Never Too Old

by Tom Kuglin, Independent Record

Retirement for many people means kicking back and relaxing, but when John Burnside sold his Meineke Car Care Center in Helena last December, he decided to spend part of his golden years bicycling across the country.

John, 75, recently completed a 2,700-mile bike ride from the Pacific to Atlantic, which took 45 days. Although many people ride coast-to-coast each year, probably few do so in their 70s, he said.

“The longest I’d ever ridden a bike (previously) was about 50 miles,” he said. “I guess I just said, ‘I’m going to do it.’”

John began riding a stationary bike in December, pushing himself to two, then three hours at a time. As he gained confidence and strength, the idea of making it from California to Florida seemed more attainable.

“I’m sure people thought I was crazy,” John said. the journey on the blog, which received more than 16,000 hits.

With Ellen following in their RV, John set out from San Diego on March 2. His goal was to cover at least 50 miles per day. The first day he came in closer to 40 but hit his 50-mile goal every riding day after, using side roads to avoid traffic and add more scenery.

“California had the worst roads, but sometimes scenic and good roads are not the same,” he said. “I
didn’t have any real close calls, but in east Texas there were a lot of logging trucks whipping by you. With the two-lane roads, sometimes there’s a good shoulder and sometimes there wasn’t.”

John did not ride Sundays, and they took time to visit family and friends along the route. They visited
New Orleans and Mobile, Alabama, and he said crossing the Mississippi River and reuniting with the
congregation of an LDS mission from 50 years ago were among the major highlights.

John was far from alone on the road.

“It was pretty obvious who was going cross-country loaded with panniers,” he said.

John often stopped to talk with fellow bikers, sometimes riding with them for days. At times, they’d
load others’ gear and move it down the road for them. After he’d spent 45 days on the road and the
Atlantic was within reach, it started to rain.

“I hadn’t had to go in the rain, but I wanted to get to the coast,” John said. “Then I got to the edge of the pavement and hit the sand and because it’d been raining, my tires got sucked in. I just had to fall over and that was the only wreck of the whole trip.”

A trademark of cross-country riding is a pair of photos, one at the West Coast with the back tire in
the Pacific, and another on the East Coast with the front tire in the Atlantic. He got those photos, and the journey was everything the Burnsides had hoped for.

“We really had a great time, Ellen and I,” he said. “I think it’s going to be the highlight of our lives — it gave us the opportunity to be together with a goal in mind.”

John doesn’t have any immediate plans for another big ride. He wants to spend more time in Montana
hunting and fishing as he reflects on the trip many thought was crazy.

“I think the idea is you’re never too old to do something,” he said. “If I can jump on a bike and go
across the country, there are a lot of things people can do that they don’t think they can do.”

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