Torrey Pines Rotarian completes cross-country bike ride

By Ashley Mackin

When you hear of someone biking across the country, you might think of leather-clad motorcyclists. In Bill Irwin’s case, think spandex-clad retirees.

Irwin, 70, and some friends have made four trips across the country on their bicycles, having returned from their fourth and final trip on Oct. 30.

In their first trip in 2002, Irwin and eight friends rode across the top of the country. In 2007, a smaller group went along the West Coast. In 2010, they rode across the “bottom.”

“We thought we would complete the box,” Irwin said of this recent trip biking down the East Coast. He joked, “All of this was so we could say to somebody, ‘Yea, we rode our bikes around the country.’ ‘Oh, where did you ride?’ ‘No, we rode our bikes around the country.’”

On this trip, Irwin and friend Ed Ott pedaled about 1,594 miles over 38 days. Surprisingly, Irwin said he never got tired.

“I ride all the time (and) once you’ve ridden day after day for four or five days, you’re into it,” he said. “On days off, at about 9 o’clock that morning, we’re pawing the ground wanting to ride. Sitting in a truck for five or six days is harder for me than the bike saddle.”

The truck he sat in was the one they drove from San Diego to Calais, Maine with bikes and other equipment, and from Florida back to San Diego. Other challenges Irwin faced had to do with county-maintained roads.

“Roads are controlled by the counties – when you enter so-and-so county, the road changes from one kind of paving to another. Every once in a while, we’d be going along and it would be butter smooth shoulders, then all of a sudden it would turn into rocks and rough paving,” he said.

Other difficulties included all the bodies of water they had to go around and the big cities – such as New York and Boston – through which they could not bike.

Irwin said this ride will be his last, due in part to the urging of his wife of 15 years, Carol, but he will always be looking for “that next carrot.”

A longtime member of the Torrey Pines Rotary, Irwin used this trip to raise money for the charities the Rotary supports. The Rotary offered the chance to donate a certain amount per mile or a lump donation. Donations are still being accepted.

Through donations, Irwin raised $6,500. However, since money is still coming in, this year’s beneficiaries have not been decided. In 2010, the proceeds from Irwin’s ride went to Rotary International Foundation for a clean water project in Uganda, toys for patients at Rady Children’s Hospital, and a Rotary project to provide protective vests for Afghani female police officers, among others.

Irwin paid for all expenses, such as food, gas and hotel rooms, so all donations go to charity. Though a resident of Point Loma, Irwin has been a member of the Torrey Pines Rotary for 43 years.

Don Yeckel, Torrey Pines Rotary Foundation President, applauded Bill’s effort.

“It’s awesome. Think of it — a mature man, with a job, with a family, without financial sponsorship and with little publicity, circumnavigating the rim of the country by bicycle to raise money to help others. How many people would do that? Not many. Not me. But Bill did. My hat (is) off to him.”