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Jay Wilker is one of 200 bicyclists in the "Big Ride," a summer-long bike-a-thon sponsored by the American Lung Association to raise public awareness and funding for respiratory health. This is the first in a series of letters that began in Washington State and will end in the nation's capitol. Writing for World Travelers of America, Wilker offers a unique view of America from across the handlebars. In his other life, Wilker, 56, is a litigation attorney with Oppenheimer, Wolff and Donnelly, LLP, in New York.

Bicycling Across America - Leg 1

Hi from Spokane . . .

I have just finished a four-day bicycle ride across the state of Washington, the start of our journey from the Pacific to the Atlantic coast.

We left a dreary Seattle on Monday and headed into the Cascade Mountains for two days of riding, climbing up through Stevens Pass where the sun was bright and the snow pure white. After a long descent at speeds over 45 mph, we were in desert-like terrain for a long time until we climbed again to a high fertile plateau.

On the third day we did over 100 miles with several pretty tough climbs. It turned out that this was the first century (biking parlance for 100 miles) for a number in our group including Paul, the oldest rider at 79.

We camped out at the Grand Coulee dam, a massive piece of technology damming up a tributary to the Columbia River. Yesterday morning I rode alone across the dam around 5:45am as the sun rose over the reservoir and spread a beautiful glow onto the dam itself. It was quite a memorable sight.

Yesterday's ride was 90+ miles to Spokane from Grand Coulee. We had a strong tailwind and the riders in our immediate group - a lawyer from Florida, an engineer from Santa Fe, an IBM consultant from Dallas and several young riders who talk biking rather than about their careers - averaged 17 mph for the entire ride, not including a couple of water stops.

We rode through a very fertile plateau with virtually endless fields of wheat and grain. Crop-dusters flew at head height above the farmlands, and two-story combines lumbered along just below. The road was full of large, double-trailer trucks carrying grain to and from the massive elevators along our route. The scale of all of this industry makes one appreciate the wealth of American agriculture.

We are now in Spokane for a rest day where we are staying in a dormitory at Gonzaga University. Spokane is a charming city on the edge of the Rockies. The city is bisected by the Spokane River, a raging white-water raceway surrounded on either side by verdant parks. Numerous footbridges with bicycle paths criss-cross the river throughout the city. This place feels like the next Denver.

We managed to find a New York-like Irish pub with the Yankee/Red Sox game on television, but our group, not exactly the youngest riders on the Big Ride, faded around 8PM.

I went to bed just as my roommate, Justin, who recently finished college, was heading out for the evening.

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Notice: This information is current as of Summer 2000. It is recommended that you contact the numbers, and/or visit the websites above to determine any changes to the information.