Friends take on cycling challenge for charity
On October 15, 2016, Georgetown resident Brad Lankford and his friend Bruce Gleasman completed the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, the world’s longest mapped off-road bicycle route. The pair logged 2,774 miles from Banff, Canada, to Antelope Wells, New Mexico, in just two and a half months . . . all for charity.
Brad, 54, and Bruce, 60, met when they were neighbors in Georgetown and remained friends after Bruce and his wife moved to Brevard, North Carolina. In 2015 they decided to tackle the ride while they were still “young enough,” says Brad, who took a work sabbatical from his job as a supply chain management consultant. Bruce took time off from operating his handyman service.
An avid cycler, Brad was excited about riding, while Bruce, a former Boy Scout leader and “very capable outdoorsman,” according to Brad, looked forward to the outdoor adventure. Both came home satisfied they’d found what they were looking for—and more.
They didn’t set out “just to take a ride” but rather to raise awareness for charities they support. Bruce supported the North Carolina Connestee Falls Student Scholarship Program. Brad raised contributions and awareness for the Austin-based Helping Hand Home for Children. “I have so many fond memories of my family’s love and support, even during the times when I was rebellious,” he explains. “I wanted to make a positive difference and chose this charity as a way to honor my family and recognize the loving environment that they provided and to help an organization that provides similar support.”
With more than 200,000 feet in elevation changes, the cycling adventure is a serious test of riders’ endurance. Ninety percent of the route is dirt roads that crisscross the Continental Divide. So why do it? Brad wanted the challenge and adventure: “We’ve been blessed with the health and resources to do this ride . . . ‘right place, ride time’ was our ride theme.” Bruce’s reason was “to support my best friend’s crazy quest, as he was threatening to do this journey solo.” He thought it would be “a great adventure, as long as we didn’t get eaten!”
They didn’t get eaten, but on the first day of the trip, the pair did encounter a bear and her cub crossing the road in front of them. “I pretty much just laid down my bike and walked in the opposite direction,” Brad recalls, “but Bruce says I ran.” Grizzly bear activity in the area was so high that one trail was closed. “That part was pretty scary, knowing we were sleeping in their environment” during an active season.
The pair also faced countless hills, headwinds, two wildfires, bears, wolves, coyotes, snakes, cars, 18-wheelers, snow, sleet, rain, a leaky air mattress, dirty hotels, and more. The entire trip was “unsupported,” meaning that Brad and Bruce carried all their gear, food, and water on trailers that they pulled behind their mountain bikes.
According to Brad, the hardest day was also the one that left them feeling most accomplished. “We were headed up Lava Mountain in Montana, and the single-track trail was littered with huge rocks, so we spent about three hours pushing our 100-pound bikes and trailers up the hill,” he says. “It was brutal, and when we got to the top, we still had 25 miles to go!”
While they trained for a year, the two couldn’t predict how their bodies would respond to the ride. “We did surprisingly well,” says Brad, “especially after riding for 10 to 12 hours a day for 21 straight days in order to meet our wives at the midpoint of the ride.” They were careful to maintain their bikes along the way, even stopping at bike shops to get tune-ups. “We didn’t want to have a flat in the middle of nowhere,” says Brad. Fortunately, the pair didn’t have any accidents—only a couple of flat tires on the trailers, which they fixed using spare parts they carried with them.
One of the most exciting days occurred near the end of the trip. They were only three miles from their stopping point for the night but felt strong, even after 65-plus days of riding. With the wind in their favor, they were going about 21 miles an hour. “We were pushing ourselves,” says Brad, “staying even with each other and feeling like boys, riding and racing as hard and as fast as we could. Knowing we were close to finishing the ride, it was a great, free-spirited workout that captured all of our emotion and energy!”
Aside from thrilling moments, the “amazing scenery,” and the physical challenges, Brad had plenty of time to think as well. “Ten hours a day on a bike allows you to reflect on your life,” he says. “It helped to put things in perspective; it was like I pushed the reset button.” The people he and Bruce met along the way “helped restore our faith in humanity.” Friendly, supportive strangers often offered water, rest, or food. “A cold orange on a 70-mile day was to die for,” says Brad. He especially valued people’s blessings and wishes for a safe trip. “Those positive vibes made such a big difference!”
However, he and Bruce couldn’t prepare for one aspect of the ride—what some call “re-entry shock.” Brad says that he and Bruce were so ready to get back to their wives and soft beds that the stress of the ride coming to an end didn’t resonate until they were home. “It took us about three or four weeks to get re-acclimated,” Brad says. “There was a strange feeling of ‘What do I do now?’”
Brad may consider a similar trip some day, but for now, his post-ride plan is to share with the children at the Helping Hand Home the challenges and fears he and Bruce faced and overcame to provide them with tools and techniques to tackle challenges they face. “I want to do what I can,” he says, “to help them have hope.”
Helping Hand Home
Established in Austin in 1893, Helping Hand Home is a nonprofit organization providing a stable and nurturing environment for children who have suffered severe abuse and neglect. Brad says, “Helping Hand Home supports these kids with a place to live, education, health care, and eventual foster care placement.” Children typically live at the Home for 18 to 24 months prior to being placed in a foster home; currently, about 40 children live at the Home. To donate to Helping Hand Home, visit www.helpinghandhome.org and enter the words “Lankford Ride” in the comments section of the donation page.
Miles Travelled: 2,810
Elevation Changes: 200,000 feet
Days Riding: 67
Continental Divide Crossings: 32
Off Days: 9
Weight Loss: Brad—16 pounds, Bruce—27 pounds
Bike Flat Tires: 0 (tubeless tires worked well)
Trailer Flat Tires: 6
U.S. States on Route: Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico
Canadian Provinces on Route: Alberta, British Columbia
Funds Raised for Helping Hand Home: approximately $4,500