Arlington man bikes across the country for literacy


Rich McKinless, center, is biking across the country with son, Chris, left, to raise money for books for children. Rich’s father, Robert, right, joined them. (Courtesy of Rich McKinless)

It’s been a summer vacation he won’t soon forget and it’s not over yet. Rich McKinless is biking across the country with his son, Chris, and along the way, he is raising money for literacy.

McKinless, 57, a semi-retired consultant from Arlington, had long dreamed of cycling from coast to coast. He took up cycling in the early 1980s because it was easier on his knees than running.

Now that his children are grown, McKinless started thinking more and more about biking across the country. When his oldest son, Chris, who just finished a residency in emergency medicine, offered to join him on the trip, McKinless decided this was the year to do it.

“I figured, ‘Okay, I can do this, and I should do it while I still can,’” McKinless said by phone from Sioux City, Iowa.

Before retiring, McKinless and his wife, Kathy, worked in the D.C. office of KPMG for about 30 years and had volunteered with KPMG’s Family for Literacy, a program that provides new books to children in need. KPMG partnered with First Book, a 501(c)3 organization that sends books to Title 1 schools across the country.

Because of that connection, McKinless decided to raise funds for First Book, and Biking for Books was born. He set a goal for $100,000. To date, he has $26,470 in donations, mostly from family, friends and colleagues.

“I figure I’m only going to do something like this probably once, so why not swing for the fences?” he said.

When picking a route for his trip, McKinless, a history buff, choose to follow Lewis and Clark’s return journey. He and his son started in the Pacific Ocean in Astoria, Ore., on July 4. They traveled up the Columbia River, through the Rocky Mountains and now they are working their way down the Missouri River to St. Louis. From there, they will follow the TransAmerica Trail, ending up in Yorktown.

“There has been a little bit of a family debate about whether that’s going ocean to ocean if you end in Yorktown,” McKinless said. “Arguably that’s the Chesapeake Bay and not the Atlantic Ocean. If we decide that’s not the Atlantic Ocean, we may drop down to Virginia Beach.”

When they stopped in Sioux City, they were 2,361 miles into their trip.

“We expect this to be 4,200-plus miles, so we’ve passed the half-way point,” he said.

They average 65 miles a day, six days on and one day off. McKinless’s 87-year-old father, Robert, joined them for a week and covered 200 miles with them. Kathy drives a van and scouts places for them to stay.

“She’s the heroine,” McKinless said. “We’d probably be in Mexico or Canada without Kathy.”

One of the best parts of the trip are the people they’ve encountered.

He tells the story of the two women he and his son met at a convenience store in Elk Point, S.D., where they ducked out of a thunderstorm. After explaining what they were doing, one of the women handed him all the money she had on her, nine $1 bills, and told him to be sure it helps the kids.

Then there was the time Kathy called ahead looking for a place to stay in North Dakota. She reached the owner of a boarding house. He told her he was going fishing but the place was unlocked and she was welcome to any room she wanted. He asked her to leave a check when they left.

“I’m afraid my East Coast cynicism is to be wary of strangers,” McKinless said. “Out here, it’s 180 degrees opposite.”

To follow McKinless’s journey across the country or to donate, go to biking-for-books.org.

Kathy Orton is a reporter and Web editor for the Real Estate section. She covers the Washington metropolitan area housing market.
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