” McDonough said.
Soon they reached the Nevada border — open fields and 80-mile rides between towns. They camped along the way, often sleeping on concrete next to air conditioning units because they couldn’t afford hotels.
In Colorado, McDonough’s knees were so bad, they had to stop at a doctor who prescribed 800 milligrams Ibuprofen three times a day to alleviate the pain and battle the inflammation.
The medication helped, and the two men plowed on — at that point, only wanting to finish their journey.
“You wake up and you go,” McDonough said of each day. “Your knees are sore, you haven’t shaved, there are bugs everywhere. It was absolutely terrible. Sitting on the bike was the worst thing ever.”
Their only relief were roadside diners, where they would spend several hours eating lunch, talking with the locals and relaxing.
Along the way they braved temperatures that rose to 113 degrees, sometimes biking at night to beat the heat.
In Kansas, they had a memorable experience. Their guide from Adventure Cycling told them to ask for Jillian in a small town. After winding their way through town, they met Jillian, a big strong Australian woman who agreed to put cyclists up for a night, as long as they worked. McDonough and Schimmel helped her feed her animals and build a fence before showering and sitting down to dinner.
“She’s got it down to a science,” McDonough said.
After more than two months on the road, the duo arrived in Maryland and took a ferry to New Jersey where they biked the Jersey shore and a ferry to New York City.
A crowning moment came when they first reached the Atlantic Ocean and sprinted from their bikes, across a beach and into the ocean in triumph. After several nights on the East Coast, they took a three-day train ride home to California. Each tattooed a bicycle with the numbers ’13 on their arms to commemorate the trip.
“We completed the journey that we set out to do,” McDonough said. “There were the hard parts, but there was so much good that came with it.”