September 21, 2015
Dick Wilhelm worked for Bikecentennial 76 as a shuttle truck driver, and later, the Eastern Regional Director. He remembers receiving his first helmet as a gift from one of the groups. "It's humbling to remember that they thought that well of me, to care about my long term well being." Wilhelm also remembers the positive attitude of the cyclists, specifically when they rode up to arguably the worst Bike Inn on the TransAmerica Trail. One cyclist remedied the situation by calling it "a charming old place" and beautifying it with bouquets of wildflowers displayed in water bottles.
How did you first hear about Bikecentennial?
Probably Bicycling Magazine ... there wasn't a proliferation of publications on cycling back then.
What were your bike travel experiences before Bikecentennial?
I thought I'd ride from Sacramento to Philadelphia for the Bicentennial. Got to San Diego. 500 miles, winter weather, and lack of companionship convinced me to rethink plans.
What were the biggest challenges you faced while working for Bikecentennial?
As a shuttle truck driver, life was painless—couple hours driving, then free to bike back and meet the group if I felt like it, or explore elsewhere. My couple weeks spent subbing as Trailhead Coordinator at Radford were a little lonely—not there long enough to be part of the town, and cyclists coming through generally had pre-formed group relationships.
What are your most fond memories?
At Camp Chickahominy, Sage DuBois waking the entire camp with a, "GOOD MORNING." That somehow was sweet and welcoming, despite the loud volume.
And evening showings of the Bikecentenial promo movie, a regular feature since there wasn't a lot else in the way of entertainment out there in the woods. Riders shared the same reactions to different slides. At the sight of the Kansas Sunflower Highway sign, everyone cheered. Booing poured forth when stretches of quiet, unpaved roads appeared. (National Forest in Illinois was very helpful finding great, unpaved roads for the route, but then went overboard in helpfulness, covering them in unrideable gravel.)
AND, The Old Coleman Hotel, arguably the worst Bike Inn on the entire trail. It had a lot of strikes going against it: an abandoned building with flaking paint, waist high weeds for a front yard, and plumbing that leaked from the ceiling. I happened to be there one time when the first of the group rode in and stared speechless, aghast ... moments later, a slightly older rider (she was maybe in her mid-thirties, which was older than average back then), pulled up and proclaimed, "What a charming old place. I'll sweep, you two can gather wildflowers in some water bottles, and someone can open some windows for fresh air." Her attitude changed everything; it became an enjoyable, quiet evening in a place that everyone had chipped in to make homey for the night.
As a staff member of Bikecentennial, were you able to participate? Which bike trips have you done since Bikecentennial and what’s still on your bucket list?
I rode most days on the Yorktown to Radford section of the trail, some parts of it multiple times. And I got to experience group comradery in the evenings.
The following year, I had the exalted title of "Eastern Regional Director," meaning I was Bikecentennial east of the Mississippi. Though it was an office job, I got to ride parts of the Virginia Loop Trail. The next year, I rode the trail on my own. Then, through some mix-up in Missoula, I was offered a leadership role. After about ten trips, from week-long Inn to Inn trips, to the TransAm, I like to think I may be the most successful leader who never took a leadership course, (though I assisted at several courses later on).
I'm personally not a fan of the "bucket list" idea, but I would like to ride the Pacific Coast again. And maybe other parts of western Oregon.
Thanks for the opportunity to dwell in some pleasant memories.
Story and photos courtesty of Dick Wilhelm.
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