Bay Area cyclists discover kindness in middle America

S.F.’s School of the Arts students enjoy cross-country ride-of-a-lifetime

Bay Area cyclists discover kindness in middle America

Halfway through their cross country journey of discovery, the “Pedal Towards the Future” cyclists have compiled impressive statistics: six states, 1,485 miles and 85,000 feet of elevation gain. The team has overcome five flat tires and slept under the stars 22 times.

Numbers tell only part of the story, though. Priceless experiences are making a greater impression, especially the kindness of those the cyclists have met on their way.

“I’m definitely shocked by how nice and generous Americans are. Everybody has been cheering us on,” said Emmet Forde, 17.

Three teenagers and their teacher from San Francisco’s School of the Arts hit the road on their bikes on July 1, bound for the East Coast and the ride of a lifetime. The pandemic caused three others to back out and nearly derailed the whole trip. Four decided to go on cautiously, using masks, social distancing and avoiding large cities.

Big challenges tested them in the first weeks, including the steep Sierra Nevada Range, waterless desert stretching hundreds of miles across Nevada and Utah, and the massive climb over the Rocky Mountains.

Time and again, the cyclists have overcome, often aided by perfect strangers.

“Coming from the city, we expected middle America people to hate on us for our liberal views,” said Dasha Yurkevich, 18. “But I find that even though a lot of the people that we’ve spoken to have clear political differences, they have been genuinely kind to us.”

Passing motorists have given the bikers encouragement, much-needed water in the desert and even free meals. A man from Panaca, Nevada invited them to his home for a hot breakfast and showers, their first in nine days.

“We’ve been seeing that kindness all the way through,” said Andy Padlo, 59, a teacher and the team’s senior rider. “People are really generous. It’s been great to talk to them and get to know them as people not that different from ourselves.”

Plus, breathtaking scenery abounds, both the mountains and the desert.

“I loved Red Canyon, just outside Grand Escalante National Monument and Bryce Canyon National Park,” said Julian Jordan, 18. “It’s a beautiful marvel of nature, with marvelous red rock walls that shoot straight up.”

Now that the cyclists have reached the Great Plains, they plan to pick up speed on their way to New York.

Those looking for an uplifting story during the pandemic could do worse than following them at

Trail snacks

In other good outdoors news, Congress has passed the Great American Outdoors Act, a bipartisan measure which allots $9.5 billion for national parks’ maintenance backlog and supplies the Land and Water Conservation Fund with $900 million per year from oil and gas revenues. Supporters call it one of the most significant environmental bills in decades.

California’s only known gray wolf pack has had eight new pups in Lassen County. The wolves birthed their fourth litter since 2018, according to the Department of Fish and Wildlife. Gray wolves, an endangered species, had been extinct in California since 1924 until one migrated from Oregon in 2011. The Lassen Pack now consists of 14 wolves.

California condors are flying over Sequoia National Park for the first time in nearly 50 years. Nearly extinct in 1982 when only 22 birds remained, the endangered species has rebounded to some 300 condors flying freely in North America. The reduction of lead ammunition, which poisons condors, has been critical to their recovery.

During a year when few climbers are roping up at all, Brandon Adams and Roger Putnam destroyed a major speed record in Yosemite. The duo flew up El Capitan’s Mescalito route in 13 hours, 46 minutes and 48 seconds, beating the previous fastest time by nearly 10 hours. Mescalito, 2,800 feet tall, involves 26 pitches (rope lengths) and formidable A3 difficulty, taking most parties about seven days. “The weather was perfect and the climbing was great fun,” reported Adams. “We can’t believe how well that went,” agreed Putnam.

Finally, ultra runner Kyle Curtin, 33, broke the record for the fastest unsupported trip on the Tahoe Rim Trail, speeding around the 171-mile loop in 41 hours and nine minutes. The pride of Durango, Colorado overcame a 36-mile stretch without water and crushed the old mark by 10 hours on July 4. “I’d be very happy if this inspired people to get out and go do a hike,” he said.

Matt Johanson authored “Yosemite Adventures: 50 Spectacular Hikes, Climbs and Winter Treks” and “Sierra Summits: A Guide to 50 Peak Experiences in California’s Range of Light.”

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