By Sherrie Norris
Three men with long-held ties to the High Country are leaving Boone today, Monday, March 7, in a motor home headed to San Diego, California. That might not seem like a huge deal to some, but for Mike Stanley of Boone, Earl McMahon of Blowing Rock and Toby Thorpe of Albemarle, (formerly of Boone), it’s knocking an item off their bucket lists, while doing a good deed for others.
Reaching the west coast later this week is just the beginning of the trip, as the return trek across the country — on bicycles — is where the rubber meets the road, literally.
The men plan to start their journey back east, each on two wheels, around March 12, covering some 3,000 miles, with an average of 70 miles a day.
“We hope to ride six days and rest on the seventh,” said Stanley, “or when weather or headwinds hinder us.”
The men will follow what is known in the cycling world as “the Southern Tier Route” which runs parallel along the United States-Mexico border from California through Arizona and New Mexico to Del Rio, Texas, before turning northeast and crossing into Louisiana. From Louisiana, the route will parallel the Gulf Coast through Mississippi, Alabama and the panhandle of Florida before crossing northern Florida and ending in St. Augustine.
The three friends have all taken long rides before, and many together, but this one will be the farthest they’ve traveled, so far.
“We all had it on our bucket lists,” said Thorpe. “So, we started looking at ways to make it happen.”
The three have all ridden the Blue Ridge Parkway from end-to-end; Stanley and Thorpe have completed numerous Cycle North Carolina Mountains-to-the-Coast rides as well as the Natchez Trace Parkway through Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi; McMahon and Stanley have recently gone for week-long rides in Wyoming and Oregon.
Now, with spring just days away, the three self-described “cycle-paths” are heading west to begin a two-month journey from the Pacific to the Atlantic.
Stanley, the youngest of the three, said, “This is not uncommon, people do it all the time. But we aren’t young men anymore and not exactly in our prime.”
But, he added, what started as an opportunity for personal adventure has become, for each cyclist, an opportunity to “give back,” as each will be riding for a cause near and dear to their hearts.
Giving Back to Crossnore
Stanley, who was born in Wilmington and now resides in Vilas, experienced a broken home and the death of his mother at an early age. Due to these circumstances he, his sister and brother eventually were enrolled at Crossnore School in Avery County, where he was a resident until graduating from high school in 1977, nearly a decade later. He went on to obtain his degree at Appalachian State University, from where he eventually retired after 30 years in the accounting department.
Stanley will be cycling to raise funds for the place he once called home and which provided a stable and nurturing environment during a tough period of his youth.
“Crossnore School merged with Children’s Home of Winston-Salem in 2017, and is now known as Crossnore Communities for Children,” said Stanley. “The facility continues to provide a healthy environment through foster care for children in crisis, and it provides a Christian environment to help bring about hope and healing for the youngsters there. It exists through the support of generous donors. The way I see it, we all get dealt a hand in life and it’s up to each individual to play it the best way we can. I have always had a heart for Crossnore. We had food, shelter and loving house parents most of the time. Crossnore School was good for us and I’ve always tried to be a good supporter.”
Conquering Congenital Heart Defects
McMahon, who lives in Blowing Rock and also studied at App State, is originally from Pittsburgh, Penn. He received some unsettling news in late 2021 that led him to ride for a cause, as well.
“Sonograms indicated that my grandnephew, Ben Gaston, would be born with hypoplastic left heart syndrome, a disorder in which the left side of his heart is underdeveloped,” he said. “I will be riding to raise money and awareness for Conquering CHD (congenital heart disease).
Ben is one of 40,000 children born annually with congenital heart defects,” said McMahon, “and Conquering CHD exists to create awareness and community, and to build knowledge and research that will hopefully lead to prevention, and even cures, of these abnormalities.”
Pedaling for Annie (Armstrong) and Missionaries
Thorpe, familiar to many in Watauga County as an alum of Appalachian State University and former employee of Watauga Parks and Recreation Department, described a 2019 mission trip to Haiti as a “life-changing experience.” He asked his pastor at North Albemarle Baptist Church, Jonathan Blaylock, about the possibility of tying his trip in with missions.
“Since the trip would encompass Easter, he felt it would be good to use it as a means to raise funds for the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering,” Thorpe said. So ‘Pedaling for Annie’ came about as a title for the effort.”
He noted that 100 percent of these proceeds will go to the Easter offering, which provides support for thousands of missionaries in the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa and the Virgin Islands.
Pledges and Donations of Any Size Welcomed
Ideally, the cyclists said, they would like for their supporters to make per-mile pledges. “The route is almost 3,000 miles, so, for example, if someone can pledge a penny a mile, that’s $30.” said Thorpe, who added that donations of any amount are welcomed, as well.
“When we were planning the ride, we came to realize that we all are blessed beyond measure in so many ways, and we decided that this would be a great opportunity to pass our blessings on,” Thorpe said.
Keeping Track Of the Cross-Country Trek
The group’s progress, as well as photos and videos, will be posted to social media sites on a regular basis.
The men will be followed by a “support and gear guy” who, driving the RV, will be available to assist with any needs they may have along the way.
Anyone Interested in supporting any or all of these three cyclists are encouraged to do so by following the links listed below.
- Earl McMahon: (Conquering CHD):
https://donate.conqueringchd.org/benacrossamerica or #benacrossamerica
- Mike Stanley: (Crossnore Communities for Children):
- Toby Thorpe: (Annie Armstrong Easter Offering – North American Missions Board)
https://www.facebook.com/pedaling4annie or #pedaling4annie