From Coast to Coast, With Pedal Power

Earlier this year, Peter Paek opened Google Maps, pressed the bicycle icon and asked for the app to plot a course between Santa Monica and New York City.
In April, he got on his touring bike and took off.
The 69-year-old La Cañada Flintridge resident was looking for a challenge, you see. So when a couple of potential riding partners backed out, he decided to go anyway, even if it meant he’d leave Santa Monica on April 5 to cycle 3,200 miles solo.
He made it, arriving in New York City on May 13.
“He’s almost 70, and I talked to a lot of people who’ve done it in the past, and they did it in their 20s,” said Paek’s daughter Janet. “It’s pretty nuts, but my dad’s an adventure-seeker like that. It wasn’t too surprising, coming from him.”
Peter Paek — formerly the owner of La Cañada Art and Frame — was an avid hiker and mountaineer before he started cycling; he’d explored mountains in Alaska, including taking on Denali. He started bike riding, he said, in his mid-50s because he was looking for a way he and his wife, Jenny, could exercise together. Kayaking proved too much work, but tandem cycling fit.
He eventually began riding more on his own, and a year ago handled a weeklong San Francisco-to-L.A. excursion without issue. “After that I thought, ‘Maybe I’ll try to go cross-country?’” he said.
Six months of training and he was off, requiring only 40 days to reach the Big Apple, less time than he’d anticipated and less than his daughter had, too. She’d booked a flight intending to rendezvous with him in Ohio, but by that time he’d already arrived in New York.
“So I basically got to Dayton and drove to New York to spend some time in the city with him,” said Janet, who delights at the telling of what her dad wore while he and she hung out in the city. “He only had two outfits with him, so we were walking around Wall Street and he’s wearing his biking shoes and his biking tights. He looked like he should be holding a bike, but he’d already sent it back. But he did not care, and I’m not embarrassed because he’s not embarrassed.”
Paek was, however, happy to be finished with the task.
Pushing a bike burdened with about 90 pounds of gear, he covered about 80 miles a day, a lot of it in the rain, and realized after he departed that most cyclists who go cross-country start their journeys in May, when the weather is warmer and more cooperative.
But instead of slowing him down, those elements motivated him to get through it more quickly, to push harder over sometimes-bumpy roads, pedaling past armadillo roadkill, and, on just a couple of especially inclement occasions, pretending to be hurt so that he could hitch a ride in a passing pickup truck.
He stayed with fellow cycling adventure types who opened their homes on the “Warm Showers” site, and checked into crummy, old hotels so infested with bed bugs he’d pitch his tent on top of their beds. Once, he stopped at and quickly left a seemingly abandoned hostel in Oklahoma, he was so thoroughly creeped out by the place.
On the way to New York, Google took him on a route (which wasn’t always accurate) that wound through Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania. He stopped as little as possible, he said, “because of the loneliness and the weather… I just kept going.” He told his family he dreamed of driving a car.
Along the way, the former opera singer listened to music, though his playlist consisted, Janet said, of only 12 songs, including Peter, Paul and Mary’s “Puff the Magic Dragon,” and a tune by John Denver and another by Andrea Bocelli.
Janet said she kept tabs on her dad along the way thanks to an app called Glympse, but still she worried, especially when her mom called and asked her to check in on him.
“He was not doing so hot on the road,” said Janet, a La Cañada High School graduate who works as a nurse in San Francisco. “He had a high heart rate and low blood sugar — he’d eaten half a Subway sandwich for an 80-mile ride. Not smart. So I gave him a little bit of a lecture.”
And when they met on the East Coast, she asked her father — “so stubborn and passionate” — whether he might be interested in doing it again with her.
“Oh, no,” he said. “It was so dangerous. But maybe, if there’s a supporting car, maybe I’d do it again. But solo, no, it’s too hard.”
Still, he is proud of himself. When he finished, he said he pumped his fist and thought, “I’ve done it.”
And he’s not one to sit still. “Maybe next time,” he said, “I go to Europe?”

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