KEARNEY, Neb. — Bill Giffin has a mind of his own.
Sometimes he questions if it’s working properly.
The rural Kearney resident is in the middle of the Trans-America Bike Race, a coast-to-coast challenge covering approximately 4,200 miles on the primary route. He rode through town Sunday, meeting with his support group — family and friends — near the halfway point.
He says the first question anyone asks about the race is, why?
“I’ve always wanted to do a coast-to-coast and you never have enough time. So you might as well race it, because you have to get it in,” he said.
Giffin, 61, chose an alternate path, breaking off in western Wyoming to come through Nebraska while other riders rode south into Colorado then turned east into Kansas as they make their way from Astoria, Oregon, to Yorktown, Virginia.
Ninety-three riders signed up for the challenge; 75 started.
“Half of it is just having the courage to get to the starting line,” Giffin said.
Sign up for the Live Well Nebraska newsletter
Get the latest health headlines and inspiring stories straight to your inbox.
Since the June 2 start, Giffin said 15 riders have dropped out due to assorted issues, including injuries and afflictions like saddle sore infection.
“It does a number on the derrière,” Giffin said. “I thought my butt was pretty tough, but now, I know it’s not. ... It’s a tough ride. It’s definitely a tough ride.”
He’s not in it to win it. Race leader Abdullah Zeinab already has reached Virginia. Giffin hopes to reach Yorktown by July 4. He figured an average of 150 miles per day would get him across the country in 28 days. He’s averaging about 140 miles per day.
Safety concerns and the availability of wide-shouldered highways in Nebraska prompted race organizers to develop the alternate route through Nebraska. Giffin, a retired teacher and basketball coach at Pleasanton and Amherst, was the lone rider to take the northern route.
“I wasn’t going to take it just because of the flood concerns to the east and rerouting,” he said.
However, his familiarity with the route, the chance to see family and friends and the chance to meet up with a familiar mechanic to make repairs to his bicycle weighed in his decision.
“I thought, ‘They gave us a route through Kearney, and I better take advantage,’ ” he said.
Friday, he rode from Casper, Wyoming, to Gering, Nebraska. Saturday, he pedaled from Gering to Gothenburg.
Giffin pulled into Kearney mid-morning Sunday and left early afternoon after a Father’s Day lunch with family. He stopped in Grand Island and will connect with the Wabash Trace Nature Trail in Iowa, then the Katy Trail in Missouri to reconnect with the main route south of St. Louis. But he’s looking at alternate routes because flooding has closed much of the Katy Trail.
The reroutes have created a cloud in his plans. Before the race started, he mapped out his route, knowing where he could find restaurants and motel rooms. Now, he’s riding blind in some areas.
That’s one of the challenges of the race. He’s encountered others.
On the second day, an inflamed Achilles tendon put a damper on the race.
“That was kind of a bummer. ... I conferred with my son, the physical therapist, and he said get some ice on it as much as you can,” Giffin said. “That was basically the plan the next few days was ice every chance you get. Get to a convenience store, buy a big bag of ice and just plop your Achilles on it.”
He worked his way through that and enjoyed the scenery riding over the Cascade Mountains. The mystique of Yellowstone and the grandeur of the Tetons awaited. But in between, he dealt with other adversity.
Flat tires, two of them, combined with rain, frustrated one mountain climb. He carries extra tubes and a patch kit, but rocks in the rim ruined one of the extra tubes, and “you can’t patch in the rain — at least, I haven’t figured out how to do it,” he said.
His last tube worked, but the entire tire-changing effort took two hours.
In another instance, Lolo Pass on the border of Idaho and Montana tested his resolve. The town before the ascent had limited lodging, and other lodges along the route were full. And Giffin didn’t take camping equipment.
“If I had to redo it, I would redo the bag system and take something I could camp, but first I would have to get comfortable camping,” he said. “I’m not a very happy camper.”
Giffin decided to push on through the night.
“At any time, I could go over the side of the road and lean on the guard rail and fall asleep immediately,” he said.
Then it started raining, and rained for six or seven hours. Plus, he was tired after having made one major ascent earlier in the day.
“I didn’t have too much energy,” he said. “Finally, about 3, 4 in the morning, I ... saw a restroom that was open, that was heated. That was like the Hilton. It was heated, and you had everything you needed there, even outlets to charge your stuff.”
Except for a stomach bug around Muddy Gap, Wyoming, Giffin has had clear sailing and a tail wind in recent days. But he’s been told the worst is yet to come. The Appalachian Mountains in Kentucky are continuous, rolling climbs.
“You think you’re done, and you go around a bend and it’s more uphill,” he said. “It’s like it will never end.”
But the ride isn’t all rigors and discouragement.
“It goes over some beautiful country and you get a cross-section of the United States,” Giffin said. “The amazing thing is the people you meet. I pedaled quite awhile with a guy ... from Luxembourg and got to know him for quite awhile.”
He also got to know a couple riders from the Czech Republic and one from Australia.
“It’s a cross-section of the globe. That’s pretty neat stuff,” Giffin said. “Hopefully, when I reconnect with the main trail, I’ll reconnect with those guys.
“You have a little kinship there when you’re fighting the same stuff.”
A roundup of inspirational stories from Midlanders with heart
There's the woman with MS who runs despite her diagnosis. The 7-year-old born without his left hand who plays baseball just like the other kids his age. The refugee who turned to Zumba to help her recover from cancer treatments. Check out their inspiring stories and others below.