July 2, 2015
By Mike Killeen
Rain. Flat tires. Brutally hot conditions. Severe elevation changes. Riding 85 miles a day on a bicycle, day in and day out.
Sounds like a great way to spend a month on the road, right?
George Maurer wouldn't have it any other way.
Maurer, a 1988 Saint John's University graduate and pianist, has begun the 2015 Carolyn A. Held Memorial Bike Ride to raise money for cancer research. It's the second consecutive year he has biked across the country in honor of Held.
"I was so moved by the experience from last summer, not only because it helped me understand more on what drove Carolyn, but it opened me up to be able to listen better to other people," Maurer said. "I heard many stories of cancer, and met many cancer survivors. It put a face on what I was doing, and why I was doing it.
"I found many more people felt moved to be involved with my ride, with my goals, last summer when I told the story of Carolyn, but also when I shared the stories of my encounters from the seat of the bicycle, be those stories either directly linked to cancer, or be they just simple stories of a town or road in America that one has been to, or ever will.
"So, I was compelled to ride again. My world got opened up, too, and once that happens, well, it's hard to put the lid back on the box," Maurer said.
Maurer left June 23 from the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco for a 1,500-mile bike ride to Denver, where he is expected to arrive July 11. He'll fly to Vancouver, British Columbia, to teach a class at the University of British Columbia, and then he'll get back on the bike seat July 18 and pedal 1,100 miles back to the Golden Gate Bridge.
His goal for the trip is to raise $20,000 for a memorial fund to support cancer research at Mayo Clinic Cancer Center in memory of Held, a friend who made her own ride across the U.S. in 1988. She passed away in 2012 following a year-long battle with cancer.
Why the San Francisco to Denver route for this trip?
"A fellow named Patrick McMurchie from Seattle fell in with me last summer as I came out of the Idaho panhandle into Montana, and he stuck with me, riding together for two weeks or so until Fargo (North Dakota), where our routes parted," Maurer said.
"He was a blast, easy to get along with, and had very cerebral conversations as we biked, from Walt Whitman to Christopher Walken, physiology to psychology. I even got him to attend evening prayer with me with the Benedictines who put us up at Assumption Abbey in Richardson, North Dakota, for a night. Afterwards, we took our monastic host out for a beer at a local bar!"
"So, seeing how we got along with each other so well, I kiddingly said to Patrick before we parted ways, 'So where are we biking next summer?' And, he replied, 'San Francisco to Denver.' So, here we are," Maurer said.
Last year, Maurer rode from Washington state to Massachusetts. He is carrying 5-7 less pounds of gear this time around.
"It's bare bones essentials," he said. "I tweaked the gears on the bike, and worked the bike to carry more water when needed."
He'll need that. Coming out of San Francisco, he'll face a 8,500-foot climb over the Sierra Nevada, a mountain range between the Central Valley of California and the Basin and Range Province in California and Nevada. That will be followed by 100-degree days in the desolate desert area of Nevada.
"There's more safety features and less gear on the bike," said Maurer, noting that it will still weigh 260 pounds when he's firmly on the seat. "After I lose 20 pounds, it will be easier to handle."
Maurer said he thinks Held, who was married to SJU 1973 graduate Pat Held, would "be jealous" about his current bike tour.
"She would also chide me for not being on the road at 6 a.m. sharp every morning," Maurer said. "But she's always around. Whenever I hit a mountain, or a tough day, I simply say to myself, 'If Carolyn could do it, so can I.' "