When Indiana resident Michael Cook turned 50 years old in 2020, he thought about how amazing it would be to bicycle across the United States. Now, he is finishing up that journey, which brought him to JR’s Market in Utica on Wednesday.
“I kind of had this dream, just as a personal adventure, to ride across America,” he said.
The journey, which he divided into three segments to be completed in three years, is also being done to raise awareness for Design Outreach. The organization is seeking to raise $153,000 to equip nine communities in Malawi, Africa, with a LifePump water pump.
“I had been volunteering with Design Outreach for about 10 years, and I thought why not partner with them and not just have Michael’s adventure, but also help transform lives in Africa with clean water,” Cook said.
Cook said the nonprofit, based in Columbus, Ohio, was founded by Greg Bixler and Abe Wright with the goal of them utilizing their engineering backgrounds to transform lives.
“It is a Christian humanitarian engineering organization,” Cook said. “We are all about developing appropriate technology to help the poorest of the poor and to provide a sustainable solution.”
Cook said deep water tables and the reliability of water pumps are two of the biggest issues in Africa, and Design Outreach designed a water pump — known as the Lifepump — which can reach deeper water than other pumps and remain operational longer without needing repair.
“It will pump from 150 meters, which is nearly 500 feet,” he said. “It is very reliable and has a 30-year design life and a five-year maintenance interval.”
Cook said the journey began in Astoria, Oregon, in 2020, when he rode to West Yellowstone, Montana. In 2021 he rode from West Yellowstone, Montana, to Eureka, Kansas, and he is finishing the three-leg trek with a run from Eureka, Kansas to Yorktown, Virginia.
He hopes to arrive in Virginia by the evening of June 27.
Cook utilizes an e-bike to travel the miles on the TransAmerica Bike Trail, which provides him with a little boost as he travels around 107 miles each day.
“I still have to pedal; basically it senses your torque, and it is basically like a turbocharger in the car,” he said. “If I was riding my road bike, which I have for backup, I probably only would ride it around 60 miles a day.”
Cook’s wife, Rebecca, is also taking part in the adventure, traveling in a small motorhome to set up the camp sites and ensure everything is in order for the next day’s ride.
The couple hoped to make it to Hardin County by Wednesday night.
While the journey has posed challenges, Cook said he tries to stay positive and remember that whatever discomfort he might experience cycling in the extreme heat is worth it to be able to provide water to people who do not have it.
“I would just say reminding myself it is a marathon, it is not a sprint, and finishing and finishing well is more important than getting there fast,” he said.
As for the best part of the journey, Cook said is has to be the people he has met along the way.
“When you actually ride the backroads of the US, there are so many positive people and stories,” he said.