He could have stayed in Missoula, Montana, for two days and just waited it out.
Bill Menges, of Russell Township, was barely a week into his coast-to-coast bicycle journey, from Astoria, Oregon, to Long Island, New York, and the 59-year-old already found himself in a sticky spot.
After leaving the Cascade Mountains in his rearview, Menges was in good rhythm and feeling relaxed without any sort of pressure to hurry himself along a 4,000-mile trek across the country in an effort to raise money for his nephew, Bobby Menges, who died three years ago after a 15-year battle with cancer. Bobby was just 19 years old.
Although Menges was biking with a purpose, he knew there’d be some bumps along the way. But his sticky spot was more than just a little patch job.
“At first I thought, ‘Oh, well. I knew I was going to have a flat eventually.’ It would have been weird if I didn’t,” he said. “And so, I changed the tire, and then I saw the extent of the problem and I did get a little concerned. I thought, I’ve got to get a whole new tire. And as soon as I started looking into where I might get one, I realized this just wasn’t going to work out the way I wanted it too.”
Menges didn’t have just a standard flat that needed a new tube; he had a pretty bad sidewall cut in one of the tires that needed an entire replacement for his Surly Disc Trucker bicycle.
The good news was that he made it to Missoula, which has plenty of bike shops for the needed repair. The bad news was that he arrived there on Saturday evening during Memorial Day weekend, and those bike shops were closed the next two days.
The next nearest shop without backtracking was 362 bike miles away in Idaho Falls, Idaho. So, Menges could either play it safe and sit around for two days in Missoula waiting for Tuesday to arrive, or he could roll the dice and head south.
“Being about as stubborn as the day is long, I said, ‘I’m not waiting here for two days just for a tire. I’m just going to see how far I can go,’” Menges said. “It was reassuring to know that I had that SOS button, if I really got in trouble, but, you know, I’m just going to keep pedaling and hope and pray it all works out.”
Menges put a new tube in his tire, but it kept bubbling out like a balloon through the cut of the sidewall. So, he snipped out a piece of fabric off his front pack and layered the inside of his tire to keep it from popping out. Then he just crossed his fingers the patch job would hold.
For the next 362 miles, he kept looking down about every five minutes. It went on like that for four days as he passed through cattle country in Idaho, where the scenery was beautiful but totally absent of industrialization.
So, while Menges was aware he could be stranded at any moment and kept looking down at his tire, it didn’t mentally sidetrack him to the point where he wasn’t enjoying what he was doing.
“When I got (to Idaho Falls), sure, there was a big sigh of relief and everything like that, but I’ve done a few of these kinds of rides before,” he said. “I knew that these kinds of things happened, and the only thing you can do is go with the flow and do the best you can. There’s really no other alternative.”
Menges had completed bike loops around Lake Erie, about 600 miles, and Lake Ontario, about 800 miles, but that was relatively flat terrain compared to the Cascade, Bitterroot and Rocky mountain ranges he tackled in the West.
And he still had to get through Wyoming, Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois and Indiana, before making a pit stop at home for Father’s Day and getting back on his merry way toward Long Island.
Sure, he’d probably have to take some days off to rest those leg muscles he first developed in the 1960s … except he didn’t.
“I actually rode 38 out of the first 39 days,” Menges said. “I only took one day off. I just felt good. I mean, I really did, and I just said, ‘What else am I going to do? I might as well ride.’ So, that was good, and that got me across a little quicker.”
Menges planned on taking a route that was 4,400 miles and raising $44,000 during his “Bill Bikes for Bobby” fundraiser through the “I’m Not Done Yet Foundation” that his brother and sister-in-law, Peter and Liz Menges, manage.
Donations made toward “Bill Bikes for Bobby” will support the research of sarcoma – a rare kind of cancer that begins in the bones and soft tissues in various locations in one’s body. After putting two previous cancer battles into remission, Bobby Menges was diagnosed with adolescents and young adults sarcoma in 2016 and died the next year.
All proceeds from the “Bill Bikes for Bobby” fundraiser will go to the labs of Drs. Alex Huang and Jake Scott at the Case Comprehensive Cancer Center and the Cleveland Clinic.
But Menges’ route included a couple alterations.
Before diverting south to Idaho Falls, he had planned to go through the west entrance of Yellowstone National Park, but that was closed off. Instead, he traveled farther south and went into Jackson, Wyoming, across Teton Pass, which was a challenging, three-hour uphill climb, and then down through Grand Teton National Park.
“I had the wind with me that day, and the Tetons were right over my left shoulder the whole ride,” he said. “It was just beautiful. I swear I felt like I could touch those mountains I was so close to them. They are amazing. You find yourself just staring at them.”
At about 9,600 feet in elevation while approaching the Continental Divide on the Togwotee Pass, Menges stopped for a photo of himself in his bike shorts and snow-covered land in the background.
