Remembering Armstrong’s cross-country bicycle ride

By ROBBIE ROBERTSON,

A week or so ago, the sports editor at The Meridian Star asked me if I remembered doing some stories on Andy Armstrong from Newton back in the day.

As a matter of fact, it was some 20 years ago that Armstrong started the adventure of a lifetime when he and his nephew went on a 39-day bicycle trip across the country, going from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean. Armstrong didn’t  ride for any cause or to bring attention to himself, it was simply an adventure with his nephew while he was still able to do it.

For my part in this tale, I became Armstrong’s contact at The Meridian Star. Armstrong would take time out of his day and make contact with me to tell me how the days ride had gone. So we would run a daily piece in The Star detailing his adventure across the country.

The stories started out slowly but much like his trip, it picked up steam as the trip continued. As days turned into weeks, more and more people began to ask me about Andy’s trip across America. I can honestly say that in my 28 years in the business, I don’t know if I’ve ever had a story that I got more questions about.

So, here we are some 20 years later and I think the trip is even more impressive today than it was then.

First off, I had no real appreciation for what it would take to ride a bicycle across the country. In the past few months, I have bought my own road bike and have been riding in hopes of one day doing the Heart O’ Dixie. Just let me say, it’s hard to ride down a road in Newton County without a big dog chasing you. I can’t imagine how many dogs you would run into when riding across the country.

On the average, Armstrong and his nephew got in about 70 miles a day, sometimes more and sometimes less. That may not sound like a lot but I can also say that for a middle-aged man, no matter how good a shape you are in, that’s a hike. I did 22 miles a few weeks ago and it just about killed me and I needed a few days to recover. So going 70 miles a day was indeed a full day, even with taking some breaks along the way

And then there are the logistical challenges. Today, we can get anywhere we want with relative ease. All we have to do is punch the information in our phones and it will give us step by step instructions. There are even apps that that point out popular riding trails. Armstrong and his nephew did it with a road map and kept to the back roads. That might be the most impressive part of the trip, if you ask me.

And speaking of cell phones, they were still in their infancy at the time and service was extremely spotty to say the least. Armstrong made his calls from pay phones along the way. I remember him calling one day from a Texas beef jerky store. I remarked how much I loved beef jerky and Armstrong sent me a package from the store. Just finding a pay phone every day to call from was a challenge in itself.

Then there was the chore of keeping enough food and water. To do that much exercise in a day, a person is going to need food and water. Just carrying enough to survive on without carrying a huge amount of luggage with you would certainly be a challenge.

As I started to think about this trip, I must admit that I became envious at the thought of riding a bike across the country. With the current state of affairs, riding a bicycle across Newton County would be a challenge and the thought of going across the country is certainly a foreign one. But it’s certainly a nice dream to think about roaming the countryside and enjoying American from sea to sea.

Robbie Robertson is sports editor for The Newton County Appeal. You can e-mail him at rrobertson12811@yahoo.com.