Kicks on Route 66
Tina McGarvey Makes Historic Highway Her Latest Cycling Conquest
By John Tracy Jr.
With the famous Santa Monica Pier as her target, Sea Isle City’s Tina McGarvey hopped on her bike in late April, leaving the shore of Lake Michigan behind. In 7 weeks, she pedaled all 2,448 miles of historic Route 66, the iconic American highway that connected Chicago to Los Angeles back in 1926.
Along the way, she saw some of the most gorgeous vistas the desert and heartland have to offer and gained an appreciation for the cheeky roadside attractions and small local communities whose livelihoods relied on westbound travelers before the interstate highway system diverted traffic. She kept a blog of her journey so that her grandchildren could follow her along the way, and also to raise awareness for Opsoclonus Myoclonus Syndrome (OMS), a rare autoimmune disease with which her granddaughter, Leah Hamm, was diagnosed at the age of 14 months.
McGarvey, a retired special-education teacher and year-round Sea Isle resident, is no stranger to cross-country bike rides. At the age of 55, she is obviously fit and has several rides of more than 1,500 miles under her belt. Previously she rode from California to St. Augustine, Fla., and another time from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to Maine. She rides with women’s bike tours that help organize lodging, prepare food, and plan scenic outings along the way as well as provide backup medical assistance if needed. The women range in age from their early 40s to 75, and most days the group cycles about 50-60 miles.
Tina McGarvey at various points on the journey from Chicago to the Santa Monica Pier, along with her group's support van.
“I have met a lot of great people on these trips,” McGarvey says, “and I have connected with many of them for future bike rides or run into them around the country.”
While stopping in Winslow, Ariz., McGarvey even ran into some cyclists who were on a coast-to-coast bike ride and destined for Sea Isle City. “I couldn’t believe it,” she exclaims. “What a small world it is!”
Traveling Route 66 is a trip back in time, steeped in Americana. The old way to the West is dotted with retro cafes, eclectic museums, oversized statues of folk heroes, and other roadside attractions that celebrate the early days of highway travel.
“The small towns we stopped in reminded me of Sea Isle,” McGarvey says. “They were all tight-knit communities and everyone was so welcoming. When the new interstate Highway 40 was built, it diverted traffic away from the old highway and hit many of the old businesses pretty hard. But they seemed to be making the best of it and keeping the tradition alive.”
Tina McGarvey’s granddaughter, Leah Hamm, celebrates the Fourth of July.
To train for this kind of long term bike ride, McGarvey spends a lot of time exercising.
“I’ve been a gym rat my whole life,” she says with a laugh. She picked up road-biking in 2010 and never looked back. Now it is a part of the weekly workout routine, along with paddle boarding, swimming and running.
“No matter how hard you work at it, the first few days of a long-distance trip are always the most difficult, but eventually you get into a rhythm,” she says.
Nothing can prepare you for some of the extreme conditions you face on the road. For instance, while passing by Needles, Calif., smack-dab in the middle of the Mojave Desert, the temperature topped out at 115 degrees. The doctor halted cycling for the day due to the risk of heat stroke. Higher elevations also make for difficult breathing for those from lower altitudes, and some of the mountain roads boast some treacherous hairpin turns with only two lanes.
Tina McGarvey has more long rides on her wish list.
The final leg of the trip was a cloudy 50-mile stretch through Los Angeles, Pasadena, and the star-studded Beverly Hills district. McGarvey and her compadres reached the Pacific Ocean on June 17 and she happily hugged the “End of the Trail” sign on the Santa Monica Fishing Pier.
When asked if this is the last distance ride she would ever take, McGarvey simply replied with all of the other places she wants to ride. Topping the list are the Pacific West Coast from Washington to Mexico and the island nation of New Zealand. She keeps a great blog with amazing pictures from her journey. You can check it out at tinasroute66biketour.wordpress.com.
There also is a GoFundMe page to help ease Leah’s family’s financial burden related to her treatment. On the page, OMS is described as an “extremely rare neurological inflammatory disorder that can cause random and rapid eye movements, difficulty and inability to speak, and shock-like muscle spasms.” If you would like to donate to help her family, go to