|A Self-Propelled Man
by Clare Coppa
Bob Parsons rode a bicycle to work for 35 years. He was on a bike
when the World Trade Center fell. He cycled ten years through
upper New York winters.
Last fall, the retired editor pedaled over 2000 miles (3200 km)
from Washington States San Juan Islands to San Diego.
Why does he do it? I have been bicycling forever, said the resident
of Larchmont, Colo., who enjoys the fitness it brings.
Riding to work prepared him for longer jaunts. For 15 years, he
rode 7.5 miles (12 km) to the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating
and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) in Atlanta. For 20 years,
he biked a few miles to jobs at the Universities of California,
and Cornell in Ithaca, N.Y. I had an old clunker and I wore rubber
galoshes, he said, shrugging off any indication that riding through
plowed walls of snow in Ithaca was challenging. There were days
it was a little cool, he admitted.
He started long distance cycling in 1987 with a co-worker from
Nashville to Atlanta after a meeting. His described his latest
trip from Washington to San Diego last September: I particularly
enjoyed meeting and riding with other cyclists along the route.
And, of course, the rocky overlooks along the blue Pacific, the
wide sandy beaches in the Los Angeles area, and the cathedral-like
groves of redwoods in the Avenue of the Giants were wonderful
But September 11 became almost surreal for me after a motorist
told me that the World Trade Center was gone. He saw me at an
overlook along the Columbia River about six hours after it had
happened. I couldnt help but grieve and wonder how my world could
remain so peaceful and beautiful after such a terrible thing had
Steep hills near the northern California coast held the hardest
terrain for Parsons, who rode a Trek 520 with 27 gear combinations.
With stops for sightseeing and visiting, he spent 36 days on the
road carrying 40 pounds (18 kg) that included clothing, a tent,
sleeping bag, mattress, cooking gear, and food. Temperatures were
typically 50°F (10°C) to 68°F (20°C).
Sleeping in state campgrounds offered sights of salmon swimming
upstream to spawn, sea otters swimming in the mouth of the Rogue
river, sea lions in several places, and elephant seals near San
Simeon, he said, citing the Hearst castle above the Pacific.
He viewed Orcas Island in Washington, snow-capped Mount Rainier,
the majestic Columbia river, and Fort Clatsop where the Lewis
and Clark expedition wintered after they had reached the mouth
of the Columbia River. He ate blackberries along the roadside
from Washington to just north of San Francisco and saw jellyfish
in the Monterey aquarium that are displayed such that they look
like slowly moving, brilliantly colored abstract art. While he
was cruising, his wife Ann, a nurse, was in Costa Rica improving
A former ASHRAE technical editor, Parsons has a masters degree
in agricultural engineering from Cornell. He is a member of ASTM
Committee E43 on SI Practice which maintains standards for the International
System of units (the metric system). For the past six years, he
has converted metric equivalents in Standardization News.
You cant keep Parsons off of his bike. After we spoke, he headed
out to ride several hours in the Rocky mountains near his home.
Copyright 2002, ASTM