There are cyclists who enjoy a good century ride, then there are those who relish 100 miles in -20°F weather while crisscrossing the Continental Divide on a fat bike. Consider Nan Pugh one of the latter.
“Cold weather makes me absurdly happy. I can’t explain it,” she said. “I grew up in Louisiana and didn’t see snow until I was 19. Now I’m making up for lost time.”
Life at 6,000 feet in Tetonia, Idaho, gives Pugh plenty of snow for fat biking and dirt for gravel riding. Her love for wild places and “grand adventures” drew her west. As an outdoor educator and backpacking instructor, she honed the skills that served her well on her first bicycle tour from Mt. Shasta, California, to Louisiana in 2012.
“Know what you have control over and what you don’t,” said Pugh. “Focus on what you can control.”
On the first day of the tour, her riding partner Bob — whom she connected with via Companions Wanted — stopped for water while she rode the final mile to camp. She waited for him at the entrance. Eventually, instead of Bob, she saw the flashing lights of a sheriff’s car. With the sun setting against the horizon, the driver of a pickup hadn’t seen Bob. She hit him with her side mirror and broke two ribs. His ride was over. Pugh hadn’t planned to ride solo for 3,000 miles.
“That night was hard, sorting through different options,” Pugh said. “But I figured I would give it one more tentative chance.”
The next morning, the campground host gave her a bagel since the breakfast oats were scattered across the road from the crash. At the campground store, Pugh met a couple riding south and asked if she could join them.
“They agreed but weren’t too sure they wanted a greenhorn in tow,” she said of the Midkiffs. “I had a stove so I made meals and shared camping tips. They taught me Touring 101. I started calling them Bike Pops and Bike Mom. In one town, I bought a small watermelon and crammed it in my pack. Bike Mom and I devoured it in the bathroom of the hotel so we wouldn’t make a mess.”
Pugh rode with the Midkiffs for 10 days before their paths split, but it was enough time to cement a friendship and for Pugh to shore up her shaken confidence. Years later, the Midkiffs joined her on the first leg of her Idaho Hot Springs ride.
Her 2012 ride solidified her love for bicycle travel. She’s become an avid bikepacker and loves the challenge of ultra-bike events regardless of the season or temperature. But she’s not one to keep bike joy to herself. She volunteers as a coach for the local youth mountain bike team. Her dream is to bring more underrepresented groups into the cycling community.
For all the miles she’s logged since her first tour, Pugh has never forgotten about that first day. She’s never stopped thinking about whether Bob’s crash could have been prevented.
“I kept coming back to education and advocacy,” Pugh said. “I live in an area with limited paved roads. One of my favorite rides includes a section of state highway with a four-foot shoulder. The shoulder now has a rumble strip in the middle of it. I wonder if the highway department was thinking about cyclists? I firmly believe if you are not at the decision-making table, then you are on the menu.
“I support Adventure Cycling’s mission, and the maps are amazing. But I became more committed with the move toward more advocacy. I am not aware of another organization doing this type of work. Adventure Cycling’s advocacy work is helping to make our voices much stronger for safer cycling.”
Like Nan, you too can support Adventure Cycling's Safety Advocacy work by donating today.