It started out pleasantly enough two years ago.
Joyce and Thomas Tobias, a couple from Annandale, set out from Washington State on a leisurely cross-country bike trip--but found it cut short when Thomas lost control of his bike and plunged head-first to the pavement.
What was supposed to have been a three-month adventure in America turned into a three-week hospital stay in the town of Bellingham, Wash. That was followed by months of intensive rehabilitation to regain his balance and cognitive therapy to help restore his short-term memory.
"I don't remember anything about the accident at all," the 66-year-old retired computer programmer said. "It's just erased. You don't know what you can do and what you can't do. Everything is a challenge."
Maybe so, but today, Thomas and his wife are somewhere in Idaho, back on their way to Bellingham after two months of biking in the other direction across the entire country.
They started on June 1 from their home in Annandale, and have been averaging nearly 50 miles a day. Some days--and remember, this has been one of the hottest, driest summers in many parts of the country--they've gone as far as 90 miles in a single day.
The trip is chronicled in a journal Joyce Tobias writes and e-mails to friends and family:
WEDNESDAY, JULY 28
"As first light came on at 5:15, the whole sky was streaked with spectacular pink clouds--well worth getting up for. One side of the road is very barren, the other side is green with trees and crops nourished by the Wind river and irrigation as we leave Riverton [Wyo.].
As we traveled, the scenery became more and more beautiful with rock formations, mountains, etc. It was a long hard climb of 3,100 feet in 62 miles to the ranch with periods of head winds. Since we were under such a time constraint, we stopped very little to rest, making our journey much more difficult."
These are not motor-powered bikes they are riding, of course. But neither are they the poky bicycles you might imagine. The couple is riding a pair of 24-speed, fully loaded REI Navarro bikes. The best part about the bikes: what Thomas calls "super grampa gear."
Their path took them on the W&OD Trail, across the Potomac River on White's Ferry, on the C&O Canal up to Cumberland and across on U.S Highway 40. And then a long trip west.
Sometimes they are camping, setting up the tents that they wear in the 50-pound backpacks they both carry. But Joyce Tobias, 61, said they have often chosen to stay at more "luxurious" accommodations instead.
"State parks are often at the top of a steep hill," she said. "We've started to prefer motels. They're right on the road."
With the hot summer sun beating down the hardest at noon, the couple made some minor adjustments in their riding schedule shortly after starting out. Now, they begin their rides even before the sun rises, finishing their 50 or 60 miles by midday.
"We check into a hotel and take a nap in an air conditioned room," Joyce said.
And how do they find their way?
Not to worry. A two-pound laptop computer is part of the gear Thomas carries. It's loaded with mapping software that has topographical and street-level detail for the entire country. Plug a location in, and it'll tell you exactly how to get there.
FRIDAY, JUNE 18
"We had a beautiful riding day in the 70s and entered MI with wonderful 8-ft. wide paved shoulders on the roads. (Like a bicycle path). Tom had spent hours planning our route for the day and writing down every cross street. Our first road was a dead end completely wiping out the plan! Better stick to the KISS principle--keep it simple stupid! Stayed in Adrian, MI, that night-- 55.58 miles covered."
The computer has also been a way of keeping in touch with the couple's seven children and their friends back home. Hundreds of members of Joyce's quilting club receive copies of the journal entires every week.
Members of a drug-abuse prevention group that Joyce founded, called PANDA, also receive the journal entries, as do family members, friends and even some strangers.
Recently, someone wrote that he wanted to create a Web page dedicated to the bike trip.
"I find that a lot of these people are so excited that they are sending it to other friends," Joyce said. "I think to a couple hundred people. There's people I've never met who I'm getting e-mail from."
What does everyone think about what they are doing?
The couple says their children were nervous about the trip at first. The ones who are now parents themselves were especially worried, Joyce said. But most of them have come around.
"I talked to one son just last night who was really amazed and proud," she said as they neared the end of their trip.
FRIDAY, AUGUST 6
"Finally, after a total of 70 miles and 10 hours on the road we rolled into Dillon [Mont.]. A Super 8 Motel never looked so good! This was one of the few days that our legs were sore at the end of the day."
Thomas says he pushed himself to try again because he wanted to prove that he could still ride the way he and his wife used to when they were younger, and before the accident.
He also wanted the challenge just because it's there.
"It's like Mount Everest," he said. "It's only when you are very young or much older that you have time to do it."
CAPTION: Joyce and Thomas Tobias are chronicling their bicycle journey in photographs and in a journal that Joyce Tobias writes and e-mails to friends and family members.