Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Athlete Profile: John Smallwood, Trans-America Cyclist

We met in the strangest and most serendipitous way. Although we had never set eyes on each other before, and although he had just biked 70 miles down Oregon's Willamette Valley when he called me from his cell phone, John Smallwood was in reality standing just 50 feet away from me. It was a surreal moment. The traveling cyclist was going to be our houseguest, via an organization called Warmshowers.org, which pairs cyclists with host families. Typically a cyclist calls me when they get into town and I give them directions to our house. This time, I was near downtown, about to pick my son up from Spanish class when John called. I asked him where he was at. "The corner of 6th and High street" he replied in his Australian/British accent.

The funny thing was, I was also at the corner of 6th and High. I looked around.

"Are you wearing a neon green vest?" I asked, pretty sure that the guy with the heavily-laden bike trailer might just be my guest. I waved.

John waved back and I walked over to meet him. Not only did I instantly like him, but as we heaved his 50-pound trailer into the back of my mini-van, my dogs Sophie and Callie, normally quite wary of strangers (especially ones with helmets and neon green vests) took to him immediately as well. Callie climbed right up into his lap as he got in the van, and Sophie set aside her usual period of wary growling and barking to cozy right up to him. This latter I chalk up to the fact that as an Australian Shepherd/Australian Cattle Dog mix, she was very partial to his accent.

Since our city sits right near the beginning (or the end) of the Trans-America Bicycle Trail (established in our bicentennial year of 1976), we get a fair number of folks in the summer who are doing the Cross-America route. They are all interesting, adventurous, and fun people as you might guess. But some of them are just really special and you hate to see them go. John Smallwood was definitely one of those.

As he says on his website, BicycleAcrossAmerica.org, he is "determined to make a difference" by raising money for Maison Chance, an organization that provides housing, health care, educational and vocational training for orphans, street children, disadvantaged and physically handicapped people in Vietnam. And he's doing this by riding across the country, solo. He became involved with Maison Chance while cycling in Vietnam, and I enjoyed hearing his stories about the people he'd bet there whose lives had been greatly changed by this organization. You can read more about the work they do here in his description and there is a link to donate on his main website. You can also send PayPal using their email address, usa@maison-chance.org .

Although our household was deep in its usual craziness (I was juggling kids, dogs, chickens, laundry, and heading out to teach my Karate Conditioning class while John was here), he just rolled with the punches as our guest. The next morning, I took the opportunity to ride out of town with him and see him launched on his continuing journey across the country. You don't know how hard it was to turn back!! Some day, I would love to just keep going, pedaling across this large and beautiful land of ours.

More than anything, John inspired me in so many ways. For one thing, if I had to guess his age, I'd probably put him somewhere around 50. So I was quite surprised when he said 66! If we could all look so fit in our mid-sixties!! That's testimony to a cycling lifestyle for sure. And he said he'd only taken up cycling a few years back, which is pretty amazing really. When you add in his dedication to using his bicycle journey to help others, you can see why I thought you all would like to be as inspired as I was in hearing his story.

There's really no excuse not to get out there and live our lives to the fullest.  As I watched John roll away down the road toward the East Coast, Thoreau's quote came to my mind:

Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you've imagined.

Somewhere out there on the open road, John Smallwood is doing just that.


tinaparker87 said...

Great story!

Marv said...

Love this post...what an inspiration!!..yeah, I would have wanted to go too, like you. Last year I met a group traveling from San Diego to Florida, as they had stopped for lunch. After talking to several, I wished I could be leaving with them.

Anonymous said...

Hi John Boy!!!! What a inspriation you are to all out there, we all should get off your backsides and do something life is way to short.And what a lovely story by Robin.Looks like you are having a great time although the weather must be hard to take. Take care and happy cycling. Love Rails and Bob xxxxx

Steve said...

I have had the pleasure of knowing John Smallwood for almost 20 years and he truly is an inspiration and 100% fair dinkum.