In 1972 five college graduates from Duke University, Vaughn Lamb, Bryan Simmons, Hal Hemme, Bill Jackson and Stig Regli, passed through downtown Yadkinville as part of a cross-country bicycle adventure. That moment might have been lost to history but for the fact a photo was taken of the group and published in The Yadkin Ripple. The paper wasn’t the only documentation of this epic 3000-mile journey from the coast of North Carolina to Oregon, the riders kept detailed journals of their experiences as they biked across America. Readers can soon experience the journey for themselves in a new book titled “The Road Taken: The Remarkable Story of a Transcontinental Bicycle Odyssey” written by cyclists Bryan Simmons, Stig Regli and Bill Jackson.
Simmons and Regli said they had distinct memories of their stop in Yadkinville nearly 50 years ago.
“I remember that well. The editor at the time sent copies to all of our homes so we all had a recording of that day,” Simmons said of the photograph published in The Yadkin Ripple.
Three of the five riders had begun their journey on the coast near Wilmington before their graduation at Duke then all five convened in Yadkinville. The day before had been wet and rainy but with all five together they enjoyed breakfast at Adams Restaurant.
“The day before had been very challenging,” Regli recalled. Simmons said it had been raining, miserable and cold. But a sense of hope bloomed as they had a filling meal and were photographed for the paper.
“It was important because we were just starting and it was such an overwhelming task ahead of us and we got publicity and there’s a picture of all five us together,” Simmons said.
“We had this great breakfast and then being interviewed and having the picture taken by the newspaper, it was kind of a commemoration of something about to happen,” Regli added. “There was a senses of great excitement, and adventuring out into the unknown.”
The group photo of all five cyclists was special, Simmons said, as one participant later left the group and Regli became separated from the group, but continued on the journey.
After his retirement Simmons began to think about writing a book about his 1972 cycling trip. At the time, he wasn’t even sure if Regli had finished the trip as he had become separated from the rest of the riders.
“This story just kept bugging me,” Simmons said. “We kept such detailed dairies and postcards, I thought it was an interesting story. I started writing but I knew a key part of the story was missing and that was what happened to Stig. When I first contacted him I wasn’t even sure he finished. I contacted him about the book and he jumped right in.”
The detailed diaries kept by the riders were used to write the story, which reads very much like journal entries with fascinating details of what they ate, where they slept and people they met along the way.
The journey was one that made a huge impact on their lives, both Regli and Simmons said.
“It was a huge confidence builder in being able to deal with challenges,” Regli said. He would go on to cycle across South America as well as in Africa, Turkey and India. Regli said, thanks to Simmon’s inspiration to write about their cross-country trip, he now plans to write his own follow up book about his other international travels. The wanderlust was something of a family tradition for Regli as his own mother had traveled Europe on a tandem bicycle with a friend in her youth.
“I think that’s where my sense of adventure had come from,” he said. He added that as an only child it was hard on his mother for him to be so far away on his travels but said she had “a soft spot in her heart for his adventures.”
Simmons said his mother was very supportive of their trans-continental trip though his father expressed doubts that he would be able to complete the journey.
“Part of my reasoning for persisting was my father thought I couldn’t do it and I was damn convinced I could and I did!” Simmons said.
The journey was far from easy though.
“There were times we were miserable,” Simmons reflected. “Mosquitoes, we slept on the hard ground pretty much every night. There were a few times we got a bed when we slept in a jail.”
The cyclists’ motivation to continue despite the flat tires, sometimes miserable weather and having to sleep in unusual and often uncomfortable places is underscored by the richness of humanity they experienced all the way.
“I had faith in humanity in terms of when one is confronted with challenges, there’s a helping hand there,” Regli said.
Simmons said he remembered many conversations with people along the way who were interested in their trip and even some who took them in for a night.
“I learned that rural America was really full of nice people.” Simmons said.
All five cyclists have planned a 50-year reunion in Asheville this October.
“The Road Taken: The Remarkable Story of a Transcontinental Bicycle Odyssey” will be released on Amazon on July 20. To find the book search “The Road Taken Simmons, Regli, Jackson”
Kitsey Burns Harrison may be reached at 336-258-4035 or follow her on Twitter and Instagram @news_shewrote.