Bicycling all the way around the United States, a journey of about 10,000 miles, is like eating an elephant. You do it one bite at a time.
Glenn Hirsch, 67, a family physician, who lives in Vinings with his wife, Lynn, is about to chomp on that last mouthful.
On Tuesday, he and Lynn will fly to Phoenix. From there, he will bike (and she will drive) to the Santa Monica pier in Los Angeles, completing the last link of a journey he started 17 years ago. In honor of his accomplishment, their children and grandchildren will all fly to Los Angeles, too, rent bicycles, and, on Dec. 29, accompany Glenn for the last 2.8 miles of the trip.
It is the culmination of a long effort, one that’s raised $75,000 for a worthy cause.
That journey began one day when Glenn looked in the mirror and saw a man who was getting old.
He’d always loved riding his bicycle, and had a secret desire to bicycle across the U.S. In 2000, he celebrated a significant birthday and he realized he’d better get cracking. “As I was turning 50,” he said, “I thought, ‘You’re getting a little bit long in the tooth. You’d better put up or shut up.’”
That year, he started practicing by participating in a Roswell ride to combat multiple sclerosis. The weather wasn’t cooperative. “As I’m riding in the rain,” he said, “I’m thinking to myself, ‘Why would anyone think this was a fun thing to do?’”
He soldiered on. Later that year, he joined a Seattle-to-Washington, D.C., ride to benefit the American Lung Association, a journey that required two months off work. In 2004, he pedaled the California Coast Classic, an organized ride from San Francisco to Santa Monica.
Then in 2006, Glenn’s fundraising turned personal. Glenn and Lynn’s 11-year-old nephew, Ian Besner, was diagnosed with leukemia, and died with brutal swiftness. Devastated by the loss, Lynn’s sister, Beth Besner, created a nonprofit, called I Care I Cure, to raise funds and promote more research into childhood cancers, which receive only a small fraction of cancer research dollars.
Glenn decided to put his bicycle riding to work for I Care I Cure. He’d already traveled much of the West Coast and all the way across the north. Why not complete the transit? While bicycling all the way around the contiguous United States, he would also become a rolling billboard for I Care I Cure. He couldn’t do it all at once, so he broke it up, biking two or three weeks of the journey each year.
Lynn created car magnets, T-shirts and a blog, I Care I Cure I Cycle, to track her husband’s journeys. She also became the logistics expert, planning hotels, airplane flights, meals and all the other details for each trip, all of which the Hirsches pay for themselves.
Finally, she volunteered to be the pilot of the sag wagon, trailing (or preceding) Glenn each day in her rental car, meeting up with him at various points along the way, bringing him to and from the trail to hotels, and blogging each night to keep their followers up to date.
“I don’t particularly like being in the car by myself in desolate places,” said Lynn, during a chat at their fifth-floor condo, high up on the Vinings ridge. But she found companionship from their online followers, and from a SiriusXM radio disc jockey named Phlash Phelps, who tracked their progress and took calls from supporters.
Lynn and Glenn have known each other since she was 2 and he was 4, growing up in Lakewood, N.J. They began dating at 15 and 17, and they seem to have a symbiotic relationship.
Glenn’s trips have brought ups and downs. Some of them are of the literal variety: He will pedal up a 3,000-foot mountain during this leg.
Last year’s jaunt from Phoenix to New Orleans brought seven flat tires, mostly in Texas, and a visit from the border patrol. Border officials in Texas saw Lynn parked by the side of the highway in her brand-new Buick Enclave, waiting in an area where the Mexican border is nothing but an open field.
They asked her: “Ma’am, what are you doing? My superior and I are watching your very suspicious behavior.” It seems that she’d picked a spot well-known to smugglers driving vans.
Lynn explained the bicycle trip, and when her husband bicycled up in his logo-typed spandex, the border guards were mollified. On the other hand, they wouldn’t let her photograph them for the blog.
Glenn Hirsch is a slight man with thinning hair, and though he does have the shockingly ripped calf muscles of the long-distance bicyclist, he seems an unlikely doer of superhuman feats. His secret, he says, is to break down big tasks into little ones.
Family and friends have learned this secret, which brother-in-law Jim Beaty describes as “the Zen of Glenn.” Beaty bicycled alongside Glenn on several days of the Southern leg from New Orleans to St. Augustine, Fla., and heard, to his chagrin, Glenn’s concept of the reverse Zeno’s paradox: “Come on, Jim, if you can do 30 miles, you can do 60.”
Beth Besner said Glenn has not only raised money for I Care I Cure, but has brought awareness of the issue to a broader audience.
“I’m in awe of his determination and his commitment to what we are doing,” said the Davie, Fla., resident. “He’s incredible, but he’s always been. I’ve known him since I was 5, ‘cause he’s been dating Lynn since she was 15. He’s always been the kind of person that sets a goal and achieves it.”
Lynn said their followers are excited about the culmination. “We have hundreds of people following us now,” she said. “Twice we raised $10,000 at the completion of a ride, but now I think we’ve already raised $13,000 and we haven’t left Atlanta yet. People are realizing it’s the last ride and realizing what an accomplishment it is and we’ve got a lot of support.
“What we’re doing,” said Lynn, “we hope, is to help a lot of other kids not go through what Ian had to go through.”