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Sonoma Valley bicyclist completes 4,300-mile, cross-country trek

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Oliver Cannard pedaled through state and national parks, across the Rockies and along rolling, white-fenced farmlands, but the spectacular scenery isn’t what the 18-year-old cyclist will remember most from his cross-country trek on the TransAmerica Bicycle Trail.

The highlight for Cannard “was definitely the people, and how kind people were and how willing they were to help.”

Strangers picked up meal tabs, applauded his determination and, through a biking app, welcomed him into their homes for warm showers, homemade meals and a solid night’s sleep. “It was everyone” who opened their doors, Cannard said, from college students to retirees.

The Sonoma resident spent 2½ months biking 4,300 miles from Astoria, Oregon, to Yorktown, Virginia, although not without interruption. More than halfway into his adventure, Cannard was attacked by three dogs in Missouri, suffering several bites on his leg as he tried to defend himself. A passing motorist came to his aid, one of countless acts of kindness Cannard experienced from coast to coast.

Cannard set out on the solo trek in June, two weeks after graduating from Sonoma Valley High School. He spent his senior year earning money and carefully planning every detail of his trip, budgeting about $3,000. A dog attack wasn’t something he could ever anticipate — and it wasn’t something to prevent him from completing the journey.

“There was no doubt,” Cannard said. “I was definitely going to finish it out.”

He flew home to recover, avoiding rabies treatments after officials in Missouri located the dogs’ owner. After a month at home — he extended his time there to help his parents, Julie and Tom Cannard, move into a new home — he headed back to complete the final stage of his trip. An online campaign started by a friend raised enough money to cover the unexpected travel expenses.

While Cannard devoted much time to planning, researching, budgeting and earning money for the trek by doing landscaping and small construction projects, he never found time for fitness conditioning. Between school, work and raising steers for his FFA project, along with completing his senior project and earning his Eagle Scout award, he rarely had time to take long bike rides in preparation for his journey.

“I was in good shape. There was no issue not to do things,” Cannard said. “Now I’m in better shape.”

With excitement and anticipation, Cannard dipped the back wheel of his 18-pound Trek CrossRip 3 bike into the Pacific Ocean in Oregon (as is tradition), climbed aboard and began pedaling. The trail took him across Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky and Virginia — through heat, humidity, rain, wind, frigid temperatures, “everything except snow.”

Cannard averaged 90 to 100 miles the first few days, before reconsidering his goals. “I just realized when I got out there I really didn’t need to push myself.”

Even so, he often pedaled 80 to 100 miles, averaging seven to eight hours of biking a day. He hit 120 miles on his longest day, nearly 10 hours on the road.

The trail, established in 1973 by the nonprofit Adventure Cycling Association, mostly follows rural, two-lane roads that Cannard compares to Highway 12 in Sonoma County.

“At times,” he said, “you’re out in the middle of nowhere.”

He was nearly hit a few times by vehicles early into his journey, but “once I got past the West Coast it was smooth sailing.”

Although he’d previously visited much of the West Coast during family road trips and often camped with his family and on Boy Scout excursions, biking across the country provided Cannard with new views and a new perspective.

“Small towns are the best and have the best people,” he said.

The popular Trans­America Bicycle Trail takes riders to various towns that welcome cyclists, often opening churches, homes, city parks and youth hostels for overnight respite. Cannard was amused by some points on the map.

“Most days in Kansas I’d get a good laugh at the towns. Population 24 or 48,” he said. “That’s what I was riding through.”

Residents were familiar with bicyclists passing through and, except for an occasional impatient motorist, were friendly and accommodating.

“When you get in town, people know who you are and what you’re doing,” he said. “You actually get to meet the people.”

Those encounters were especially welcome, considering the hours Cannard spent alone on the road. His twin brother, Edison, hoped to take the trek with him, but altered his plans last minute after deciding to attend trade school in Oregon.

Cannard kept in touch through Facebook so his family, friends and sponsor, Native Sons of the Golden West Sonoma Parlor 111, could follow his adventures. The journey took him along winding stretches of coastal Oregon, up the 11,500-foot Hoosier Pass in Colorado and along the flat terrain of the Great Plains. He saw Yellowstone and the Grand Teton mountain range and took breaks and occasional rest days to visit other sites along the way.

He endured steep 15-to-20 percent grades; a 40-mile stretch of headwinds; humidity at 80 to 90 percent; and storms that sidelined him on several occasions.

“There were days I was suffering and I wanted to throw my bike off a cliff. There was definitely plenty of them,” Cannard said. “The rolling hills are brutal.”

Although he traveled with 30 pounds of gear, including a tent, sleeping bag and pad, dehydrated food, cooktop, clothing and tools for his bike, his only technology was his Apple iPhone — he found reception almost everywhere he went. He left 10 pounds of gear at home after returning for the final stage of his trip, after the dog attack.

Cannard replaced his worn-out tires after 1,500 miles, but never had a flat tire. A rock sliced into a tire but didn’t puncture the tube; he rode 4 miles up and over a mountain to a bike shop for repairs.

He enjoyed the freedom of the open road and learned “you’re the only one who has the ability to get to the next destination.” He pushed through challenges and tough days, but admits loneliness was a battle.

“It was kind of a constant thing,” he said, “especially at night when I had nothing to do.”

Although the entire trip was memorable (except for the dog attack), the final stretch was especially rewarding.

“The last 5 miles were the best part of the trip. I was just reflecting on everything that happened.”

He was battling leg pain at that point. “I was suffering. It was brutal, but I couldn’t think of anything else but finishing.”

Once in Yorktown, he rolled his front tire into the Atlantic Ocean, officially completing his journey.

Cannard is now working at a local tree service company and considering joining the Marines. He’d like to return to the TransAmerica Bicycle Trail, perhaps this summer. Only this time, he wants a greater challenge.

He hopes to race across the route in 15 to 20 days, biking more than 200 miles a day. The same experience, he said, “just extreme.”

Contact Town Correspondent Dianne Reber Hart at sonomatowns@gmail.com.

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