Bike trip of a lifetime

Dave Mertes ’00

Photo: Dave Mertes '00 on his 5,001-mile journey.British climber George Mallory, when asked why he wanted to climb Mt. Everest, famously replied, “Because it’s there.“ Similarly, Dave Mertes ’00, could have just hopped a plane or a train to head home to Portland from New York City this summer. After four years in the Big Apple, he had added a certificate in outdoor apparel design from the Fashion Institute of New York to his Pacific degree in sociology and English Literature.

But something had happened to Mertes before he finished his design certificate. He was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. The disease, which afflicts some 13 million Americans and is a leading cause of death and disability in the U.S., requires close monitoring of diet and stress. It also requires daily shots of insulin. So when Mertes decided to return to the Northwest, he also decided it was time to prove something – to himself and to the world. For the avid hiking and camping enthusiast, it had to be something physically demanding.

“I really wanted to take advantage of the time I had and saw the opportunity to do something eventful,“ said Mertes. “It was also a chance to face some fears I had, to tell myself that I can still do big and fun projects.“

So like Mallory and legions of explorers before and since, Mertes pulled out a map and pondered the “there“ in a trip across the country. He considered a combination backpacking and canoe trip Lewis and Clark style, but decided it would take longer than the three months he had for the journey. Finally, he saw an article in a magazine about bicycle touring. He also read that people often used such trips to benefit charity. The idea of a cross-country journey to raise money for diabetes research was born.

Though he hadn’t done a lot of bicycling and had never gone on an extended tour, Mertes read up on the subject, and studied maps and guidebooks for the best campgrounds. He also devised a system to make sure he always had a supply of insulin. Mertes used a cell phone and a hand-held computer for e-mail to make sure shipments were waiting at points along the way. He chose a route that would take him from New York to New Jersey and
Baltimore to Washington, D.C., and across the Virginia countryside to connect with the
Transamerica bike route.

On May 31 he set out. Eighty-three days, 14 states, and 5,001 miles later, he rolled into Portland, his final leg from Forest Grove along routes he had biked as a kid. Taking pledges from family and friends, he raised some $5,600 for the Oregon/Southwest Washington
diabetes research chapter. And along the way, he had the adventure of a lifetime.

People, food, and traffic figure prominently in the memories. He met the famous “Cookie Lady,“ who operates a kind of shrine, museum, and cyclist’s hostel along the Transamerica route. He met other cyclists going and coming and occasionally had company on the ride.

Automobile drivers, he said, were generally considerate, though other cyclists had told tales of being run off the road. Mertes was yelled at a couple of times and navigated rough roads and narrow shoulders. One driver upon spotting him, slammed on the brakes and hit another car, but missed Mertes. The cyclist also endured numerous tire blowouts and one crash.

What he said he’d remember the most, though, was some gorgeous country, especially in the West, and the satisfaction of a challenge met. “I think it is definitely the accomplishment that feels the most important. I’m really glad I did something not a lot of people have done.“

To view Dave’s web chronicle of the journey, visit

By Steve Dodge