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Cross country bicycle trip was tribute to a step-grandfather

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Half-brothers Dalton and Blake Weeks had decided to ride their bicycles across the country long before the coronavirus reared its ugly head. Being young, adventurous, and perhaps a bit foolish, they were not deterred by the prospect of adding one more challenge to an-already daunting adventure. Beyond the obvious motivations to embark upon such a quest, the brothers also wanted the ride to be a tribute to their 88-year-old step-grandfather, Richard Sullivan, who was most responsible for their love of cycling. A half dozen years ago, the spry octogenarian was still regularly riding his bike on the road.

“He instilled a love for cycling and human-powered travel in us,” Dalton explained in an incredible account of the trip last month here in Altoona. They visited with family and friends before beginning the last leg of their journey to Sullivan’s hometown, Lawrence, Massachusetts.

The duo set off from Newport Beach, California and onto their grandparents’ current home in Riverside in mid-April during the throes of the first wave of the pandemic. Needless to say, the tales of such a trip at such an insane point in history are truly stranger than fiction. Though I don’t have enough space to tell every story, I’ll try to share a few of the most incredible.

The Coronavirus pandemic was sure to add an interesting subplot to the trip, the craziest of those tales occurring in Gallup, New Mexico. An older couple, who were at first awestruck by the brothers’ east coast destination, conveyed that their more immediate challenge was dealing with the mess up ahead in Gallup.

A night of crazed partying before bars were closed down and a gutted hospital staff conspired to overwhelm Greater Gallup and the already dreadfully underserved Navajo Nation. The virus case load became so bad, the governor invoked the state’s Riot Control Act, in effect shutting down the entire city.

When our intrepid cyclists got there, the police told them they could not enter the city and should ride straight on through without stopping. Everything was closed and the road was completely deserted, except for the two cyclists. Younger brother Blake described the eerie scene, “It was apocalyptic.”

Being one of the most unsettled springs and summers since the sixties, unprecedented events became ordinary, as they learned 800 miles east. When the cyclists came upon a snarl of traffic, followed by another deserted stretch of road near Plano, Texas, they feared they had stumbled upon another COVID-19-shuttered city. That is until they saw the mass of humanity that turned out to be a Black Lives Matters march coming toward them.

Just days after George Floyd was killed, nearby Dallas had been shut down by unrest in the streets. Thousands joined the peaceful march through Plano, including Dalton and Blake. Despite the difficult times being experienced across the country, their spirits were lifted by the conciliatory words of one of the demonstration leaders and the Plano police chief. A few hundred miles later, they found themselves climbing a peaceful road through the Ozark National Forest, the most magnificent stretch of road on the trip. It proved that, even in the insanity of 2020, we need look no further than beautiful natural places for solace and satisfaction.

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