Going the Distance
Kelly McCall's rides cross-country
Story by Summer Sorg
Golden hour illuminated Scottsdale’s Chaparral Park in amber highlights, reflecting off Kelly McCall’s German-made, Schmicking Handbike. McCall rode up early in preparation for her weekly sunset bike ride with her biking group, the Lizards.
Wearing pink and orange striped socks underneath butterfly-covered leg braces paired with Converse high-tops and an orange and black biking outfit, McCall is known for her quirky character and colorful personality.
“I get a lot of flak about my fashion statements, but I’m doin’ the best I can,” she said. “That’s part of being a bicyclist, you dress pretty loud because you don’t want to get run over.”
McCall sustained a spinal cord injury when she fell out of a tree on a hiking trip at age 20. She now walks with the aid of a cane.
Soon after her injury, she discovered a passion for handbiking.
“There’s no such thing as a bad day on a bike,” she says. Biking has always been McCall’s solace.
“I was very unhappy at my job last year, so I was thinking if I can just make it 15 months to that ride, then I can quit my job and go, and then we’ll see what happens from there,” McCall said.
‘That ride’ was a cross-country fundraiser organized by Dan Zimmerman for Spokes Fighting Strokes, an organization dedicated to helping stroke survivors with therapeutic trike riding.
Luckily, McCall found a way to leave her job before then. Surfing Facebook, she saw Kay Ledson organizing a walk across the country called the Warrior Momz Walk, to increase awareness for activity-based spinal cord injury therapy. Ledson needed an RV driver.
“So I quit my job, rented out my house and joined her from September to March,” McCall said. She planned to join the Warrior Momz Walk 4 SCI Recovery, come home for two months, then leave with Zimmerman.
In February, Zimmerman announced he was postponing his trip until next summer.
McCall felt an urgency, she’d already quit her job. She decided to plan a cross-country excursion of her own.
She embarked in June and plans to bike selected trails within each state. Beginning in Phoenix, her route includes points in Colorado, Missouri, Kentucky and Pennsylvania, before she makes her way to Florida and ultimately returns to Arizona through Texas. Rather than going straight across the country, on unpredictable pathways that may not be accessible, McCall is choosing three trails in each city ahead of time, and she will be biking one each day.
“So a lot of my trip will be in my car. I’m not even going to keep track of how many miles I’m going. I’m just going to have a good time,” she said.
Part of her inspiration was a cross-country trip she did 11 years ago as a fundraiser for the American Lung Association of Washington.
“It was the best summer I ever had,” she said. “And I got this bike about two years ago, hoping that I had a couple, or at least one, cross-country trip left in me.”
This is McCall’s first solo trip, it’s also her first trip without a fundraising element.
To complete it as economically as possible, she is staying with Couch Surfers, an Airbnb-like social networking service where people share their space at no cost to travelers.
“But you know there’s good manners involved, like you should make them a dinner or take them out or buy them a gift,” McCall said. So she plans on cooking.
“If I make this ride about eating and riding then I can get the couch surfing people to host me. I get good food, they get good food, and it doesn’t cost that much.”
McCall created a Facebook page called ‘Riding and Eating’ where she is documenting her travels.
With lodging locked down, she turns her attention to concerns about the ride itself.
“I’m a little concerned about flat tires in the middle of nowhere,” she said. “The back tires are a piece of cake to change, but the front tire - you need like four arms to change that.”
“Kelly’s always ever-hopeful no matter the circumstance,” said Kate D’Aoust, her friend and leader of the Lizards bike group. “She has a ‘can-do’ mentality and, darn it, she does it.”
D’Aoust related a story about one time that McCall convinced her to go on a bike ride the night of a forecasted thunderstorm.
Halfway through, they got caught in a dust storm. Ever-prepared and smiling at the chaos, McCall pulled out two bandanas. Those bandanas didn’t protect them from the downpour that followed. The two rode back drenched.
“It was so funny! I loved it,” D’Aoust admitted.
A monsoon wasn’t going to stop McCall from biking. Not much will. What motivates her undying passion?
For McCall, the ride is healing.
“I just feel bolstered up by these experiences that make me realize there’s way more to be thankful for than there is to feel sad about,” she said.
With the Warrior Momz Walk in September, she felt called. “It was a gift offered to me. I was in the perfect place to do it, it was for spinal cord injury research and I have a spinal cord injury. I fit in and it felt like going with the flow.”
She feels that is happening with her solo trip. “It’s like, I’m not exactly sure why I’m doing it. ’Cause it just looks like it’s gonna be fun! But I’m sure there’s other reasons. Things will happen on this trip for a reason.”
Being immersed in nature, seeing new places and meeting new people is what makes it worthwhile for McCall.
“That to me is just pure happiness and peace. Everybody struggles with something and the things I struggle with don’t bring me down as much when I’m living like that.”