Irv Hoffman really enjoys riding his bike.
He likes it so much, in fact, that he rides more miles in any given year than many people drive in their car.
Hoffman is a 79-year-old retired engineer, and this fall he completed an epic 2,000-plus-mile trip from Northern California to Atlanta. Almost entirely on a bicycle.
“It was just a personal quest to see if I could do it,” Hoffman said simply. “A lot of people take bike trips that long. Maybe the most unique thing about me is that I’m 79 years old and did it solo. At my age, that’s kind of a story.”
For the most part, age isn’t much of a factor in Hoffman’s long travels. He has completed several cross-country bike trips in the past few years, from Seattle to California’s central coast (which he describes as having “a postcard image around every corner”), and from Georgia to Maine on another trek. This time, he was returning from a visit to his son.
Hoffman got his start participating in the Bicycle Ride Across Georgia, an annual weeklong trek spanning 400 miles across the state that attracts 1,000 to 2,000 cyclists per year. After completing it more than a dozen times, he started eyeing greater and greater distances.
There is a bit of an asterisk for his latest cross-continental journey, however. Hoffman made it through California’s Sierra Nevada mountains just fine, but when it came to the most intense heights of the Rockies, he began to struggle. The trip was to include a total of 10 passages at over 9,000 feet above sea level. After completing the first by pushing his bike uphill, it became clear the others wouldn’t be feasible without walking at an extremely slow pace for long distances.
After weighing his options, Hoffman relented to common sense and used a rental car through a stretch of Utah and Colorado. But from California to the Rockies and from eastern Colorado through Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia, he moved under his own force the entire distance.
“Traffic was very accommodating to bicycling,” Hoffman said. “During the entire route, I was never threatened or run off the road, but I was always watching traffic.”
Hoffman has always been something of an adventurer. After graduating from Georgia Tech in 1960, he took a job with the U.S. Forest Service in Idaho. Seven years later, he earned a master’s degree in engineering from Montana State University, then ended up back in Atlanta doing photogrammetry, which is the process of creating maps from aerial photography.
He then became an entrepreneur, starting his own photogrammetry business in Smyrna that eventually grew to have 20 employees. Hoffman bought a house in Smyrna in 1978 where he still lives, and after 35 years in business sold his photogrammetry company and gradually settled into retirement.
He can ride his bike directly from the Silver Comet Trail into his driveway, which is how Hoffman returned from his cross-country journey.
The trip commenced on Aug. 31 and ended 54 days later with Hoffman pulling onto his property after traveling more than 2,000 miles by bike. He began in the San Jose suburb of Sunnyvale, Calif., where his son Douglas lives.
Douglas accompanied his father for the first few hundred miles of the journey before signing off near the Nevada border. Hoffman carried 82 pounds of gear with him for the duration of the trip, not including food or water. He tent camped some nights and stayed in motels on others.
Friends and family were able to track his progress thanks to a GPS that sent updates every 10 minutes. One of those friends was Jay Schlosser, a 71-year-old acquaintance who plays tennis with Hoffman at Bitsy Grant Tennis Center in Atlanta.
“It’s amazing, and he’s in amazing shape,” Schlosser said. “Hoffman doesn’t have an ounce of fat on him, and he runs like a deer.”
Schlosser was a scholarship tennis player at South Carolina during his younger days and remains in good shape himself, but said he’s “not that crazy” to attempt cross-country bicycle trips. He’s equally impressed with Hoffman’s mental drive.
“I’ve never heard of anybody doing a trip like that,” he said. “Much less someone about to turn 80 years old.” (Hoffman will turn 80 in May.)
If Hoffman has his way, this won’t be his last extended trip on two wheels. He’s exploring a route from Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C., that he hopes to take soon that’s relatively short and mostly on flat trails. The bike trips will continue as long as he’s mentally and physically able to make them, even if it isn’t always easy.
“To watch the GPS data points, it looked like I was just easing across the country,” Hoffman said. “But I can tell you that every day was a challenge. Only one or two days was it really easy. Otherwise, it was pretty hard.”
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