Worcester, Mass.
June 14, 1998

Marathoner biked from Alaska to Worcester

By Lynne Tolman

   The first thing Ed Chviruk of Worcester did when he landed in Fairbanks, Alaska, last year was to rip up his return plane ticket. He had his bicycle and a tent, and he was determined to get home on two wheels.
   The 4,754-mile journey would take him almost 15 weeks. He covered 50 miles a day on average, carrying about 50 pounds of gear. Not too shabby for a guy 67 years old.
   Chviruk, a retired printer who works part-time driving people with special needs, doesn't even consider himself a big cyclist.
   "I'm more of a marathoner," he said. He took up running about 20 years ago and figures cycling is good cross-training. He has run 54 marathons, most recently one in London in April. His best time was 3:58, on Cape Cod "a few years ago."
   He has been known to bike from Worcester to his family's cottage on Lake Winnepesaukee, in Center Harbor, N.H. It's 131 miles and takes him about 10 hours each way, he said with a shrug.
   That's small potatoes compared to cross-country. And Chviruk's version of coast-to-coast last year was particularly ambitious. He had biked from Portland, Oregon, to Portland, Maine, in 1995 and wanted to see more.
   The tread on the tubeless tires on his Jamis Aragon hybrid was worn smooth by the "chip seal" surface of the Alaskan Highway.
   A bear got his pack out of a tree in British Columbia and decimated his stash of bagels. "I was so mad, I could have killed him," Chviruk said. "What you need is an air horn. A game warden told me that."
   Headwinds bedeviled him in every state and province, and it rained for the better part of three weeks in British Columbia.
   In North Dakota, he watched two tornadoes churn across the landscape in the distance while he huddled under a bridge, his bike chained to the guardrail and his arms through the chain.
   When his rear hub gave out, a bike shop owner in Detroit Lakes, Minn., repaired it in a hurry for a mere $20 -- after giving Chviruk a place to camp and a home-cooked meal.
   A car clipped him with its side mirror in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, and threw him into a ditch. A Royal Canadian Mounted Police cruiser was close behind, and the Mountie took Chviruk to the hospital to have his banged-up elbow checked out. Nothing was broken.
   In New York, a state trooper wanted to write him a ticket for biking on the interstate. Chviruk argued that no bicycle ban was posted, and how else was he supposed to come in from Ontario? The trooper ended up unfolding his county maps and writing out a back-roads route on index cards, and shaking the rider's hand before he sent him on his way.
   Chviruk views none of these adventures as difficulties. "People thought it was a lot of work, but I had a ball, because you never knew from day to day what you were going to see," he said.
   "It's more mental than physical. It's the same way with the marathon," he said. "Montana was a big hurdle because it's so big -- 475 miles across."
   The wildlife in Alaska was a highlight -- elk, coyote, lynx, grizzly bear, "you name it," Chviruk said. "People in cars would stop and ask if I saw any wildlife; they didn't see anything. Of course not, going in a car at 55 miles an hour!"
   He carried a three-person tent and kept his bicycle inside it with him at night, "for security." A battery-powered radio on his handlebars was good for weather forecasts and "company."
   A vegetarian, Chviruk usually carried three or four days' worth of food, not knowing where the next store would be. He cooked on a camp stove fueled with Sterno. Besides bagels and peanut butter, he liked to have apples, canned soup, instant oatmeal, cheese when the weather was cool -- and for energy boosts while riding, what he calls his "sugar IV," jelly beans and water.
   In the Midwest, he learned a lot about crops such as ginseng and canola, and the landscape didn't get tiresome until New York, he said.
   He got used to people flagging him down and asking him all about his trip. The third question, invariably (after "Where are you from?" and "Where are you going?"), was "How old are you?"
   "I met people almost daily that would practically want to adopt you," he said. They usually offered food. One guy wanted to give him a case of PowerBars; another handed over a big bag of banana chips.
   "People were unbelievable -- very supportive, just kind. The humanity aspect, I was really impressed," Chviruk said. He wants to write a book about his sojourn, "just about the people."
   A father of four sons, Chviruk said his favorite person was a 12-year-old boy on the ferry across Lake Superior who peppered him with questions and said he'd like to do something like that with his dad.
   Chviruk wants to do it again, in the year 2000, from Alaska to Nova Scotia. He didn't really make any side trips last time, and he's curious about some of the places people said he ought to see -- the Badlands, for one.
   "I met so many people who wanted to do this type of thing, but for one reason or another they didn't do it, and they admired me for doing it," he said. "I'd say, "What's stopping you? Make the time; make it happen. Get off your butt and do it!' "

Lynne Tolman's bicycling column archives
Lynne Tolman's home page