Last week, Janel Behm, a physical therapist from Tiffin, transported her bicycle to a shop in Bowling Green for a final tune-up and shipping to Oregon. Wednesday, she is flying there for the start of a cross-country tour with America By Bike. She is combining the trip with Team in Training to raise funds for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
"It starts on Father's Day, June 17, with the traditional dip of the rear tire in the ocean. ... We go 15 miles down to the ocean, dip the rear tire, then 15 miles back to the hotel. Monday, June 18, we start east. We arrive in Portsmouth, N.H., on Aug. 6. It's an estimated 3,668 miles -- but who's counting?" Behm said.
The company limits each trip to a minimum of 38 and maximum of 72 people. A reception and mixer Sunday will introduce Behm to her fellow travelers. She called them "my very best friends whom I haven't met yet."
"Of course, I'm looking forward to the scenery and the time on my bike, and I'm really excited about spending 50 days with the kind of people who would ride their bikes across America. I think they're going to be fascinating and fun and really interesting, and I can't wait to meet them," she said.
Doing a trans-America bike trip is to fulfill a dream of Behm's.
As an overweight teen who struggled in gym classes, Behm said somehow, she wanted to become fit and athletic. Her dreams included running a marathon, cycling across America and hiking the Appalachian Trail. Several years ago, Behm said she managed to lose 100 pounds using the Herbal Life program, but then 60 pounds "came back."
Discouraged but not in despair, she decided to pursue gradual self-improvement from a variety of angles.
She listened to inspirational tapes and walked every day. When she was able to walk longer and farther with less discomfort, she started jogging, then running. Next, she entered a 5K race, a distance of 3.1 miles.
In 2006, Behm's goal was to finish three 5K runs without walking any part of the route. With that accomplished, people started asking when she was planning to do a marathon, which is 26.2 miles.
"I thought, 'There's a message here, and I'm going to act on it,'" she said.
Training for a marathon takes months, so Behm started running more regularly. In the process, she encountered her friend, Linda Chambers, who decided to do the marathon with Behm.
A couple months later, a friend of Chambers' joined them to make it a trio. They had fun and encouraged one another as they learned what it takes to compete in such an ambitious effort.
Behm said her marathon experience was good physical and mental preparation for long-distance cycling.
"It takes place far more in the mind than it does in the body," she said. "I think we mistake discomfort for pain."
A person must learn to concentrate on the task at hand and not focus on discomfort, especially during cold, rainy practice runs, Behm said. In addition, she appreciates the benefits of a team. Having friends join her on some training days made the workouts more enjoyable. Other days, she had to motivate herself.
Five years ago, she did that marathon. Last July, Behm started researching a bicycle trip after a friend's husband died unexpectedly.
"He was one month younger than me," she said. "I thought, 'What am I waiting for? It's time to make this a reality.'"
When she "Googled" cross-country bike tours, America By Bike was the first tour company on the list. The 2012 trip departed from Astoria, Ore., on Father's Day, which gave her "goose pimples and chills." Her parents had shared fond memories of starting their married life in Astoria.
"Dad was in the Navy and he was stationed in Astoria, Oregon ... and that was the magic place for him. Mom passed away in 2003, and since then, Dad has wanted to take us kids out to Astoria to share that. My brother went out with him a few years ago, but it just hasn't been right for me," Behm said. "Dad's not getting any younger, so I also knew I needed to do that with him."
Not only did Behm sign up for the tour, but also, her father, Jim Gorrill of Fostoria, is flying out with her a few days early to "do Astoria." The tire dip on Sunday is going to be their "dad-daughter event" for that day. A cousin and sister-in-law also are making the trip.
"He's staying through Monday morning so that, bright and early, he can hoot and holler and ring a cowbell as we pull out of the parking lot ... How blessed am I," Behm said.
Having done two week-long trips with the Great Ohio Bike Adventure, she has an idea of what it takes to sleep in an unfamiliar place, get up early and put in a bunch of cycling miles. For this trip, the tour company transports riders' luggage to the next stop. Participants are to spend every night in a hotel.
"So you only need on the bike what you need for today, which is one of the reasons you can do that much mileage in such a short time period. The bike's not heavily laden with a lot of stuff. It averages out to 75 miles per day, and there are five rest days. If you were fully loaded for what's called a self-supported tour, that kind of mileage would be challenging," Behm said.
Although she was already biking before the trip was confirmed, the ramped-up training regimen changed the way she thought about cycling.
Much more than a recreational jaunt on a sunny day, the route would take her up and down mountains in all kinds of weather. Even though she already had a bicycle that suited her, she started researching and checking with other people who did long-distance biking. Last August, she purchased another bicycle specifically for the trip and has been training on it ever since.
"Right before we put it in the box, we made yet another modification to the bike to try to help get a little more juice going up hills," Behm said.
Another challenge was arranging to be off work. Behm provides physical therapy on an as-needed basis for patients with Mercy Home Care.
When she decided to make the trip, she notified Mercy of her 50-day absence. Since last August, Behm has been working with Mercy to train people to cover for her. In addition, Behm is the bookkeeper for her husband's business. At first she considered doing the books daily via her laptop, but instead, she has taught Dennis to keep the books himself.
"As soon as I started putting in some really significant training miles, I said, 'Dennis, we need to rethink this plan, because it's not going to work.' By the time you ride all those miles, particularly in that terrain, get back to the hotel, get washed up and get dinner, you're going to be done for the day," Behm said.
Besides, she set up a blog to keep family and friends updated on her progress. Any extra time before bed is to be devoted to blogging on a tablet she is taking. She may not feel up to making entries every day, but she will be able to catch up or just post a photo. A cousin who knows photography helped Behm pick out a camera to take pictures that can be posted on the blog.
"I shouldn't be surprised, and yet I'm amazed that, before I even know I need them, the right person shows up with a pearl of information or somebody shows me a gadget or tells me a trick."
While standing in line at the bike shop in Bowling Green, Behm spoke with another female customer, and Behm mentioned her upcoming adventure. As it turned out, the woman had done a tour with America By Bike 15 years earlier. She was able to pass along a "pearl" or two. Another woman who had completed a self-supported tour advised Behm not to be overwhelmed by the magnitude of the trip but to just enjoy each day and keep up the pace as well as she can.
For a few last minute tips, Behm called a friend, Steve Scheiber, and asked if there was anything he could tell her before she takes flight to Oregon. His advice was "Promise yourself now that you won't quit in the first five days."
When Behm starts to worry about making it through the mountain passes, she reassures herself that other people have been able to do it, possibly with less conditioning than she has. She expects to find a rhythm and get stronger as she goes. The riders are free to stop to shoot photos along the way. The company requires riders to be at the hotel by 6 p.m. each night so that no one is riding in the dark. Fellow bikers and the tour support team will see to it that she does not get left "on the back side of the mountain."
"One of the reasons I chose to go with a tour company instead of self-supported is because - how do you pick what roads to take all that way?"
America By Bike provides a van every 25 miles as a rest stop where tour participants can obtain water and check in.
The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society has set up a website, noh.tnt.llsevent.org/jbehm, for donations so Behm will not have to be responsible for them during the trip. She chose that charity because friends in the running community recommended it.