UD prof, son bicycle across the countryOct 17, 2022 09:56AM ● By Tricia Hoadley
If teenager Henry Shriver is asked at Sanford School for an essay on what he did on his summer vacation, he can write about an unusual adventure: bicycling across the country with his father, a professor at the University of Delaware.
More importantly, he can write about how two months with Greg Shriver brought their relationship to a new level. “I made our relationship better, less father and son, more like two different-aged friends,” he said. “It’s still father and son, but we’re closer now and can joke with each other.”
And there’s more: “I definitely grew, and my hair is a lot shorter. Mentally, nothing feels as important or as intense as it did,” Henry said, eventually deciding that he feels more responsible. He’s also definitely taller – 2 inches taller than his father.
“We had no conflicts,” Greg said, when asked about their relationship during their journey. “We kept it really simple, and we joked a lot. We missed our puppies, which gave us a story to tell every day and something to distract us from how many more miles we had to go.”
In March, they posted their itinerary on their Pedal On blog, https://northerntier2022.blogspot.com, and they followed up with more than 40 posts chronicling it all. They figured their journey would take 60 days to cover 3,300 miles across the northern part of America.
“It was his idea,” Henry said during an interview with his father. “And I got roped in.”
“I’m passionate about cycling and the freedom to be in a different spot every day,” Greg explained.
Their itinerary morphed in multiple ways, maybe a jaunt on mountain bikes, maybe an errant journey when GPS steered them wrong. That happens when they have the freedom of two wheels.
Greg is a University of Delaware professor and estimates he bikes 100 miles a week, including several commutes to and from Newark. Henry, who turned 16 a few days after their adventure ended, is active with the SoChesCo Hellbenders, a mountain biking team that his father co-founded.
The ride ended up shorter in mileage but still included 44 days on their bikes, as much as 88 miles in a day. The temperatures ranged from 110 (yowza!) to 38 (good thing they packed long underwear and winter hats), and they relished lukewarm drizzles that felt refreshing and let them avoid sunburn.
They chose a northern route – going from Pennsylvania through Maryland, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana and Idaho before ending in Washington – because Greg wanted to experience the upper Midwest and the glacier country of the Cascades. “And we like climbing big mountain passes,” he said.
One highlight they keep sharing is Going-to-the-Sun Road, in Glacier National Park in Montana. “It’s beautiful,” but it also had “some of the worst traffic – and one of the scariest downhills,” Henry said, noting the angle of the cliffs, the nearby streams that made the road wet and how often they pulled over for cars. “I think we went up the hill as fast as we went down the hill.”
Bonnie MacCulloch (Greg’s wife and Henry’s mother) joined them in the park with a rented pickup truck that lightened their load and eased their logistics. But before that – say when Henry fell in Michigan and hurt his wrist or when Henry’s front tire had an issue – they were on their own.
Before she joined them in Montana, Bonnie ran the household back in Landenberg, including the care of puppies Suzy and Jim, whose activities kept them motivated during the ride.
Their days were mostly on their bikes, but they did schedule break days to relax, visit and even push themselves further – by renting mountain bikes. They succeeded with the support from family members, friends and strangers, Greg said. They spent nights in hotels, camped and stayed with friends.
“Along the way we had two random acts of kindness,” Greg wrote in a blog post from Lake Michigan. “The first one, by us, was moving a painted turtle across the road towards the pond she was heading to. Next, we came across a free lemonade stand right in the middle of our path.”
Food was a recurring element of the blog, including Coke and cookies to celebrate one mountain pass; popcorn, Twizzlers and grape Fanta when they saw “Top Gun Maverick”; and five-day-old sandwiches from a gas station.
They loved diners for their familiar carb- and protein-heavy breakfasts and grocery stores convenient to their accommodations (bananas were mentioned a lot). Dinner was often Mexican food or Domino’s pizza. “Domino’s delivers,” Henry said, “and it’s the same every time.”
Henry said his days started as early as 7 a.m. and ran as late as midnight, but there were many predictable evenings watching “The Office.” “On all of the hotel TVs, 99% had Comedy Central, and 99% of the time it was playing ‘The Office’ or ‘Seinfeld,’ ” he said. “Except for Wednesdays, they played ‘South Park,’ which we didn’t watch.
“But Freeform plays ‘The Office’ on Wednesdays. So Henry’s job was to get on Wi-Fi as quickly as possible, and then stream ‘The Office,’ ” Greg said.
Greg demurred when asked what the trip cost, but said once it was planned, he opened up his wallet so they were safe, clean and well-fed every day.
Their journey ended with a surprise greeting on the Pacific Ocean in Anacortes, Washington. Anya Maley – Henry’s oldest friend, since Montessori school in Hockessin, Delaware – and her parents Bill and Meg had prepared an emotional welcome on the beach.
“They took a lot of the blog pictures that we have been posting, printed them out and glued them onto Tibetan prayer flags, stretched out on a tree on the beach,” Greg said. “When we arrived, our entire trip was displayed on pictures in front of us, which was super cool. People on the beach were wandering up and asking what was going on. It was pretty special.”
They’re already thinking about another venture next summer. Michigan is Greg’s choice, for the “gorgeous scenery and spectacular infrastructure for bicycling.” He’s thinking about flying to Traverse City, Michigan, and then taking two weeks to bike back to Landenberg.
Henry is tossing around multiple itineraries – maybe Michigan, Virginia, West Virginia or North Carolina. “I think that they would all be cool,” he said. “Maybe something mountain bike-related would be fun. Or going somewhere we’ve never been.”
“Reaching the end is certainly bittersweet,” they wrote in their blog upon reaching the Pacific, “but we are already planning our next bike travel adventure!”