On the road
Local family shares cross-country cycling journey
Dorrie Williams worked for Paradise Unified School District for several years, but after getting pink-slipped in 2008 and 2009, she grew sick of not knowing whether she would have a job at the beginning of the next school year.
She and her husband, Mike, a self-employed handyman, were happy in the Paradise home they owned, but were becoming increasingly aware of the financial and mental hardships posed by a lagging economy and unstable workforce.
It took a few months for everything to fall into place, but the couple of 22 years made a decision in spring 2009: They would liquidate their assets, sell their house and cars, and pack everything they needed into a trailer attached to a three-person tandem bike, with their 8-year-old son, Gregory, propped firmly on the rear seat. Then, the family would ride across the United States.
“Most people think you’re brave or crazy,” said Dorrie as the three sat around the kitchen table in their cozy Orland home on a recent rainy evening, “but we knew the challenges.”
Nearly two years later, the family is back living in the North State. They will tell their story at 6:30 p.m. on Friday (May 20) at the RayRay Gallery. Dorrie is also working on a book comprising her own memories as well as journal entries written by Gregory, who logged his experiences every day during the 135-day trip.
Mike and Dorrie met as marketing majors at Chico State, and Mike bought Dorrie her first bike.
The couple were causal riders until 1994, when they embarked on two single bikes cross-country via the TransAmerica Trail, a widely known bike route that stretches from Oregon to Virginia. Their ride was successful—despite an accident early on that left Dorrie with cracked ribs. So, when they decided to do it again more than a decade later, they knew the challenges and how to keep their son—a sprightly towhead who had just finished the third grade—safe during the adventure.
It didn’t make financial sense to rent their Paradise home, so they put it on the market, and it sold in four days (the buyers took most of the furniture, too). They also held two massive garage sales, sold their cars with ease, and stored irreplaceable items at Dorrie’s parents’ house in Redding.
“Ninety-five percent of the stuff we got rid of, we didn’t really need,” Mike said. “People get weighed down by their possessions—we’ve never really been like that.”
They hit the trail in late July 2009 with waterproof maps, a laptop, a cell phone, food, clothing and other necessities packed onto a four-foot trailer and their 10-foot triple bike, which they had purchased on Craigslist for $6,000 earlier that year.
The family’s adventure over the next five months was chock-full of colorful stories, many of them involving the kindness of strangers. For example, they met a motorcycling couple in a ghost town in Montana who subsequently invited them into their Colorado home and threw Gregory a birthday party.
The Williamses had one encounter after another with random individuals, as well as people who contacted them through warmshowers.org (a hospitality network for cycling tourists) and their blog (http://tripleontour.blogspot.com), which Dorrie updated from the road daily.
Their trust in strangers was tested at Yellowstone National Park, when they met a family that offered to haul their gear across the park so they could explore without the extra weight.
“We watched them drive away, and we realized we had given all our belongings in the world to people we met yesterday,” Dorrie said with a laugh. Fortunately, the Williamses arrived at the campsite later that evening to a hot meal prepared by their new friends.
“We just had so many experiences like that,” she said.
On Dec. 1, the family arrived in Yorktown, Va., the end of the TransAmerica Trail, and traveled by rental car to stay with Mike’s parents in North Carolina for a few months. They then left the bike behind and flew to New Zealand and Australia, where they spent 48 days and three months, respectively, caravanning, camping and staying with host families.
The entire trip—including the cross-country bike trip and time spent in the Southern Hemisphere—took a year, and was designed to “road-school” Gregory, who would have spent the time in fourth grade. In the States, for example, he learned about geology, toured state capitols, calculated tips and compared grocery prices, rode famous trails (Lewis and Clark and Oregon trails, to name a couple) and learned about teamwork.
“It was 9-9-09 and I turned 9, and I climbed Hoosier Pass the day after that,” he said, referring to the family’s more than 11,500-foot climb in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains.
Today, Gregory is a fifth-grader at Capay Elementary School and has A’s in all his classes. On a recent morning, he took a test on U.S. history, but he didn’t need to study much. “I learned about the U.S. while the rest of my class learned about California,” he said, grinning.