Ten minutes – 10 minutes! –into his cycle-across-the U.S. adventure for which he had trained for a year, and Henry Proce gets a flat tire.
That would be one of only two flats Proce, a well-known member of the Lumby RCMP, got on what would be a 45-day jaunt from San Diego, Calif., to Jacksonville Beach, Fla., that began in early April.
“The first one was five blocks after leaving my hotel in San Diego,” laughed Proce, 61. “I’m on the road 10 minutes, get a flat and I’m thinking, ‘Is this how the trip is going to be?’ I never had another flat tire until I was about a third of the way across Arizona, in a place called Alpine, Ariz., and that was it for the whole trip. I never had to buy a new tire or change a tire.”
The cycling trek is something Proce had been interested in doing for the last year or so.
He had read online about people doing long-distance cycling tours, and had a friend who went across America a few years ago. Discussions with the friend, plus the reading, kindled Proce’s interest.
With the blessing of his employer – Proce is a 36-year RCMP veteran – and encouragement and support from his family, Proce packed up his new touring bike, which he bought a year ago, and tested on a short trip through the Kootenays, and headed (by plane) to San Diego.
He planned his routes thoroughly with help of established cycling route maps he bought online.
“The toughest part of the trip was the winds through west Texas,” said Proce. “I had very good weather, and nice tail winds for the first two weeks that basically blew me across California, Arizona and New Mexico.
“I didn’t start to encounter head winds until I got to West Texas, El Paso to a place called Del Rio. You’re struggling against relentless headwinds coming at you at 30-to-40 kilometres an hour. That was hard getting through. It’s flat and there’s nothing to break the wind.”
Proce crossed several mountain passes which creates its own challenges as he is cycling for hours at a time to get over a pass (“It’s fun going down the other side,” he chuckled).
“There were lots of challenges with the hills,” he said. “You get to east Texas, which is Texas hill country, and it’s constant hills, hour after hour after hour of great big hills.”
Proce camped for 41 of his 45 days total on the bike tour. He stayed in hotels for three nights on rest days (which included renting a car for a side trip to New Orleans, something Proce had to cross off his bucket list), and there was the one evening he spent in a newspaper warehouse in Hurley, Miss.
“It was raining so hard there, the people felt sorry for me,” said Proce. “I was looking around for a motel. I got to talking to this one guy who said there’s no motels or campgrounds for 20 miles, and it was just torrential rain coming down, unbelievable.
“He said, ‘I run the local newspaper warehouse across the road, it’s dry, there’s a radio and there’s a bathroom.’ I very much appreciated that.”
The man was one of a handful of characters Proce met on his trip.
“Everybody wants to ask you questions, ‘where are you going? You’re kidding?’” he said. “I met 15 to 20 other touring cyclists that were going my way so I rode with some of them. A lot of Americans were wondering if I was carrying a firearm and were quite surprised that I wasn’t. ‘You’re in a campground and you’re not packing? Holy cow.’”
Proce did have to take nearly a week from his trip to attend the funeral of his mother-in-law, but returned to complete his journey to Jacksonville Beach, where one more surprise awaited him.
“Jacksonville Beach is 16 miles past Jacksonville and I was pissed off when I found that out,” he laughed. “I thought I was already there. I had to ride another hour through the city.”
A friend met Proce in Jacksonville Beach and flew him and his bike to Niagara Falls, NY. Proce was then met by his brother and the pair went to Hamilton, Ont., where Proce picked up his late mother-in-law’s car, put his bike in the bike seat and drove – on four wheels – across Canada, home to Coldstream.
“I quite enjoyed my whole time on the bike,” said Proce. “I felt strong, my knees were good, my back was good. I was really grateful to be out there. It was nice at my age to do something like this, and I’ll remember it for the rest of my life.”