Seeing the country for a good cause: Grandfather and grandson bike across the U.S. to raise money for Shriners Hospital
FARGO — Not many grandfathers and grandsons know each other well enough to finish each other's sentences. Then again, not many have spent the last month together — night and day — biking cross-country, getting to know America, Americans and each other.
Roger Harding, 68, and Kyle Fitch, 18, talked to The Forum while stopped in Fargo on Friday, June 29, during Destination: Maine, their 4,062-mile trek from their hometown of Olympia, Wash., to Bar Harbor, Maine, an idea that they say "just kind of evolved."
Harding, an avid cyclist for more than 50 years, started taking his grandson on longer treks when he was just 14 years old, including rides from Seattle to Portland, along the Oregon coast and on the Olympic Peninsula. But they've never done something like this.
"I like riding with him," Fitch says. "I like meeting new people and seeing other parts of the country, and I like trying food from all over the place."
But the journey is about more than spending time together and enjoying local cuisine. Fitch and Harding are riding to raise money and awareness for the work of Shriners Hospital after Fitch's younger sister received what they call "amazing" and life-changing scoliosis surgery at no cost to the family.
The two men started their trip on May 22, not long after Fitch graduated from high school as a= National Merit Scholar. They said it was slow going the first 350 miles as they biked through five mountain passes with a gain of 30,000 feet in elevation.
But as they crossed into North Dakota, they liked what they saw. "The Badlands were amazing!" Fitch says. "I've never seen anything like it."
They enjoyed the "Dinosaurs of the Prairie" threshing machines in Napoleon and a stop at Salem Sue, the world's largest holstein cow in New Salem. The downside of the Peace Garden State? Highway rumble strips.
"The rumble strips are awful! You can't ride on them. It's painful," says Harding with a simultaneous grimace and laugh.
Through the good and bad, Fitch and Harding have a companion with them — a 5-inch tall Paul McCartney doll that belongs to Harding's wife, a Beatles superfan.
"She's probably had it since the 1960s when she first saw the Beatles on TV," Harding says. "I was trying to find something to bring a little mojo, some kind of connection to home, so he's it."
Harding says Sir Paul is featured in photos along the way. He's enjoyed ice cream in Montana and sat atop Fitch's shoulder at the North Dakota border.
"And he's definitely had the best housing along the way," says Harding as he puts the mop-topped doll back into his duffel bag. "He's certainly stayed a lot drier than us."
The men say they've ridden in rain and wind, but they sit it out when it starts storming. In all, they bike between 50 and 60 miles a day for about seven to nine hours a day. Then they set up camp in a park, stay at a hotel or crash in private homes that are part of the Warm Showers Community, people willing to provide shelter and food for touring cyclists.
Fitch says he's only had one day on the road where he felt discouraged. The two men were barely into the trip and he says he kept looking at how much more they had to go. But then Harding stepped in with some grandfatherly advice.
"I just told him not to look ahead, just enjoy the day we were having and take it all in," Harding says.
They've done just that, and their faith in humanity might have just been restored along the way.
"I've learned that a surprising number of people are a lot nicer than I thought," says Fitch. "What you see on TV, on CNN or the big networks, is the worst of what people have to offer."
"And that's just not the case," adds Harding. "People have been so nice and welcoming."
Harding says they've also learned a lot about themselves and each other.
"It's pretty cool," Harding says. "I'm a senior citizen — I'm 50 years older than him — but we have a mutual respect for each other and it's showing more every day. I know it's something I'll never forget."
To follow their progress as they bike through Minnesota and beyond to a ride-ending "big lobster dinner" in Bar Harbor, Maine, visit destinationmaine2.wordpress.com. To donate to their Shriners fundraiser, visit https://donate.lovetotherescue.org/fundraiser/1303681.