While bicycling 4,300 miles from Maine to Washington, Jerome Mercer learned America is best viewed at 15 mph.
The Baraboo attorney recently finished the Bike the US for MS Ride, a 69-day trek through the northern United States. He found it’s easier to take in the sights when, rather than hurtling down freeways at 70 mph, you can pull over at any time to enjoy the scenery.
“It was beauty from one side of our country to another,” he said. “The whole experience of seeing the country, there’s nothing like it.”
Mercer saw Niagara Falls and the Erie Canal in New York, as well as Glacier National Park in Montana. He biked up and down the Adirondack Mountains and the Rockies. Covering 30-100 miles a day, he raised $4,300 for multiple sclerosis research and advocacy. The 20-member team spent its few off days doing volunteer work and presented a $15,000 check to the MS Achievement Center in St. Paul, Minnesota.
“It was a humbling experience,” Mercer said. “It really was an emotional thing.”
Beneficiaries of their efforts expressed thanks, as did fellow travelers and locals they encountered along their route from Bar Harbor, Maine to Seattle, Washington. One handed over a check. Another delivered pizzas.
“This trip was very important to Jerome,” said his wife, Karen Malinsky. “He said he wanted to ride across the country again while he still could.”
Mercer turns 71 this week. An avid cyclist, he took spin classes to train for the MS ride. Conditions were rugged, as riders slept on the floors of schools and churches, or camped overnight in parks. They provided their own meals, except when church groups served food. The already-thin Mercer estimates he lost 5 to 10 pounds during the trek.
“Let me tell you, they embrace roughing it,” he said.
His wife dropped him off in Maine, where the ride started May 27. The team ventured from New England to the Great Lakes rust belt, then through Big Sky country to the West Coast. They reached Seattle on Aug. 4. Most days they were on the road — on bike-friendly routes — by 8 a.m.
“I wanted to go across the country,” Mercer said. “I wanted to do it for a charity, and I wanted to do it in places I hadn’t seen.”
Mercer didn’t have a personal connection to MS before the ride. That has changed. The ride raises money for accessible ramps and bathrooms needed by people who suffer from the nerve condition. “People were so thankful,” Mercer said. “I became very proud that I was with this organization.”
He won’t miss sleeping on hard surfaces or showering inside a pop-up tent with a garden hose. Riding through heat and storms isn’t ideal, either. But he wholeheartedly encourages other cyclists to try a nationwide ride for charity.
“It was a life experience, and I’m just extremely happy I got to do it,” he said.