Since Cannondale opted out of this tour, finding a bike sponsor was the main problem. With Charlie’s passing, I had to handle that deal on my own, and time was running out. No way was I going to make the June 1st deadline. But if I really buckled down, I could be set to go a month later. That meant I had to devote more time to the business end instead of training.
With help from a bud of mine at Bicycling Magazine, I was able to connect with Phyllis McCullough, Klein’s energetic marketing promoter. She had been in the cycling business longer than Charlie and knew everyone connected with any product. She liked the idea of the Tour, and what it represented. She also wanted to do it for Charlie, and began making phone calls in my behalf. The incentive deals I was used to in my China contracts were now gone. I would be doing this Tour for expenses only.
Within the next six weeks, Phyllis and I put together a red, white and blue; stars and strips, two wheeled wonder that we knew would get plenty of mileage from the press. The new Klein Pinnacle had parts on it I wasn’t accustomed to using. Aerospoke’s carbon fiber wheels were painted in the bike frame’s colors; a T-Gear titanium cut-away seat relieved groin pressure; a Powerpost seat post adjusted with the flick of a button; a cycling computer from Avocet read off altimeter, cadence and heart rate among other features; drop down handlebars from Syntace; front suspension from Rock Shox, and hydraulic brakes from Mathauser. The $11,000 creation was going to put on an incredible show for America and the rest of the world in all its star-spangled glory.
Then I rounded a pass, and was hit by gale force winds that pinned me down. I had to crawl on my belly. As soon as I tried to get up, the winds would catch part of the bike and flip me around on my back. I screamed into the howling demon that just laughed and muffled my cries. Eventually, I made it to the summit long enough to get a few photos shot off before the hasty retreat, as the sun began to get low.
Somewhere further down the trail, darkness fell, and I was without a flashlight. Another fatal mistake that would now cost me. I was freezing cold, hungry; my throat parched. Before the pitch blackness came upon me, I leaned the bike against a tree near the trail, and went to shelter myself for the night beneath branches, and pine needles.
In my day to day life, I can’t remember Bible verses. Under duress and facing Death, I’m amazed at what Scriptures come forth. Under the warmth of nature, I recited the 23rd Psalm, knowing I could pass into eternity. I felt comforted.
A moment to me, yet hours by normal time, I heard voices call out my name. They came from a pair of rangers who had found my van in the parking lot and took up a search. I yelled back to them, jumping out from beneath my pine needle blanket. Leading me out of the woods, I soon discovered I was no more than a hundred yards from civilization. I cursed myself for being so naïve and careless, and having to be rescued on my first high point. The press had a field day with the story. I swore I would never allow myself to be rescued again during the duration of American Summits.
On July 2, 1993, the 25th anniversary of my death and rebirth from the electrocution, I left my creature comforts behind in Kaweah Commonwealth, in a customized touring van provided by Bell, and embarked on the continuing journey of self-discovery. My new look for this Tour, now dubbed, “American Summits,” was the clean-shaven, all-American boy.
For the Western States, I decided to drive to the base of the mountains, and bike or hike from there. With the rest of the country, I would either drive to it, or simply park nearby and cycle the rest of the way.
Arizona’s Humphreys Peak (12,633 feet) was the first of the State high points to be done. At this point in my life, I hadn’t done any mountain climbing. I was worse than a novice. I was an ignorant fool, going on a tour I was ill prepared for, and it nearly ended up costing me my life before I even started.
Everything went wrong. I began in the middle of the afternoon with nothing more than casual clothing, and the bike strapped on my back. I took no food or water, because in my mind, I thought it would be a pretty easy walk up and down. Near the top, people who had been on the summit were returning in different shades of blue, doing double takes when they saw the Beast on my back. Still, I continued on.