In terms of wildlife, Menges saw a lot of pronghorn antelope, deer and dead rattlesnakes in the road, but he did find himself questioning his only route through a mountain climb shortly after departing the small town of Moran, Wyoming.
He came up on a flashing construction sign on the side of the road that said: “Bears on the highway. Do not stop. Do not approach bears.” And the sign wasn’t warning about the sometimes-skittish black bears but rather the more aggressive grizzlies.
Menges’ first thought was, “OK,” he said.
“And I just thought to myself, ‘You need to have a plan,’” he said. “And the only plan I could come up with was, if I see a bear, I’m going to ride in whatever direction downhill is. That was my plan; to go as fast as I can, even if it’s the wrong direction. Just go.
“But I probably rode for about 10 to 15 miles with my senses just on high alert. It made the rest of the climb a lot easier because I really had adrenaline pumping through me, like, ‘I do not need to see a bear on the highway today.’”
Then came Menges’ lone day off during his first 39 days of bicycling, when he stopped to visit a friend in Casper, Wyoming, who warned him of the rattlesnake dangers associated with pulling off the side of the path for a bathroom break. That also kept him on alert.
Once Menges got midway through Wyoming, up in the high desert, the terrain flattened out, and he was able to pick up his pace. And although Menges originally planned to bike through Kansas, he took a more direct route through Nebraska, which was perhaps the most mentally draining part of his trek.
“I had 25 to 35 mph headwinds or crosswinds for four or five days, where it didn’t matter if I was going downhill. I was barely moving,” Menges said. “And it was demoralizing. I’d just be pedaling in my highest possible gear where I’m barely moving and I’m thinking, ‘I’ve got to do this for 10 hours.’ I mean, it was really, really tough.”
“I remember journaling, and I think I put, ‘I hate Nebraska.’ And then like Forrest Gump, I put, ‘That’s all I have to say about that.’”
While Menges was tested, he knew he wasn’t going to quit. And he wouldn’t take any more days off before his pit stop back home in Russell Township.
He kept pedaling through Iowa, across the Mississippi River, into Illinois and Indiana, before getting back to the Buckeye State with an overnight stay in Marblehead.
“That’s when it really hit me, because I knew that, if I made it home, I’d make it to Garden City,” Menges said about where his brother lives in Long Island. “I found that, when I was coming into about Avon, I just started smiling and I couldn’t stop smiling. You know, I’m within spitting range, so to speak.
“And when I got to Chagrin Falls and only had like 3 or 4 miles to go, I got very emotional. I really started to feel it, and it was just a, ‘Hey, I went through a lot, and I did it.’ So, yeah, that was really my moment of accomplishment.”
Menges arrived home June 19, the day before Father’s Day, allowing for a big cookout with his wife, Robin, and three children, including 2012 Gilmour Academy graduate Kyle, 2015 graduate Carly and 2017 graduate Daniel.
After five days of some R-and-R – although he did do a 45-mile public relations bike ride with Cleveland Clinic’s Dr. Scott, as well as Dr. Peter Scacheri, of the Case Comprehensive Cancer Center, while he was home – Menges was back in the saddle for the final six days of his Pacific-to-Atlantic excursion.
Pennsylvania’s steep terrain was even more challenging than the mountains out West, but Menges considered those final six days his victory lap. Omitting his time at home, it took him 45 days to complete what ended up being 4,000 miles, averaging about 88 miles per day. His original intent was to average 80 miles a day.
When Menges arrived on July 3 in Garden City, Long Island, his brother, wife and sister-in-law were there waiting for him with a few friends.
“We were going to ride the next morning to the ocean, just to officially finish it, and my brother Pete said, ‘Hey, let’s go right now,’” Menges said. “So, we just went and rode about 15 miles south to Long Beach and got a few videos of me diving into the Atlantic. That was fun.”
Menges said he’s reached about 80 percent of his fundraising goal but still has a few donations trickling in, specifically from a few church friends who wanted to see him finish the journey before making their contributions, he said.
And while the cross-country bike trip had so many sites to admire, Menges said that the best thing about his adventure was the people he met along the way.
“I met some characters, I mean some real characters, and a lot of people comped me meals, I got comped a few hotel rooms, and people even offered to do my laundry,” he said. “I mean, one lady chased me out of the store with a $10 bill saying, ‘Here, here, take this towards your cause,’ and I’m thinking, you know, she doesn’t have two nickels to rub together, and here she’s giving me 10 bucks to put towards the cause.
“And I had other hotel people slip five bucks under the door with a note and stuff like that. So, yeah, a lot of fun people. It seemed like most of them had some type of cancer connection, whether it was their brother, their niece – everybody seemed to have a cancer story that I talked to.”