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The Yankee Express

He rides from sea to shining sea

At the Canadian border.

By Janet Stoica
“The west coast ride was colder than I thought it would be,” said Denis LaForce of Manchaug, “even though the temperatures there had broken new records the likes of which no one had ever seen. It was 105 degrees in Washington State where I began my ride but the winds off the Pacific Ocean made it much colder.” 
Mr. LaForce is a dedicated bike rider of the highest magnitude or, as he likes to say “a reformed backpacker.” He’s in great shape for a man of 74 years having just reached his 74th birthday on his last trip down the west coast cycling along the PCH, or Pacific Coast Highway, as it’s known to the locals. His 1800-mile cycling trip took him from the Canadian border to Mexico’s boundary line which must be one of the most amazing trips any of us could ever imagine.  Can you visualize yourself cycling through Washington, Oregon, and California?  Perhaps if it were all downhill, more of us might try it but Denis LaForce fulfilled a bicycle trip he’d been planning for some time knowing that his road trip would be as physical as it could get.  As you can expect, he has his bicycle, packing, and planning down to a science of minimalism that ensures his comfort and everyday needs. 
After hiking the Appalachian Trail twice, Denis decided it was time for some new activity and bicycle touring turned out to be something he dedicated himself to. He and his wife, Jane, also breed LaMancha goats and raise chickens and Jane has been known to make delicious cheese and yogurt from their goats’ milk. “The LaManchas are very personable, intelligent, and affectionate,” says Mr. LaForce. Before embarking on one of his cycling trips, Denis is sure to stack the barn with hay and fill the grain cans to make it a bit easier for Jane to feed the animals in his absence.
Denis says that you don’t really need a dedicated touring bike to make these types of long treks. “A steel frame is more solid,” he says, “even though it’s not lightweight, an extended wheelbase will take the road bumps better and the longer back end provides more supply-pack space too.”
When he hiked the Appalachian Trail, he learned about post office restocking areas for food drops and how to pack his gear: a tent, sleeping bag, cook stove, and other essential items. He also ensured he carried lists of police dept. phone numbers as well as motel names, campgrounds, and grocery stores along his route. His daily biking mileage averages 70-80 miles sometimes pedaling as much as 100 miles. 
For his recent Canadian to Mexico jaunt, he shipped his bike in two pieces with the use of S & S couplings (also known as bicycle torque couplings or BTC) via jet to Seattle, WA. Denis then flew to Seattle and reassembled his bike in his hotel room. As Canada was not yet allowing Americans across its border, he was allowed to place his bike’s back wheel on Canadian soil before pedaling off on his latest adventure. 
“As I mentioned, the Pacific ocean breezes were quite cool pedaling down a highway so I’d have to put my windbreaker on but going up a hill that jacket was quickly put away. As I travelled the coastline I found that Washington had many peninsulas with the highway running along them. Sometimes, in the mountains, you could see the drop right to the ocean where there were many beautiful beaches but there were no people on those beaches as access roads were non-existent. They carved the roads right out of those mountains. And the redwood forests….you just wouldn’t believe their beauty. Until you stand next to a giant redwood and look up to see their astounding height, you quickly realize that a camera lens could never capture the breadth and depth of their magnificence. Just amazing.

                                                Denis LaForce at the Mexican border. 

“Traveling across the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco was breathtaking. As you approach the bridge you begin to appreciate its structure and the feat of engineering that went into its construction. It was an incredible ride across that bridge. There is no comparison of biking through America’s greatest landmarks at 12 mph where you can truly grasp and appreciate their beauty as opposed to a 60 mph car ride where the views speed by your window.  Biking along the Big Sur with its ocean views and rugged coastline was just beautiful. The way the road wound around the mountains was impressive.  I met so many interesting people along the way and they were doing biking and camping and hiking for the same reason I ride, pure enjoyment and the physical part of it all. There were many biker/hiker campgrounds along the way and they always seemed to find room for a biker.
“I had so many great conversations around the picnic tables and campfires. We all gave each other advice on where to stay or stopover. Everyone was friendly and helpful.”
Mr. LaForce has also biked many other parts of the USA and has actually biked the perimeter of our country on the bicycle routes laid out by the Appalachian Mountain Club and many other bicycling clubs. He is a member of the Seven Hills Wheelmen of Worcester. He teaches cycle touring and is a Certified Touring Leader with CPR training. Local touring includes a ride to Horseneck Beach in Westport. There are also beginner rides to selected locations, an annual ride to Winchendon from North Brookfield, as well as 3-10 day cycle tours.

                                              Denis LaForce at the giant redwood trees.

He is proud to say that he has not had any accidents, uses a helmet mirror, and has never been “doored” (when someone opens a car door as he rides along a line of cars).  However, his greatest fear currently is drivers who are cellphone texting. 
“To see the world at 12 mph is the perfect speed,” says Denis, “I’m not out to do a certain amount of miles but I do enjoy the workout. Every part of our great country is just beautiful. We all have our political differences and opinions but when you have the chance to speak with a new person one-on-one, you quickly realize that we are all the same.”
For more information on learning about bike touring, contact the Worcester Chapter of the Appalachian Mountain Club.      
Contact Janet:  [email protected]