Nursing Professor Bikes from Tampa to Toronto to End Polio
As an avid cross country cyclist and a longtime Rotarian, USF College of Nursing Professor Nick Hall combined his two passions this summer by completing a solo bicycling tour from Tampa to Toronto, raising nearly $45,000 for an international mission to eradicate polio.
Dr. Hall pedaled 1,725 miles from Temple Terrace to the Toronto Convention Center in the Pedal Power to End Polio campaign, a cause championed by Rotary International, a non-profit service organization that provides humanitarian services throughout the world.
The psychoneuroimmunologist initially planned a month-long bike tour from Seattle to Tampa. But a scheduling conflict would have forced him to take a mid-expedition break to fly to Toronto to attend the Rotary convention. So instead of biking 4,000 miles from Washington to Florida, he opted to ride to the convention to kick off his year as a newly elected district governor in the Rotary.
His trip began on June 5 from Rotary Riverfront Park in Temple Terrace.
The 20-day cycling adventure took him up the Eastern Seaboard, cutting through the Carolinas, the outskirts of D.C., and the mountainous regions in Pennsylvania and New York. He crossed into Canada at the Peace Bridge in Buffalo, New York, and pedaled along the edge of Lake Ontario, ending at the Toronto Convention Center where he was greeted by enthusiastic family, friends, and Rotarians from around the world.
“I just really enjoy being on the backroads of America on a bicycle. You meet very interesting people. You can set your own schedule. Sometimes I do a lot of thinking. There’s always something to think about, to see, or to listen to,” he said.
Dr. Hall is a veteran long-distance cyclist, having completed several bike tours across the United States from Massachusetts to Mexico, Massachusetts to Washington, and from California to Florida. His last road trip was in 2015 when he rode from San Diego to St. Augustine to commemorate the 50th anniversary of his first bi-coastal bike tour at the age of 17.
On this cycling adventure, the 70-year-old fought against three main obstacles — rain, headwinds, and mountains — often dealing with all three at the same time.
In addition to the physical challenges, Dr. Hall was biking against the clock.
Dr. Hall typically builds in a few extra days when planning out a long bike trip, but he didn’t have that luxury. A few days into his ride, he stopped in Jacksonville, Florida, for a Rotary zone meeting. That meant he had a little more than 14 days to cover eight states and one Canadian province before reaching Toronto.
The cycling began in earnest after Jacksonville, and Dr. Hall logged 100-plus miles each day for up to 14 hours a day. For the majority of the trek, he used Google Maps’ cycling route, which took him north on mostly bike-friendly secondary roads.
When he encountered a bridge or road that prohibited cyclists, he relied on local advice for an alternate pathway, took out his compass and navigated through residential streets, or just pedaled quickly over a bridge before anyone with authority could stop him.
“I was on the road every day, just before the sun came up, and I didn’t stop until it was almost dark,” he said.
To prepare for his trip, Hall contacted City Bike Tampa to build him a custom bike. He knew exactly which parts he wanted and from where. The bike’s chrome moly steel frame came from Michigan. Its wheels were shipped from Switzerland; handle bars from the U.S.; seats from England; lights from Australia; and the tires from Germany.
“Everything was designed for strength. Everything was thought out in terms of durability. It is absolutely ideal for the type of riding I do,” he said.
The bike weighed 45 pounds and his packed gear weighed 55 pounds for a total of 100 pounds of load. To train for the trip, Dr. Hall rode the bike to work and on weekend training rides fully loaded with all the gear packed on. In total, he logged about 3,000 miles just training for the trip.
Even with the heavy load, Dr. Hall said he prefers to ride solo. Other long-distance adventure cyclists opt for a van-supported bike tour, while others ride on a relay team with each member biking 25 miles a day.
On a typical day, he packed up his tent and rolled out before daybreak. He grabbed coffee or a sandwich from a fast-food restaurant every few hours, keeping his breaks to no more than 15 minutes. He listened to news in the morning and then alternated between his music playlist, mystery audiobooks, and a 30-hour audiobook documenting the history of WWI.
Surprisingly, boredom never crept in.
At the end of each day, he sent photos and dictated a summary of the day’s adventures in a text to a friend, who then posted updates about his progress on social media.
“In regards to where I stopped for the night, there was no plan at all. About 10 minutes before I knew I needed to stop for the night, I’d start looking for an abandoned building, a golf course, maybe a school with a sports field in the back, pitch my tent and be out the next morning before sun came up. Nobody would see me.”
“It’s better on a trip like this not to get too comfortable, because otherwise you don’t want to leave. If you’re in a tent, you’re sleeping somewhere you probably shouldn’t be. You have an incentive to get out of there and get on the road quickly,” he said.
At the midway point in Richmond, Virginia, Dr. Hall suffered a setback.
He was pedaling in heavy city traffic and decided it was safer to veer onto the sidewalk. That’s when his bike hit a gap along the curb. As his bike tumbled, his left ankle got twisted in the water bottle cage.
With still about 800 miles to go, Dr. Hall knew seeking out a walk-in clinic would add hours and miles that he didn’t have. Plus, any doctor would tell him to stop cycling, and he knew that wasn’t an option. So Dr. Hall ventured on, putting pressure on his sprained ankle each day through the steep Allegheny Mountains in Pennsylvania and New York.
“I was going to finish anyway, and I knew the doctors would just say ‘You have to stop,’ so I figured I would just suck it up and deal with it,” he said.
Dr. Hall flew back to Tampa from Toronto, while some Rotarian friends drove his bike back.
He said it will be another two years before he embarks on his next coast-to-coast bike tour. He is setting his sights on making that postponed Seattle-to-Tampa ride in 2020.
Once complete, he will have crisscrossed the United States on a bike, completing that missing X on the map.
Story by Elizabeth L. Brown, USF College of Nursing