07 Oct 2022

Epic American adventure for John Bolton from Portarlington

Portarlington man John Bolton returns home to Laois Offaly border town after an epic cycling adventure across America

Cycling 800 miles before reaching a bicycle shop on a buckled wheel didn’t defer ultra-fitness Portarlington man John Bolton from finishing his 4,500 kilometre cycle across the Rocky Mountains for Laois Hospice.

From Banff Canada to Antelope Wells New Mexico John faced terrains including the equivalent of climbing Mount Everest seven times over, crossing two deserts, two foot wide tracks at very high altitudes, extreme cold, snow, thunderstorms and soaring temperatures. He cycled through Yellowstone Park, being plagued by mosquitoes and various territorial animals including grizzly bears, coyotes, large herds of elk, porcupines and snakes.

However, home safe and sound in the comfort of their office John was relaxed with his True Fitness business partner Dr Diane Cooper . 

Having arrived at Calgary in Canada the next stop was Banff which was the start-line.

“I spent the first couple of days checking my equipment and trying to get used to the GPS system which Diane was monitoring me through. 

“I started with the cycle with 190 other people, although the majority were not doing the full 4,500 kilometres. The idea of the entire trip was to fill up with as much food as possible wherever we could in the odd café or sometimes a restaurant and to take away what we could carry. 

“They were few and far between so it was all about pushing to get to them before they closed and monitoring the weather and studying the maps. Sometimes we didn’t make it and had to camp nearby and wait until breakfast time for them to open. Water was a huge issue because each litre of water equals a kilogramme in weight so we would take surface water from rivers and streams and purify it with chlorine tablets.

“I met a lady called Kim Ortloff from Tallahassee in Florida into the cycle and we were fairly well matched in fitness and endurance levels, we actually ended up finishing the cycle together. 

“Some of the climbs were over 12,000 feet and the terrain was ever changing. At the worst climb we were cycling at 1kilometre per hour for three hours. At one stage I had about 10 miles of pure mud and the bike was sliding all over the place. The bike was under tremendous pressure and several things started to go wrong. 

“A peddle came loose from the shaft and fell off then within a half an hour so did the other one. Spokes started to give up. It was very hard to cycle because I had to keep pushing inwards with my feet and peddle to avoid them slipping off again. I was 140 miles from the nearest bicycle shop but I got there and got them fixed and picked up a few spare spokes.

“We would camp up at night and raise our food about 10 feet in the air to keep it away from bears. One night we found a campsite where many other people were camped and were told that there were no bears in the area. At around 3am I heard rustling beside my tent which has two compartments, one for my equipment and the other to sleep in. 

“Anyway, I thought that maybe someone else was pitching a tent but it was taking a long time. I got up and looked and all I could see was black and white. A skunk was in the tent trying to pull my rucksack out, what could I do. Eventually he got himself out and was now on the outside of the tent pulling my rucksack with him. I was afraid that he would spray because I would have had to burn the tent. I picked up a bottle of water and squirted it at him. He let go and toddled off thankfully without spraying.

“Another set-back was just before we were descending down into one of the deserts my wheel buckled from the extreme pressure on it and I had to cycle 800 miles before I reached the next bike shop with a wonky wheel. I was the butt of many a nickname between the skunk and patching the bike up all the time.

“Water was a problem in the deserts but there were the odd houses scattered around in the middle of nowhere so we would call to them and ask for water. One of the houses was a church even though it didn’t look like one. The people there made sure we were all okay as they were aware of the cycle going on. Other people left out containers of water along the trails through the desert for cyclists with labels on them.

“The experience was overwhelming. The scenery was unbelievable and the people that we met along the way were all fantastic,” he said

John wishes to thank everyone who supported him in any way through the cycle which rose over €12,000 for the Laois Hospice.

John was given a hero's welcome by friends, family and supporters at a celebration night in his honour at the Anvil Inn Portarlington.

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