Rhinelander bicyclist completes lifelong dream by riding across the country
At times, Jeff Preisler wondered why he was on such a daunting mission but his focus never wavered to complete a lifelong goal of riding his bicycle across the United States.
Jeff just finished that mission, cruising into Rhinelander last weekend after cycling 2,024 miles from Anacortes, Wash.
“There were times when I thought this was a crazy idea,” said Jeff. “But I had it in my head to complete this goal and that kept me going.”
Jeff grew up in Rhinelander and has been a Rhinelander paper mill worker for 24 years. It was only a few years ago that he decided to dust off his bike and contemplate a new adventure.
As a kid, Jeff was an avid bike rider. In fact, at age 15 he rode from Wisconsin to visit family in Indiana one summer and in high school he enjoyed the scenery of the Porcupine Mountains from the back of his bike.
“I was always riding my bicycle,” he said. “I even competed in a few races when I was a junior and senior in high school.”
But then life got in the way of his passion. He graduated, got married and moved away from Rhinelander. Jeff put his bike away and pursued other endeavors. For 10 years he didn’t touch a bicycle until he moved back to Rhinelander.
“I had gained a lot of weight and decided to get back on my bike,” he said. “I started out riding 20 or 30 miles a day.”
He even began entering races again. And then, about seven years ago he decided he wanted to ride across the country. But he had restrictions that were hard to get around.
“I only get so much time off work and I knew this new goal would take some training,” he said. “I decided to start small and go from there.”
Jeff entered races and did some local touring before he decided to venture out on some longer journeys.
His first really long cross-country ride was in 2010 and it was a 10-day tour where he rode into the U.P., took the SS Badger back to Wisconsin and then bicycled home. One leg of his cross-country dream became a reality in 2011 when he flew out to Portsmouth, N.H., and rode back to Wisconsin.
“It’s a tradition that when you ride cross-country, you dip your bike into the ocean,” he said, “and that’s what I did.”
Jeff loved the East Coast and in 2012 he flew to Vermont and rode back to Wisconsin, logging 1,200 miles. His average speed is usually about 12 miles per hour and he travels about 90 miles a day.
“I take a lot of breaks and do some sightseeing,” he said.
Last year, he traveled to Portland, Maine, taking a different route back to Rhinelander and clocking in with 1,471 miles.
This year, he decided to see if he could totally complete his dream and bike from the West Coast to Rhinelander. He arrived July 6 in Seattle, Wash., with the intention of heading out from Anacortes. He had his bike shipped to Skagit Cycle there.
“Al from Bikes and Boards packaged my bike and sent it out there,” he said. “I didn’t want to risk my bike getting lost during a flight.”
However, Jeff did bring all the provisions he thought he would need for this long journey. He carried a two-man tent that weighs four pounds, a small cook stove, three changes of clothes, tools in case of breakdowns or flat tires, leg and knee warmers, and rain gear, all totaling about 55 pounds
“You really can’t predict what you will need when you go on a trip like this,” he said. “I brought rain gear, but it only rained one hour the whole time; however, I did have four flat tires so I was glad I brought tools.”
Jeff loved the scenery of the West Coast, but there were some pretty big mountains to climb. He rode to the top of Logan Pass in Glacier National Park at 6,700 feet.
“Going uphill for that long takes a lot out of you, but the ride down was really something,” he laughed.
Along the way, Jeff stayed in his tent at campgrounds, sometimes in motels, and a few nights he stayed at cyclist hostels.
“These are in peoples’ homes, who are mostly other cyclists,” he said.
And while the scenery of the country was beautiful beyond belief, it was the people Jeff came to know along the way who impressed him the most.
“I met a guy who was riding across country to raise awareness of PTSD for soldiers,” he said. “He had crossed the Mississippi three times in his quest. Then I met an older woman who was riding cross-country all by herself. She really impressed me.”
Total strangers invited Jeff to dinner, or to use their washer and dryer so he could clean his clothes. He got lots of encouraging honks from fellow travelers and he met fellow cyclists who were just as enthusiastic as he was about traveling in some of America’s most beautiful country.
“It’s sort of disappointing having that goal finished, but it sure was worth it to see,” he said. “I got to see the heart of America from the back of my bike, but most of all I came to find out just what great people live in this country. I’ll never forget that.”