Marines

Smelling the roses across America

29 Sep 2004 | Lance Cpl. Christopher Sam Vega

Pulling up to the Gen. John A. Lejeune statue, retired Lt. Col. Glen Graham looked back on what he had done the past three months and realized he had ended exactly where he began. To most people that would mean he hadn't accomplished anything, but for Graham it meant he had accomplished everything.

Graham, a New York native, spent his last two years in the Marine Corps planning to do something great. After thinking of hundreds of things he could do, the most pleasing to him was a cross-country bicycle trip.

The 44-year-old lieutenant colonel planned a route traveling up the western coast across the northern United States and down the eastern coast. Graham purchased all the necessary equipment he would need which included a Trek 520 touring bike, new bicycling clothes and saddlebags for his clothes.

"My original plan was to catch a flight to Oregon and ride all the way to New Jersey," said Graham. "But when my plans fell through, I ended up catching a flight from Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C., to San Diego, and that turned out to be the best part of the trip."

Before leaving, Graham started an online diary so he would forever have a written history of what he had been through and accomplished after his retirement.

Graham retired from the Corps June 1, 2004, and spared no time to second guess or reconsider his plans. By June 16 he was on the road, pedaling out of San Diego's city limits.

"All the time you hear people who are retiring making plans to do something when they get out," said Graham. "But more times then not they end up just getting another job and pushing their plans aside. I didn't want that to be me."

Graham spent his days on the road traveling from town to town, and his nights sleeping under the stars.

He spent the first nights in a sleeping bag on the side of the road hidden in tall grass. It wasn't until he spent the night under a picnic table during a rainstorm he thought he might need to have an alternate means of shelter for nights like that.

"I went online and purchased a tent, and had it delivered to a post office in Montana because I wanted to pick it up on my trip without it slowing me down," said Graham. "It wasn't until I had my crash that I thought I wouldn't be able to make the pick up."

While in Walla Walla, Wash., Graham crashed his bike when his foot slipped off its pedal and into the spokes of his front tire, flipping the bike end over end. Graham walked away with a broken collarbone and minor scratches, but his main focus was on the repairs he would have to make on his bike.

"I never wanted to let my crash stop me from completing my journey," said Graham. "I thought about it while waiting on the parts for my bike but I didn't let it stop me."

Once Graham was back on the road, he noticed exactly how wide-spread the Marine Corps is. People who were Marines or relatives of Marines greeted Graham in almost every town he stopped in.

"When people would find out I was a retired Marine they would talk to me for hours and offer me a place to stay for the night," said Graham. "There was a family whose son is in Iraq. They fed me and let me stay the night in their home. They didn't know anything about me except I was a Marine, and that's all they cared about."

Graham was shocked at all the people in support of the military he came in contact with, but nothing compared to the feeling he got in his hometown, when family members met him in the front yard with welcome home signs.

He encountered just about every type of weather condition there is except for snow, and through most areas from Maryland to Virginia, he endured the remnants of Hurricane Ivan.

"The winds got up to 25-30 miles per hour, plus thunderstorms, but I was too close to give up and by that time I was too anxious to let it slow me down," said Graham. "Once you get wet, it doesn't really matter if it continues to rain or not, and it was warm enough for me to know I wouldn't get pneumonia, so I kept going."

After visiting some family members in Virginia, Graham continued his journey for another week. With most of the trip behind him, Graham pushed the rest of the way so he could be home in time for his birthday.

Graham arrived here on Sept. 23, shortly after 5 p.m. Paying a visit to the Gen. John A. Lejeune statue, located in the middle of the traffic circle, was the ending to his long journey.

"I'll never forget what it was like to take this trip," said Graham. "Seeing everything I saw, and being a part of everything I have gone through will forever be in my heart. I did something people often wish they could do, see this country for what it truly is. I got to smell the roses across America."

To read more about Graham's cross-country trip, his day-to-day diary can be found online at http://glen2004.crazyguyonabike.com.