Flute-Toting Cyclist Bridget O'Connell Gilchrist Shares Bikecentennial Memories

June 29, 2015

Bridget O'Connell Gilchrist started out as an independent Bikecentennial cyclist and was "inducted" as a member of TAEK525 later. Their leader, Karl Schlaich, was hit by a car in Tribune, Kansas, during the trip. The community took them in for a few days while Karl was treated in the hospital. Bridget played her flute, which she carried in a heavy reinforced case during the length of the trip, for Tribune's Fourth of July celebration. Bridget says Bikecentennial gave her the confidence and perseverance to accomplish anything she set out to do. To stay in touch with Adventure Cycling about the 40th anniversary celebration please fill out this form.

How old were you when you did Bikecentennial?
Almost 20 years old. (My birthday is in September.)

I participated in Bikecentennial by starting out as an independent east to west rider. I kept bumping into this lively group also traveling my way (TAEK525), and by about the Missouri/Kansas border, I was "inducted" into the group and began carrying group equipment just like everybody else. I also mailed home my cooking gear. I carried my flute across the country (yes, silver flute in a heavy reinforced case) and played every evening at our campsite. When the Rockies loomed in front of us, I wanted to send the flute home, but my group members started trading off carrying it!

Co leader Steve Sidener from Missoula, and leader Karl Schlaich from Pittsburgh, along with GJ Davids from Hollan
TAEK525 Co-leader Steve Sidener (center) from Missoula and Leader Karl Schlaich (right)
from Pittsburgh, along with GJ Davids from the Netherlands.

What inspired you to do Bikecentennial?
It sounded like a great way to see the country. I had never been west of Pennsylvania. Also, I rode my bicycle everywhere I went already. My parents always made sure the kids had bicycles growing up. When I was sixteen they gave me a forest green Raleigh 3 speed and that was my first love. I bought my Motobecane Grand Record for the trip, though. (I still have it in the basement.)

Chafin Rhyne of North Carolina
TAEK525 Group Member Chafin Rhyne of North Carolina during Bikecentennial.

What sticks out in your mind when you reflect back on the trip?
How nice people were to the bicyclists everywhere we went! It was great to be a part of a big event, meeting cyclists from all over the world. There was so much to see and learn: geography, vegetation, and what lies inside each new state's borders, they are all so individual and unique, and, of course, all the antics and memories created by traveling with a fun-loving bicycle “family.” I learned that my favorite places to sleep outdoors were pine forests, corn fields (the wind lulls you to sleep), and near a babbling brook.

Leader Karl Schlaich and Chafin Rhyne from North Carolina- in Idaho
Leader Karl Schlaich from Pennsylvania and Chafin Rhyne
from North Carolina in Idaho during Bikecentennial.

We had a father/son team in the group (Bill Jackson, Sr. and Jr., from North Carolina). The dad was retired military and showed up in the beginning of the ride with a really heavy three-speed with fat tires. After a few states, they went to a bike shop and he bought a better touring bike and shipped the old one home. At the end of our trip, he bought us all congratulatory plaques with everyone's addresses on them––I still have mine.

In Kansas, our group leader (Karl Schlaigh) was hit by a drunk driver, near Tribune, Kansas. As we were riding into town, and the ambulance screamed by, we all said "I hope that is not one of us." Luckily, Karl was treated and released, but could not ride for a while. The town rallied behind us and as we waited a few days to regroup, they invited our group to a 4th of July celebration where we were treated royally as guests with a big picnic, community tug of war, speeches, and you guessed it, a performance of flute and piano! (Another member of the group, Gary Swider, played piano and they happened to have one there.) They rolled Karl in in a wheelchair––bandaged head to toe.

Bridget on flute, Gary Swider on piano for Tribune, Kansas, 4th of July
Bridget on flute, Gary Swider on piano in Tribune, Kansas for a Fourth of July celebration.

So many stories later, when we arrived at Astoria in August, we said our goodbyes to some of the group (including Bikecentennial cyclists from Italy and Wales), but a group of us headed north to Vancouver and took the Trans Canada train through the Rockies back to Montreal. I then took the Montrealer to Hartford, Connecticut. Arriving at 3 a.m., I took my very heavy bicycle (I had been collecting souvenirs since I knew I was headed home) and got my very first flat tire since I left in the spring!

Tribune, Kansas
Photographs of TAEK525 in Tribune, Kansas.

How are you different because of your trip across the TransAmerica Trail?
It gave me the confidence to accomplish anything I set out to do. It took perseverance––especially initially. I honed my skills of navigation, my fascination with weather patterns, and the necessity of just going with the flow of things when times were tough. 

Keith Topper, Canada, Georgianna Neff, Colorado, Karl Schlaich Pittsburgh, Sue (she left the group in Colorado) Diego Gamba , Italy
From left to right: Keith Topper from Ontario, Canada; Georgianna Neff from Colorado; Leader Karl Schlaich from Pennsylvania; Sue Caldwell from Maryland; and Diego Gamba from Italy.

Which bike trips have you done since then and what’s still on your bucket list?
Touring trips to Vermont, Upstate New York, Maine, Rhode Island, West Virginia, and Maryland. Any trip we go on, if it is possible to rent bicycles, that is what we do. My husband, Tom, and I also did “team triathlons” with our daughters Heather and Eryn during their teen years. My daughters and Tom swam, my brother, Kevin, and I bicycled, and we had friends that ran.

I would like to ride the TransAmerica trail again; go across Canada during the summer, do a European canal boat/bike tour; bicycle in Italy, and perhaps the U.S. Continental Divide. Our daughter, Eryn, did the Continental Divide Trail in 2010. 


We thank Bridget for taking the time to share her Bikecentennial experience.

Story and photos courtesy of Bridget O'Connell Gilchrist.

40th ANNIVERSARY HIGHLIGHTS is posted every other Monday by Adventure Cycling’s events and outreach coordinator, Eva Dunn-Froebig. Eva and guests will preview 40th anniversary events and projects and interview Bikecentennial cyclists. Adventure Cycling’s 40th anniversary celebration in 2016 will honor the past and look to the future of bicycle travel. Fill out this form to express your interest in the 40th anniversary. 


Diego Gamba July 4, 2019, 6:41 AM

I forgot something: Happy 4th of July to all of you!


Diego Gamba July 3, 2019, 3:37 AM

Dear Bridget, thank you so much for sharing your memories, and remembering me and our other friends. Yes, after flying back to Italy I lost touch with all of you (not with the bike, which I still ride every day).

Part of the reason lies in what you said: our participating in Bikecentennial gave us the confidence to accomplish anything we set out to do – and I set out to do other things. I missed the 40th Anniversary, but I won't miss the next one, if there will be one ("50th Anniversary" sounds great.)

If you happen to read this comment, please contact me. I'm looking forward to hear more from you. All the best. Diego.

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