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Arlington man bikes across southern U.S.
It took six years, but Arlington resident Rob Putnam completed a journey across the southern part of the United States by bicycle this April.
The idea began in 1996 when Putnam and his wife Denise started planning their future family vacations. They had ridden across Washington on bicycle before and had plane tickets in hand when Putnam's work at the Arlington airport delayed their plans.
It wasn't until February 2002 that Putnam finally set out on his adventure, departing San Diego with his friend Steve Robinson, who had just retired from the police force.
"We weren't very intelligent about it," Putnam said, reflecting on the first leg of his cross country journey. "We brought too much gear. And we started in February, which meant it got dark early."
The two made it as far as Phoenix before a family emergency called them home.
A year later, Putnam made the second leg of his trip alone, flying into Phoenix and biking as far as El Paso, where he was met by Denise, who was on spring break. They took the week to see Arizona and western Texas before flying back to Arlington, where Denise was teaching. (She is currently the principal at Eagle Creek Elementary School.) With successive legs of the trip, the Putnams made a tradition of Denise visiting Rob wherever he was during spring break.
The next year, she flew in to meet him in Austin. Putnam called the journey there from El Paso the most difficult leg of the trip.
"That was such a mentally tough year, I took a year off," he said, attributing some of the challenge to biking alone. He learned from that tough lesson, resuming his trip in 2006 by joining up and traveling with fellow Arlington residents and biking aficionados Don and Marcia Hazen. The trio of bikers made it as far together as St. Francisville, La., that year. That leg became Putnam's favorite, thanks in large part to the Hazens' company, he said.
When he returned to Louisiana in 2007, Putnam hoped to end up in St. Augustine, Fla. It was not to be.
He started that leg of the journey with a biker from Rhode Island who was injured their second day on the road. By himself, Putnam made it as far as Cottondale, Fla., a small town in the Florida panhandle, before suffering an accident of his own. Putnam returned to Arlington with about 300 miles left to go.
This spring he returned with Robinson, appropriately ending the trip with the same companion he started it.
While six legs might seem like a small number to travel 3,100 miles, Putnam had intended to make the trip in fewer. A typical day on the bike ranged from about 50 to 75 miles.
"That's because that's how far apart the towns were," he said, adding that he flew to each destination, shipping his bike there by UPS.
Putnam planned his trip on AdventureCycling.org, a website that helps bikers find back roads around the country. The maps tended to take Putnam off the highways and onto rural routes, with stores, hotels and even long gaps indicated.
"The disadvantage of the maps is that if you make a wrong turn, you're off their maps," he said, adding that side roads were not marked.
In a way, Putnam had been in regular training for the ride, biking the four miles to and from work every day weather permited since 1998. He looks forward to tackling the Pacific coast route sometime in the future.