Seeing the sights from the narrow seat of a bicycle has been a passion with a purpose for the better part of 10 years for Brenda Noonan, and she’s ridden the roadways of both her homeland of Australia and, most recently, the United States — including a jaunt to the beach through Bladen County.
Noonan, 63, began cycling in 2006 in her hometown of Scarborough, Queensland, Australia. But it didn’t take long before she grew weary of the same sights along the same route.
“I thought, why bike day after day around the same routes,” she recalled. “Why don’t I string them all together and do a long distance ride?”
That was in 2011, and “string them all together” she did — to the tune of a 2,860-mile ride from Scarborough in western Australia to Scarborough, Queensland. While making the trek, solo, Noonan raised money for the Heart Foundation.
“It was after this ride that I vowed to myself to do a long ride somewhere different every year,” she said.
Since Noonan was born and raised in New Zealand, that became the focus of her next ride. In 2012 she hooked up with two cyclists she had started riding with locally — Don and Annie Bright — and the trio completed a 1,350-mile ride from the southern tip of New Zealand to to the northern tip. Along the way, they raised money for the New Zealand Gynecological Cancer Foundation.
Things took a bit of a turn in 2013 when Noonan decided to forego the bicycle trip and, instead, she trained for a marathon as a way to celebrate her 60th birthday.
“I ran my first marathon when I turned 55 and said never again,” she remembered, “but I just thought this would be a good thing to do.”
Noonan returned to the bicycle in 2014 and, along with the Brights once again, the trio rode 850 miles from Scarborough, NSW, to Scarborough, Queensland. The ride also helped raise money for the PCYC Bicycle Education Program — enough to purchase 35 new bicycles.
Last year, Noonan went solo again. This time, she and her bicycle went to Scotland to ride from the northern end of the country to Land’s End at the bottom. She also took a detour from the usual route to ride through Scarborough in England and, when the ride was over, she had pedaled 1,000 miles.
Then came 2016.
“I have always harboured a desire to ride across the USA, but where to where?,” she said. “I now lived in Newport, Queensland, Australia, so decided to seek out a Newport to Newport route. This was possible from Newport, Ore., to Newport, R.I., but the chance of getting good weather that far north put me off.
“So I decided upon Newport Beach, Calif., to Newport, N.C.,” she added.
The trip was 2,952 miles long from start to finish, and included and extra link at the end. On top of that, Noonan wouldn’t be riding alone.
“We also made it a Pacific Ocean to Atlantic Ocean ride – so from Newport, N.C., we rode on to Atlantic Beach,” Noonan said. “I was thrilled that Don and Annie wanted to join me on this ride.”
The extra link in the ride was what allowed the trio to pass through Bladen County. While in the area, the three cyclists — along with Pat Williams, the support driver who carried all of the cyclists gear — stopped for a quick dinner at McDonald’s on U.S. 701 South in Elizabethtown before riding on to White Lake, where they camped for the night at Camp Clearwater.
We certainly loved the day we rode from Florence, S.C., to White Lake through Lake View and Elizabethtown,” Noonan said. “And the ride from White Lake to Hubert was another wonderful day on the bike.”
Once the group arrived in Atlantic Beach, a beachfront celebration took place just short of the water’s edge — and included the bicycles.
While the trip represented the trio’s longest trek to date, it also had a deeper meaning for Noonan.
“The purpose of this trip was to complete a personal challenge, and also to raise funds for two charities — the Cure Brain Cancer Foundation and the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation,” Noonan said. “I chose the Cure Brain Cancer Foundation because one of my most generous benefactors on previous rides was given a weeks-not-months diagnosis the previous year when diagnosed with brain cancer, so I rode for him. The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation was chosen as Don and Annie have a cousin in Newnan, Ga., with this condition, and one of our good friends in New Zealand also has a daughter with CF.”
The coast to coast, nearly 3,000-mile ride began on April 18 from the water on the West Coast and culminated on June 2 at the water on the East Coast. Among those 46 days, the riders pedaled 41 days and rested the other five — averaging 72 miles per day.
“We had four days where we biked more than 100 miles, and a few lesser days when there were lots of hills,” Noonan said.
As expected, the trip across the United States included numerous challenges for the cyclists. Along with the weather extremes that included days that easily topped the 100-degree mark in the deserts of California and Arizona, he riders also encountered snow in Flagstaff, Ariz.
On top of that, the riders were also inundated with tire punctures — a total of 28, to be exact.
“A large number of truck tires that peel off seem to leave little splinters of wire that would go through our tires,” Noonan said. “On previous trips we would have only one or two punctures each — and, in fact, I had none riding the UK.”
In America’s heartland, the riders also faced perhaps their most dangerous portion of the ride.
“(While) riding through Oklahoma, I was advised to use the route I took by a non-cyclist and it was so very busy and had on and off ramps extremely frequently,” Noonan recalled. “Fast traffic and very scary.”
Also in Oklahoma, a Google map took the riders to the edge of a Native American reservation.
“They wouldn’t let us through the gates,” Noonan said. “That resulted in a longer day to detour.”
But the ride also produced some highlights.
“The scenery and the people we met were wonderful,” Noonan said. “We enjoyed the campgrounds we stayed in and the people we got to chat with at them. We stayed with some ‘warmshowers’ hosts — cyclists who host other cyclists — these were exceptional people.
“We all really loved the National Park campgrounds through Ozark, Russellville, etc., around the Arkansas River was beautiful,” she added.
All in all, the group rode through 11 states from California and North Carolina, with fond and interesting memories gathered in each one.
The group’s goal for fundraising during the trip was $10,000 — which was surpassed. But Noonan said donations for the two charities are still coming in and being accepted. Those wishing to contribute can do so by visiting the following links:
— Cure Brain Cancer — http://www.curebraincancer.org.au/my-fundraising/9881/cycling-across-usa
— Cystic Fibrosis Foundation — http://fightcf.cff.org/site/TR/Cycle/40_Georgia_Atlanta?px=2614084&pg=personal&fr_id=5311
“We were out to raise $10,000 (during the U.S. ride), and have done so,” Noonan concluded. “But any more would be most welcome. Targets are all set to be broken.”
W. Curt Vincent can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.