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Tom Brinsko, left, visits with BRIDGE Executive Director Peg Gagnon and students Jamie Rushton, Jordan Adam and Morgan Hyde, from left, at the organization’s center at 651 Brakke Drive in the town of Hudson. (Submitted photos)
Tom Brinsko, left, visits with BRIDGE Executive Director Peg Gagnon and students Jamie Rushton, Jordan Adam and Morgan Hyde, from left, at the organization’s center at 651 Brakke Drive in the town of Hudson. (Submitted photos)

Tom Brinsko rides across America

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River Falls Wisconsin 2815 Prairie Drive / P.O. Box 25 54022

Riding your bicycle from the Pacific coast to the Atlantic isn’t something to undertake on a whim, according to Tom Brinsko.

“Mentally, you certainly have to commit to this … It’s not like, I think I might want to bike across the country. You spend a lot of time on the bike, and you better be prepared to do it,” says Brinsko, who accomplished the feat between June 15 and Aug. 4 of this year.

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“Physically, you’re drained and you’re tired and you consume a lot of calories, and you’ve got to get yourself up the next day,” he says. “You’re going to have sore muscles day-to-day and week-to-week, but you kind of get over that.”

The pain that might cause you to skip a day of riding back home is shaken off, because, “Well, you don’t have the choice. You’ve got to get on the bike and get to the next city.”

Brinsko, a Hudson resident since 1995, is the former president and CEO of the YMCA of the Greater Twin Cities. He stepped down from the position within the past year and now works part-time as a resource specialist for the national YMCA organization.

His semi-retirement is what allowed Brinsko to go on the 50-day bicycle ride that had long been a dream of his.

“Obviously, it takes some resources to do this,” he adds. And, “it takes your family to say, OK, you take the time you need to train and do what you need to do.”

Mostly, he needed the support of his wife, Cindy, a special education assistant at North Hudson Elementary School. The couple has three grown sons, two of whom also live in Hudson.

Brinsko traveled with forty-some other riders on the journey arranged by the business America By Bicycle.

Forty-two riders began the journey with the traditional dip of the rear wheel of their bikes in the Pacific Ocean at Seaside, Ore. Forty riders reached the Atlantic at Rye, N.H., 50 days later.

The majority rode all the way from Oregon. But some riders left the group and others joined it along the way, completing only a segment of the cross-country journey.

America By Bicycle planned the route, made the hotel arrangements, followed along with three vans, and provided the mechanical support and rest-stop food and drink.

“Basically, you ride, you eat, you sleep is what you do,” Brinsko explains.

Fundraising for BRIDGE

The 62-year-old Brinsko had added incentive to complete the 3,667-mile journey.

He used the ride as a fundraiser for BRIDGE for Youth and Adults with Disabilities, a Hudson-based nonprofit that provides training, employment services and social programs for people with special needs.

The Brinskos’ youngest son, Dan, was diagnosed with an autism-spectrum disorder at an early age, and BRIDGE provided support for him and the family over the years.

Brinsko says that because of BRIDGE, as well as the Hudson School District and its teachers, Dan is able to live independently, drive a car and hold a job.

“We believe strongly that youth with disabilities should have equal access and opportunity for education, housing and employment,” Brinsko said in a blog post explaining his “raisen d’ etre” (reason) for undertaking the journey.

He posted blog entries and photos along the way. BRIDGE provided a link to “Tom’s Excellent Bike Adventure” on its website, http://bridgeywd.org. It’s still there, as well as at http://brinskobike.wordpress.com.

People can still make a donation to BRIDGE through the blog.

“Cindy and I have supported BRIDGE since their inception and can attest that the funds raised will provide life-changing opportunities for these special individuals,” Brinsko wrote. “…I will deal with the wind, rain, mountains and a sore butt, all you need to do is to pledge what you can for this great organization in Hudson.”

He’s raised around $3,000 so far and hopes to hit $5,000. An Australian who made the journey donated the bicycle that he purchased in Oregon to BRIDGE instead of having it shipped back to Australia. It will be auctioned off at a future BRIDGE fundraiser.

The route

The community of Seaside where the journey began is about 70 miles from Portland near the Washington state line.

The riders took what America By Bicycle calls the Across America North Tour – crossing Oregon, Wyoming, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan before a two-day ride through southern Ontario, Canada. They re-entered the U.S. at Niagara Falls and continued through New York, a sliver of Vermont and finally New Hampshire, where they waded into the Atlantic at Rye Beach near Portsmouth.

“Coming through the Cascades and seeing Oregon was really a treat,” Brinsko says. “It was just an interesting geographic topography.”

The group had the benefit of having a professor of geology as a fellow rider.

“He made it really interesting,” Brinsko says of Dr. Curt Peterson of Sherwood, Ore. “He would take us through the formation of all the mountains, how they formed billions of years ago.”

The journey through the Rocky Mountains was scenic, too, but then they got to eastern Wyoming.

“It’s really flat. There’s just not much there,” Brinsko says.

The Black Hills and Badlands of South Dakota provided more striking scenery before the cyclists reached the flatlands of the eastern two-thirds of the state.

“From the border of Minnesota all the way through Wisconsin was soybeans and corn on either side of the highway,” Brinsko relates. “A treat was when they switched sides of the road from soybeans to corn.”

The group crossed Wisconsin from La Crosse to Manitowoc, and took the S.S. Badger ferry across Lake Michigan to Ludington, Mich.

They entered Ontario at Port Huron and spent a couple of days in the Canadian province.

“That part of Ontario is beautiful – well-kept farms and beautiful roads,” Brinsko reports. “The road system in Canada was fabulous compared to the things we saw in the United States.”

The Green Mountains of Vermont were another highlight of the journey.

“There’s beautiful parts of the country. Seeing it as slowly as we did – you’re going at 15, 17, 18 mph – you see a lot of cows, you see a lot of animals, you see a lot of road carnage,” Brinsko says with a laugh. “The diversity of terrain was something that was really very special.”

The riders pedaled anywhere from sixty-some to more than 100 miles a day, depending on whether they were climbing or coasting.

“A flood of emotion came over me the last few miles while riding in parade fashion to the beach in Rye, N.H., escorted by the police and surrounded by those I have been with on this journey with the past 50 days,” Brinsko blogged.

Two riders were chosen by the group to have the honor pouring a bottle of water from the Pacific into the Atlantic – the geology professor and Ronnie Yourell, a cancer survivor who completed the journey despite fracturing her hand in an accident at the start.

“The unexpected aspect of this is the tremendous friendships you build and develop with people you never knew before,” Brinsko says. “…You see them every day. You have breakfast with them. You eat dinner with them and you bike with them on the road. So now I have a cadre of 40 people that I can really call friends.”

Brinsko and Cindy plan to travel to England to visit a doctor that he journeyed with across America.

The 6-foot, 190-pound Brinsko said he didn’t lose any weight on the ride, but he replaced body fat with muscle. He can tell from the way his clothing fits.

He says there were emotional and spiritual benefits to the trip, as well as the physical one.

“You have a lot of time. You reminisce a lot about your life, and make some plans about what you would like to accomplish,” he says.

“It gives you a sense of – if I can do this, there are other things that I can do that can help contribute to a better life for myself and others.”

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