As she tells the story, Judy Davis was restless. She was ready for an adventure, but she’s had difficulty articulating that feeling.
She knew as she stood before the Warwick Rotary Club at a recent meeting she would be asked why she cycled across the United States from west to east, a trek of 3,804 miles taking 59 days.
“I really don’t have a good answer,” Davis said.
Then offering a glimpse into her inner feelings, she said, “I knew I had to do something big.” It was 2017. Davis was 51 years old. A former East Providence Police officer, Davis was working for the Attorney General.
She has always been an athlete. She played in little league, soccer and lacrosse. She’s a runner, a swimmer and a sometimes biker.
When she had the thought of exploring the expanse of this country by bicycle and meeting people - she jokingly called the trip a “3,800-mile pub crawl” - she knew she had to do it.
“I wanted to do it then and there,” she said. That didn’t happen.
Friends and family questioned the undertaking. She went into planning mode. Davis gave additional purpose to her personal challenge. She set out to create an endowment to fund swimming scholarships at the Fox Point Boys and Girls Club. From her network of acquaintances and family, she raised $75,000.
Predictably, not everything went as planned. She flew to Oregon in July of 2018. She imagined that her bicycle, which had been shipped ahead, would be ready to pedal. It wasn’t, and she feared her schedule would have to be altered. Although it was after working hours, she called the shop where it had been delivered.
She was in for a revelation that she said repeated itself throughout her trip - total strangers wanted to help her. The man answering knew instantly who she was and told her he was working on the bike and it would be ready.
“It was a beautiful day, 75 degrees, exhilarating,” she says of the moment a friend who accompanied her to Oregon passed her and waved goodbye. She was on her own with all those miles ahead.
As a former cop, she had a gun, but she didn’t pack it. “Guns are heavy,” she said. She wasn’t looking to add weight to her 45-pound pack. Also, she didn’t carry a tent or camping gear. Davis doesn’t care for camping, and she planned to stay in hotels and inns. She wanted a shower after pedaling 50 to 115 miles a day and a good night’s sleep. She also wanted to meet the people along the way.
She tells of a “bunkhouse” in Jackson, Montana, where she spent one night. She joined the couple for a drink on their porch and asked questions about Jackson. How big was it?
Her host started on one side of main street and started naming the residents and then went to the other side. When he finished, he came up with a total of 30 people. She was disheartened by many villages and towns. The bones of once sustainable communities were there, but stores and businesses were closed.
“Life has passed them by … stores closed by Amazon.”
But the people she met were full of life. It was the midst of a heated election, politics had polarized the nation, yet she always found people interested in her story and willing to help. She avoided talking politics. She never felt threatened. She also learned her physical limitations. The first week was the hardest. It was up the mountains sometimes at such a slow pace that the bike wobbled and she had to push it ahead. Going down the other side was easier on the legs, but not the hands and arms. The constant application of the brakes left her hands tingling and weak.
Montana, which she estimated made up for a quarter to a third of the distance, never seemed to end. She put together three days of pedaling nearly 100 miles a day.
“It really took a toll,” she said. Davis took a day’s break from riding to recover.
“I still can’t believe my body allowed me to do this,” she said.
Throughout with the use of an app, her sisters could follow her trip, knowing exactly where she was until she hit a stretch where there wasn’t cell phone coverage. Family back home were alarmed, but they finally connect by the end of the day.
Entering North Dakota, she covered 80 miles without making a turn. And then there were the trucks. Most feared were logging trucks.
“Logging truckers hate cyclists,” she said. They wouldn’t give her an inch, although the road was open. Davis learned what to expect. When she heard them approaching, she pulled off the road rather than risk the consequences.
The bike, which she named Crazy Horse, became a companion, there to listen to her and to carry her. Davis carried a few spare parts including a chain that never broke.
Would she do it again?
Davis said she has had enough of cycling for now, besides she finds it too dangerous between the trucks and texting motorists. She is back to running.
The trip lives on in her book “Just Keep Going.” It tells the story of the people she met. In a recent letter published in the Providence Journal, she gave a brief overview of her trek, concluding, “Let’s get to know each other for who we are as individuals rather than what tribe we declare ourselves to be in. Once we know each other it’s far easier to have a rational discussion about our differences rather than going all in with a shallow declaration. Save the vitriol for the voting booth.”
Davis is an appellate attorney in the office of Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Neronha.
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