Bicentennial Bicycle Trip Made Donna Schuerch Love "Mentally Stronger"

June 15, 2015

Donna Schuerch Love was part of the largest cycling group during the U.S. Bicentennial. Led by her Ambassador College, Big Sandy, Texas, physical education teacher, Larry Haworth, the group included seventy-eight riders in ten packs, three rovers, two scout drivers, an assistant, three kids, one tour director, one truck driver, and one assistant director/sag man. They traveled 4,291 miles in sixty-six days from Fort Stephens, Oregon to Fort Story Virginia from June 9 – August 13, 1976. Riders were mainly Youth Opportunities United kids from across the U.S. Riders also came from Australia and Canada. Although the group wasn't officially part of Bikecentennial, they followed the TransAmerica Trail most of the time. 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?
I was twenty years old when I took part in Bikecentennial way back in 1976. I was a member of a college team that crawled 4,290, sometimes grueling, sometimes easy as pie, miles across the nation from Fort Stephens, Oregon to Fort Story, Virginia at an average of eighty miles a day at seventeen miles per hour. (We only had ten-speeds back then.) It took us sixty-seven days with only ten of those days off to rest, such as the Fourth of July when our coach didn’t want us out on the road with all the traffic. Our shortest day, the last day, was only about thirty-five miles. Our longest day of 113 miles was from West Yellowstone to just outside Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Not only was it our longest day, the park wouldn’t let us stop anywhere except at Old Faithful for lunch. Today, their policy has probably changed.

Coast to Coast Ambassador Touring Team
Donna Love rides in the front of the pack in Wyoming during the summer of 1976.

What inspired you to do Bikecentennial? 
To answer this question you’d have to know our coach, Larry Haworth. He was a Physical Education instructor at our college in East Texas. He was an enthusiastic, energetic, and dynamic leader with a smile as wide as the whole Big Sky of Montana. He taught my regular freshman P.E. class at college (back then, we were required to take P.E. the first two years of school), but he also had a great interest in bike racing. That’s really where he got his start.

So he started a small team of racers for the college that eventually turned into a larger P.E. class of “team touring.” The team touring class cycled close together like racers to draft off each other, but didn’t race. We saw those cyclists leaving the campus and going off on great adventures, camping over the weekends and breaks, and returning vibrant and laughing. Even when they returned sunburned and pinched with fatigue, it still looked like fun, so I took the cycling class during my sophomore year, which was fall of 1975 through spring of 1976.

Well, it was great fun, but sometimes difficult. My first ride was about twenty-four miles long (fourteen miles out and back.) Boy, was my rear sore! But, I loved it. After a while we could easily ride fifty miles out and back during one class on those smooth, wide-shouldered, gently undulating East Texas roads.

Coast to Coast Ambassador Touring Team
The Coast to Coast Ambassador Touring Team rides
on the Indianapolis Race Track on August 1, 1976.

Coach Haworth, through his cycling contacts, had heard about Bikecentennial, which was being undertaken to celebrate the 200-year anniversary of our nation. Of course, you know that Bikecentennial was headquartered in Missoula, Montana––of all places!––and Coach had this enormous idea to take the college team of thirty riders across the nation. However, that wasn’t enough for Coach! Our church also had a well-executed summer program called SEP (Summer Educational Program, which we changed to Summer of Eternal Pedaling) for teens. So he convinced the summer program to let him take a team of teens, led by the college students, across the nation. It’s hard to believe he pulled that off, but that’s how we became ninety members strong with fifty high school students (the youngest boy was thirteen and the youngest girl was fourteen), thirty college students, and ten support folks. I might add this group also included Coach’s wife, three small children all under age six, and a baby sitter, all of which followed in a Scout pulling a small camper trailer. (What a summer they had!) In addition, two of our members were from Australia and one from Canada.

Coast to Coast Ambassador Touring Team
Bikecentennial Co-Founder Dan Burden and a Coast to Coast Ambassador 
team member look at a map of the TransAmerica Trail in this rare photo 
taken at the Bikecentennial office in Missoula on June 24, 1976.

What was your question? Oh, yes! What inspired me to do Bikecentennial? I guess Coach and the great friendship that developed with the college team. Well, that, and I must admit, a boy I had started to like was also on the cycling team, which isn’t really an elegant answer, but if I’m really honest with myself, true. (And, I did meet my husband of 38 years on that trip, which wasn’t that particular boy. But I digress.)

What sticks out in your mind when you reflect back on the trip?
Well, duh, I met my wonderful husband on the trip! And, here’s a funny thing: we met in Missoula! How’s that for a fine answer to your question! However, it was due to the fact that Bikecentennial headquarters were in Missoula that I met my husband. We could have taken any route across the U.S., but Coach wanted to stop in Missoula due to your headquarters being there and was in contact with you (you had helped him with route planning, etc.), so you’re one of the reasons why my husband and I met in the first place.

While in Missoula, we camped in Lolo on a small farm. On the first day we were in Missoula we cycled into town and back again to tour your headquarters. (We count it as one of our days off, since it was such a short day and we didn’t make any headway.) Then, the next day we attended church in Missoula. That’s where I met my husband. He was a forestry student at UM. We talked for a short time, but I thought he was so handsome. Later, he wrote to me. I visited Missoula a couple times through the winter and we were married the next summer.

Donna Love is circled in this group photo taken in Arcadia, Missouri on July 21, 1976.

Other things that stick out in my mind were the great people we met on the way that helped us, the beautiful landscape that is America, and those fifty extraordinary, amazing teens from all around the nation that joined us. What a remarkable thing to do when you’re in high school. We have a web site for the team and many of us have stayed in contact. Only one left the cycling trip (for a short time for a family emergency––if I remember right her grandmother died), but she rejoined us as soon as she could.

Coast to Coast Ambassador Touring Team
The Coast to Coast Ambassador Touring Team poses for a
photo at their last rest stop together in the summer of 1976.

How are you different because of your trip across the TransAmerica Trail?
I am mentally stronger. It helped me see that you can do much more if only you don’t give up. The other is to not only take care of yourself. You have to be aware of others around you and their needs. That’s what I carry with me.

Donna Love
Donna Love now lives in Seeley Lake, Montana with her husband.
She is an award-winning author of children's nature books.

Which bike trips have you done since then and what’s still on your bucket list?
I haven’t taken any bike trips since, except in my dreams, where I still occasionally dream of cycling and cycling and cycling, and of course, cycling around with our three children when they were old enough to ride. One of our boys is into mountain biking.

Coach and the college team went on two more trips. They cycled from the Canadian border to the Mexican border in 1977, once again cycling through Missoula. Then, in 1978, they cycled across Canada. Both were fun, successful trips. Members of our team that keep in touch joke about repeating our trip. Then we joke that at our age (I’m 59 now) it would probably take us 67 years, not 67 days to complete––but it just goes to show you that that’s how close we became in those 67 days!

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We thank Donna for taking the time to share her experience about the Coast to Coast Ambassador Touring Team.

Story and photos courtesy of Donna Schuerch Love.

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. 

 

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