That Worked Out: How Phil Hinrichs Was Inspired to Ride the TransAm

November 30, 2015

In the summer of 1976, I was a couple of months away from turning 30, I was happily married, and I was out of work. The dossier on me would likely have been filed under "Ordinary" with a note that would say, "Thinks he isn't."

My wife loved history and, being the bicentennial year, we headed east to Williamsburg and some actual historic places.

On our way home, I convinced her that we should check out the Blue Ridge Parkway. I have long believed that this 469 mile commercial free, truck free parkway is on the short list of great places and a beautiful gift that the American people gave themselves and the world. 

We stopped at a scenic overlook where the course of my life was to change in ways I could never have imagined.

Phil Hinrichs about to ride home to Dayton from the Denver area.

A fellow rode in on a bike loaded with gear and I asked "THE QUESTION."

"Where ya from?"


"No, no, no, where ya riding from?"


Then I asked about a million questions and it turned out he was a group leader for a Bikecentennial group doing the TransAmerica Trail.

Phil during his trip from New Mexico to Austin, Texas in 2005.

The die was cast when my wife and I got home. There was a small article in both Time and Newsweek magazines about the thousands of people that had ridden all or part of the TransAm. These articles touched me and I told my wife I wanted those maps for my 30th birthday. 

In truth, I never expected to bicycle the TransAm and assumed I would use the maps for a cool motorcycle trip.

Phil poses with his 700c mountain bike in Key West, Floria.
He converted the standard mountain bike handlebars to road bike handlebars.

Nevertheless, I went out and bought a crappy bike, figured out that it was crappy, sold it for the $50 I had paid, and bought a decent bike. That decent bike cost about the same as a decent saddle does today.

In 1977, I rode to Illinois and back. I still remember turning down that first country road and thinking how cool it was. In 1978, I rode to Illinois again. Nothing worked out in 1979 and then I remembered the maps.

Phil's portrait, taken by his brother Steve.

So, in 1980 I cobbled together seven weeks of leave and flew to Eugene, Oregon. I didn't fly to Portland because that was the year Mount St. Helens blew. Six and a half weeks later, I rolled into Yorktown, Virginia, a changed person.

Phil poses at the Yorktown Monument after riding the TransAm. He did this trip immediately after  retiring in 2004. It's the same pose he made in a photograph after his first trip on TransAm in 1980. 

Since I started all this, I have rarely missed a year taking a trip. My inventory is 100,000 touring miles, 16 or so times cross country, I've ridden in 47 of the lower 48 states (it's Rhode Island), and filled hundreds of pages of journals with great stories and experiences. I also got to play a significant role in developing the largest network of connected bicycle trails in the United States.

Bikecentennial co-founder Greg Siple photographs Phil at Adventure Cycling
during his TransAm trip in 2004. Phil stopped at Adventure Cycling
to get rid of a trailer and change to the bike set up pictured here.

And it might have never happened. The TransAm only uses 10 of the 469 miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway. That my wife and I happened to be at that scenic overlook at the moment that unknown tour leader stopped seems so improbable. Happily, thanks to that chance encounter, I ended up not quite so ordinary.

Story and photographs courtesy of Phil Hinrichs.


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John Link January 18, 2019, 3:18 PM

Have you ridden in Rhode Island since you wrote this article?

Christine Weisiger December 16, 2015, 2:45 PM

There is one thing Phil doesn't mention about riding across a the US. After riding 3000 miles from Oregon to wherever one is going--in my case, Cape Cod--it's a terrible disappointment when you run out of land!

Tom Kohn December 8, 2015, 1:27 AM

Ever since I met Phil in 1992, I've been amazed each year that he cited the number of miles he had ridden. A year or two had fewer than 10,000 miles. If my year has lots of downtime from the normal ebb and flow, the total might be 3000. Perhaps in retirement I might stretch a bit. And Phil's steady ride would be my guide.

Lynn Schofield Clark December 4, 2015, 4:56 PM

Ordinary: Things Phil Hinrichs isn't.

Eric Paradis December 3, 2015, 2:03 PM

Most serious riders will relate to this moment when you realize you can actually cross America on your own self-propelled apparatus. But very few can relate to the experience of having accomplished it to the extent that Phil does. I'm glad Phil was on this Parkway back in 76, so I could meet him on a bike trail in 2008 and become a friend.

Becky McClure Cochran December 3, 2015, 8:54 AM

In many respects we are all travelers, getting to various destinations by many means, so given that thought, I too am a traveler and by many different means. It's really incredible to think of your dedication to such a long trip via bicycle only. Congratulations on the acknowledgement of your accomplishment.

Ed Atterberrry December 3, 2015, 8:22 AM

Phil, that's absolutely terrific. What a great accomplishment, but I bet that our classmate John Collins will tell you to get yourself over to Rhode Island in a hurry.

Ted Gates December 2, 2015, 12:16 PM

Even with all Phil's personal rides, he has been an a great influence locally around the Dayton area. Because of Phil I have been an avid cyclist for many years.

Janet Gingold December 2, 2015, 9:41 AM

Phil - WOW!!!!! And to think we were buddies in high school!! And so cool of you to RIDE to all of our high school reunions!! And so glad to be a "stopover" in Tucson on your rides cross-country! You are an inspiration to many and I'm so proud of you!

From one trail user (horse) to another (bike) -

Congrats and HAPPY TRAILS!

Phil Hinrichs December 3, 2015, 9:01 PM

Full disclosure requires that Jan is generously exaggerating.

I rode to two.

Once was my home in Dayton.

The second was to the 40th and was on my second TransAm ride just after I retired.

John Cole December 1, 2015, 2:51 PM

This is such a great story and I had the pleasure of meeting Billie Rice while riding my bicycle to Houston TX with the Brotherhood Ride .I have been following it ever since . It's just amazing and such a great way not only to see the country but to discover your self and limits .

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