62-year-old Columbia cyclist bikes solo coast to coast

ccope@thestate.comJuly 23, 2013 

  • By the numbers Columbia resident Henry Van Patten’s “beach-to-beach” cross-country journey. He stopped for a rest at his Columbia home over the weekend and returns to the road Thursday.

    Distance traveled: 4,346 miles

    Distance left (as of Tuesday): About 154 miles

    Total distance: About 4,500 miles

    Most miles in a day so far: 133 miles

    Longest cycling day: 10 hours

— Henry Van Patten became a serious cyclist when he delivered newspapers as a teenager about 45 years ago.

Now, the 62-year-old Columbia resident has taken a passion for cycling to a new level – biking solo “beach to beach” across the country.

He flew to Portland, Ore., and then biked to Astoria, Ore., where his journey began May 17. So far he has traveled 4,346 miles in about two months. He stopped at his Columbia home over the weekend to rest before setting out to conquer the last roughly 150 miles to get to his final destination — the Isle of Palms.

People called him crazy along the way for such an undertaking, he said.

He has dealt with angry drivers who yelled at him, along with varying weather challenges — from six inches of snow in Oregon to 108-degree temperatures in eastern Colorado.

He ran into some wild animals, including turkey and deer. He also saw a few armadillos, he noted — but those were all flat.

He spent nights in a variety of settings, from campgrounds to bike hostels — and even a volunteer fire station.

The biggest challenge was overcoming boredom at times, he said. He would travel for hours on a stretch and not see anything but roads.

The entire time he was on the road, his wife, Maribeth Van Patten, said she felt like she was holding her breath.

She worried about him but also served as his ground support. She would look at online maps to see what was coming up on his journey and relay information about their two kids and dogs.

Her wait was over on Saturday around 2 p.m., and despite his long journey, he quickly got to work around the house.

“By Sunday afternoon, the yard looked like he never left,” Maribeth Van Patten said.

Spartanburg-based Contec Inc., which manufactures disposable wipes and sterile products, sponsored Van Patten’s trip, his wife said. For each mile Henry Van Patten traveled, the company donated to a nonprofit organization called Globalbike, which provides bikes for care workers in the developing world, she said.

She estimated he raised enough for them to provide about 10 bikes.

The cross-country journey fulfills one of Henry Van Patten’s longtime dreams since he was a teenager. He had planned and trained for his trip two years ago. But then he had open heart surgery, which delayed the trek.

But this Friday, he will finish his journey.

He will bike the remaining 150 miles, in “a normal little ride down to the beach,” he said.

For Henry Van Patten, feeling the wind blowing across his face as he cycles feels almost like meditation.

“Every time I get on a bicycle it makes me feel like a little boy again,” he said.

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Reach Cope at (803)-771-8657.

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