Navy Employee Bikes Pacific Coast
Sitting for an extended period of time is not Naval Hospital Bremerton's chief information officer's idea of fun.
Pat Flaherty and his daughter Ruth embarked on a late summer, 34-day adventure along the Pacific coast highway of Washington, Oregon and California. They pedaled their touring bikes approximately 1,815 miles from the Peace Arch in Blaine, Washington, on the Canadian border, to Friendship Park, San Ysidro, California, on the Mexican border.
Welcome to the “Tour of No Regrets,” a title Ruth created from a favorite doctrine of her father's.
“It's based on the idea that if you don't do something you wanted to do because you hesitated, if you will look back upon and regret not doing that something, then you should do it,” explained Flaherty.
The idea for such a challenging undertaking came last fall, after Naval Hospital Bremerton (NHB) deployed the Department of Defense's new electronic health record MHS GENESIS, a project that consumed Flaherty and monopolized his time, efforts and responsibilities for more than two years. Capt. Jeffrey Bitterman, NHB commanding officer, strongly suggested that Flaherty needed to take some well-deserved time off to recharge his batteries and internal engine.
“I didn't realize at the time that it would inspire this trip, but it didn't surprise me either. Patrick is a man of conviction. We all look up to Pat as a leader and a role model,” said Bitterman of Flaherty, one of the command's longest-tenured senior civilian staff members.
A day trip to the Washington coast inspired Flaherty with the lofty goal of riding his bicycle from Canada to Mexico.
“I asked myself, what would I really like to do?” he said.
Life's reality — work and family commitments, age and exercise constraints — initially tried to push the notion away, but the idea lingered and a plan began to take shape. When Flaherty explained his dream to his wife, Terri, she offered encouragement and, in a way, validation.
“Until I shared the idea with Terri, which she supported 110 percent, it was just a proposal,” said Flaherty, noting that his first order of business was to prepare for the long haul.
A bicycle trainer long on his wish list was conveniently on sale. He immediately started an intensive indoor training regimen to get in distance riding condition. He logged well over 4,300 miles, including rides of 100-plus miles.
“Starting in March for 10 weeks,” he said, “I logged century rides or more on the weekend, along with other miles during the week on the trainer. That gave me the confidence, mentally and physically, for the road challenges to come.”
During this time, Ruth was also training for the grueling Ironman Canada triathlon in late July, yet now she knew someone attempting an equally demanding feat. Ruth applied her father's doctrine to herself. Would she regret not joining in? Yes, she would. She even quit her job to take part.
The trek kicked off in August.
“There has been a lot of time to think about the trip, and [I] still can't quite put my motivation into words. I love leaving the world behind while pedaling down the road. It truly is my meditation, yet that isn't enough to make such an epic journey. Like work, I let the responsibilities of life consume me and I lost something. Something intangible but vital. When I point my bike south from Blaine, Washington, I will have already started my journey home. Home to balance and a reconnection with living,” wrote Flaherty at the start of their trip.
Pat and Ruth rode unsupported, carrying their camping gear, and restocked along the way for needed supplies. Required staples included coffee and pancakes in the morning and ice cream when available.
“We probably could have tweaked our nutritional intake better,” admitted Flaherty, “but we were expending a lot during the day.”
They shared daily images and video on several social media sites, met new people, and, with each passing mile, they toured unfamiliar and unforgettable locales. They confronted physical and mental hardships and, above all, had a blast.
“Camping out was a big deal. ... As the kids were growing up, we did not do camping. This was way out of my comfort zone by sleeping outdoors, using camp restrooms and doing laundry by hand,” said Flaherty.
He and Ruth discovered that a bundle of firewood at night became a social gathering site at every camp site.
“It was fun meeting kindred spirits. There were more people than we expected biking down the coast. Especially going from Portland to San Francisco. On one father-and-son team, the dad was 80 years young,” said Flaherty.
Their journey took them through a rugged seascape and rolling countryside, up one hill and down another, and they had to negotiate narrow shoulders along scenic stretches. On one memorable section, they found themselves, quite by luck, pedaling alone down the middle of the 31-mile, picturesque “Avenue of the Giants” amidst massive redwoods.
“We could not have planned it any better. That was special,” said Flaherty.
Still, northern California proved more strenuous than anticipated, and they had to confront fatigue, both mental and physical. They had yet to reach half way, averaging approximately 50 miles a day. They had encountered gray mornings and sunburned afternoons, experienced saddle sores, and had kept a demanding pace up to that point. Now, however, they hit a mental wall of sorts.
“There were long climbs all along the route, and a lot of elevation gain at times, but the hardest were those short and steep hills trying to reach Leggett, [California], where it was hard to get into rhythm,” said Flaherty. “That was draining.
“If we looked at the overall picture, it was still overwhelming how much further we had to go,” he continued. “We still had a lot of riding left. But everything in front of us we had already done up to that point. If we concentrated on the next pedal stroke, the next mile, the next hill, our projected goal was achievable.”
After a brief respite with relatives, they continued on, refreshed in mind and spirit.
“That day off with family was healing,” Flaherty said. “I know I was drained. Ruth was doing a lot more, such as posting video, photos and updates on social media every day. That had to be difficult on top of everything else. But what all her extra work did was keep us connected with friends and family. We got a lot of encouragement from their comments. It was their thoughts and voices that powered us up the most difficult hills, physically and mentally. We could not have done this without them.”
When they reached their destination at the Mexico border, there was no great sense of euphoria or emotion, however. The conclusion was anti-climactic. It was the journey itself that mattered, not the finish. The real sense of accomplishment happened once they were back home.
“I think that the kids looked at me in a different light when I got home,” Flaherty said. “They knew I liked to ride, but not this far. There I was, back from riding over 30 days and roughing it by camping outdoors. I didn't feel any different, but to them I was.”
So what's next for a father of eight who just completed a 1,815 mile bicycle ride?
“I'm thinking a full marathon,” he said. “There is a big one in June over in Seattle.”