Cyclemates celebrate 40th anniversary

The Cyclemates I prepare to leave North Mercer Junior High in 1970 on their way to New York City. - Contributed Photo
The Cyclemates I prepare to leave North Mercer Junior High in 1970 on their way to New York City.
— image credit: Contributed Photo

Forty years ago this month, a group of Island middle school students and their English teacher and fitness advocate, Islander Fran Call (Miss Call to you, young man) finished a long trip. The group cycled more than 3,000 miles from Mercer Island to the Island of Manhattan in New York City.

The students left on their journey the day after school let out in June of 1970. They rode their 10 speed bikes out of the North Mercer School parking lot, loaded with their belongings packed in saddle-bags draped over their rear wheels. Those bags contained just 30 pounds of gear from sleeping bags to tools, tents and spare parts. There was no ‘sag’ wagon accompanying the group, just the “prayers and good wishes of family and friends,” Miss Call said, which was most of the Island.

Their route took them over Steven’s Pass, across Idaho and into Montana’s Glacier National Park. The group pedaled up the “Going-to-the-sun” highway — which rises from 3,150 feet at the park’s west entrance to an elevation of 6,600 feet at Logan’s Pass — and crossed the Continental Divide at one of its highest points in North America. After that, the group felt as if they were “just coasting” across Eastern Montana and into North Dakota. Following U.S. Route 2, an east-west highway spanning 2,579 miles across the northern continental United States, the group came through Paul Bunyan territory in Wisconsin and into the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. There, the group encountered the giant Mackinac Bridge, which at that time was the longest suspension bridge in the world at five miles long. The five-mile bridge connects the upper and lower parts of the state where Lake Superior meets Lake Huron. But bicycles were not allowed.

Fifty miles later, the group crossed over into Canada and continued east to Niagara Falls and the Finger Lakes region of New York, and finally arrived at the west end of the George Washington bridge. This time, they crossed the bridge over the Hudson River in a truck into the New York borough of Manhattan. The group then spent a week sightseeing on the East Coast, returning in time for school to start back home.

The Cyclemates group I included Lisa Macmillan, Nancy Bolger, Anne Simpson, Mary Strachota, Kathy Horrigan, Gail Stevens, Laura Dassow, Dave Dunnington, Dave Heston, Dennis Early Brian Gribble, Walt Mauldin, Andy Rice, Mike Evans and Carl Malmfeldt.

The next year, Miss Call took another group of students, Cyclemates II, and rode across the continent to Washington, D.C. There they met with President Nixon at the White House. In 1972, Cyclemates III pedaled over 4,000 miles to Halifax, Nova Scotia. And to mark the nation’s Bicentennial in 1976, Miss Call took yet another group of students (Cyclemates IV) to the historic town of Williamsburg, Va. Miss Call continued to bike with her students on various adventures until her retirement from teaching in 1993.

Islanders are invited to share memories and slides of the adventures with Miss Call and some of her Cyclemates riders at 7 p.m., Sept. 9, at the Mercer Island library.

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