Over the summer, 130 bicyclists from across North America pedaled up to 4,300 miles across Canada for charity. On the 57th and final day of the trip, they pedaled to the Atlantic Ocean seashore in Nova Scotia behind the group’s oldest rider, 81-year-old Jim Beezhold of Pauma Valley, Calif.
Beezhold, a retired high school teacher and avid long-distance biker, was honored with the lead spot that day for completing a journey that many thought impossible for a man his age. Beezhold — who turns 82 on Jan. 5 — admits it was a tough journey. But thanks to a positive attitude, careful planning and a steady 10- to 12-mile-an-hour pace, he finished on time, without assistance and barely a scratch.
“I was excited to finish,” Beezhold said this week of the ride, which began June 27 in Vancouver, British Columbia, and finished Aug. 31 in Lawrencetown, Nova Scotia. “I think at first the leadership team was afraid that I was going to die or something. They were watching me closely all the time to see if I could do it.”
Beezhold was taking part in the Sea to Sea challenge. The Michigan-based fundraising group organizes an annual cross-country bicycle ride that raises money for anti-poverty programs worldwide. Beezhold raised $14,000 in pledges for the journey, which he sees as a form of missionary work.
“I found this tour to be, by far, the most physical, mental and spiritual experience of my lifetime,” said Beezhold, who said his adopted motto on the trip was “aspire to inspire before you expire,” which he saw on a sign in Ottawa.
Beezhold is a lifelong athlete. In his younger years, he ran 20 marathons and many triathlons. He took up biking in his later years because it was easier on his joints.
He discovered the Sea to Sea organization a decade ago through his church, Crossroads Christian Reformed Church in San Marcos. His first Sea to Sea adventure was in 2008, when he rode 2,000 miles from Seattle to New York City. In 2013, he finished a second cross-country trip, though he had to skip a portion of the journey due to extreme heat in the California and Arizona deserts.
To prepare for this year’s trip, Beezhold trained for months on local road and mountains. The preparation helped, but it was still a challenging trip. He biked for 75 to 106 miles each day and was usually the last rider to make it into camp each night.
His late arrival, always met with a cheer from fellow riders, meant he usually got the last pickings of dinner service and only cold-water showers. On the plus side, he was able to strategically pitch his tent as far away as possible from the tents of the worst snorers.
Pedaling 8 to 11 hours a day, he slogged through torrential storms, fierce head winds and a treacherous railroad crossing that led to his one and only fall. One morning he was so exhausted he overslept his alarm and when he woke up, all the other riders and their tents were already gone.
Still, he survived the trip without a single popped tire, major injury, illness or the need to be picked up and transported to the campsite in the medic’s “sag wagon.”
Beezhold said what kept him going was the beauty of his surroundings, hymns he sang to himself to alleviate boredom while riding, twice-nightly phone calls to his wife of 60 years, Carol, and the desire to see the ride through. He also looked forward to three or four bags of potato chips after each day’s ride and the support of fellow cyclists who kept him company and even played Beach Boys songs for him on the road.
The trip had some lingering health effects. He lost 15 pounds during the journey and the excessive pedaling aggravated a bone spur in his foot. When he finally got home in September, he slept for a week.
Now, instead of biking to end poverty, he’s planning to use his time serving as a mentor for Partners Worldwide, an organization that encourages businesspeople to mentor struggling entrepreneurs in impoverished countries.
He’s also considering a car trip across Canada next summer with his wife, to retrace his journey and see more of the sights he wasn’t able to stop for on his way this past summer.
As for future long-distance bike trips, Beezhold said he thinks he’s finished but he’s not quite sure.
“I think I’d say ‘never say never.’ ”