Couple Circumnavigates The US On Ebikes

How a modest bicycle tour blew up into a yearlong, 12,500-mile odyssey.

Janet Anspach-Rickey and Stephen Rickey
Janet Anspach-Rickey and Stephen Rickey took a year to circumnavigate the US.Janet Anspach-Rickey and Stephen Rickey

When a friend suggested riding from Scottsdale, Arizona, to central Texas to explore Hill Country, longtime cyclists Janet Anspach-Rickey and her husband, Stephen Rickey, were all in. But it didn’t take long for the adventurous couple to extend what was originally going to be a relatively short ebike tour into a yearlong,12,500-mile circumnavigation of the US.

As the plan began to take shape, Anspach-Rickey realized it would be December when the tour would finish in Austin, Texas, and rather than return to the Pacific Northwest in the dead of winter, she thought they should stay south and keep riding. She decided they needed to see the Florida Keys, so they added that to the itinerary. But when faced with the dilemma of where to store their van in Arizona for all those months, Anspach-Rickey thought just riding to Scottsdale from Seattle was the best solution.

Janet Anspach-Rickey and Stephen Rickey
The first part of the journey was a “hop on, hop off” tour, with friends joining them at various points.Janet Anspach-Rickey and Stephen Rickey

“Our friend Emma had never done the Pacific Coast route, so we thought it would be a great way for her to see it and for us to get to Scottsdale without worrying about where to park our van,” said Anspach-Rickey, 64, a retired physical therapist. “Then once we got going, we bumped into some friends who had ridden from Florida up the East Coast. I had always been too nervous to do that because it’s so densely populated, but they loved it so I thought we should add that too.

“That’s how the great perimeter trip was born. We had bought our ebikes to do a tour, and it turned out to be a really big tour,” she added.

Anspach-Rickey is the first to admit that once she gets going, she doesn’t want to stop.

Janet Anspach-Rickey and Stephen Rickey
Janet says she was awed by Montana’s Big Sky Country.Janet Anspach-Rickey and Stephen Rickey

She and Stephen, 72, had toured and ridden thousands of miles on non-electric bikes, including multiple times completing the annual 206-mile Seattle to Portland (STP) ride, their first cross-country ride on the Northern Tier route in 1990, and a 13-month, 11,295-mile trip that took them across the Trans America Trail to the Underground Railroad route to the Great Allegheny Passage and back across the South and up the Pacific Coast in 2014.

But it was a trip to Europe that got the couple hooked on ebikes. After spending several weeks riding bikes in the Netherlands, Germany, and Switzerland, the 500-mile Camino de Santiago route in Spain caught Anspach-Rickey’s attention. While the Camino pilgrimage is typically done on foot, there is also a cycling route, and her husband was game under one condition: He could do it on an ebike.

“By this point, Stephen had said that if he was going to do any touring, he was going to get an ebike,” Anspach-Rickey said. “I was willing to do anything to keep him moving, so I ordered some to use on the Camino through a local shop.”

Janet Anspach-Rickey and Stephen Rickey
The East Coast Greenway took the couple into cities they may have avoided without a safe route to access them.Janet Anspach-Rickey and Stephen Rickey

When the bikes arrived, the couple figured out the “e” in ebike had been dropped in Google translate and the bike shop owner had ordered regular bikes. By that point, Anspach-Rickey had planned the route and reserved places to stay along the Camino, but luckily she found another shop that not only had ebikes for rent, but could also drop them off at the start and pick them up at the finish.

“It was 500 miles and 40,000 feet of climbing, and it was just so much fun on ebikes,” Anspach-Rickey said. Later in the trip, the couple did an ebike tour of Rome, and by the time they wound up in San Diego via the Panama Canal on a boat (another story in itself), they were ready to trade in their regular bikes for electric models.

In late December 2017, they purchased two Bulls Cross Lite E ebikes.

“We rode all the ebikes we could in Seattle, and they were all fun. But we wanted one we could do long-distance tours on,” Anspach-Rickey said. “When we got on the Bulls after riding so many bikes, we thought this one could do it.”

Janet Anspach-Rickey and Stephen Rickey
Janet had always wanted to see the Badlands, so they made sure it was a stop along their route.Janet Anspach-Rickey and Stephen Rickey

The couple put 500 miles on their Bulls ebikes in the first two weeks, and by the time their perimeter trip started on September 21, 2018, they had already logged 4,000 miles. “We started riding those bikes and just didn’t stop,” Anspach-Rickey said.

The first half of the perimeter trip became a “hop on, hop off” tour, with several friends joining the couple at various points. Their cycling club friend Sherri rode as far as San Luis Obispo, California, and their friend Chris, who had originally came up with the Hill Country tour idea, had to hop off in El Paso, Texas. But their friend Emma rode with them all the way down the Pacific Coast and east to Naples, Florida.

“We were the only ones on ebikes, so we just adjusted our pace to whoever we were riding with,” Anspach-Rickey said. “We could carry all the food and other things, because on an ebike the weight just doesn’t matter. You don’t notice it.”

Janet Anspach-Rickey and Stephen Rickey
Made it to Mount Rushmore after an 800-foot climb from the entrance!Janet Anspach-Rickey and Stephen Rickey

Anspach-Rickey said they had some range anxiety in the beginning, but quickly discovered it was never difficult to find somewhere to plug in and recharge.

“We also found that if you keep it in Eco mode, you can easily do 40 to 50 miles per day,” she said. “At our age, that was plenty. In some places, you’re climbing 2,000 to 3,000 feet per day, but we were conservative and did fine. We never ran out of battery.”

From Florida, the couple made their way north along the East Coast Greenway, a 3,000-mile route on quieter roads and paths that currently connects 15 states. When completed, the greenway will consist mostly of bike trail. The route took them into cities like Charleston, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York—places Anspach-Rickey said they likely would have avoided without a safe route to follow.

“There is great bike infrastructure in those cities. We rode the perimeter of Manhattan, saw Ground Zero, Times Square, and Central Park, which is car-free now,” she said. “We got to see so many places from the bicycle, and had such a great time.”

Janet Anspach-Rickey and Stephen Rickey
The last leg of the couple’s trip followed the Columbia River along the Oregon/Washington border.Janet Anspach-Rickey and Stephen Rickey

The couple made their way north from New York City through Connecticut to Brunswick, Maine, and started their journey west across New England. They crossed the Great Lakes states and rode into South Dakota to see Mount Rushmore and the Badlands. To avoid riding through the epicenter of the annual motorcycle rally in Sturgis, South Dakota, the couple went south into Wyoming and then continued into Montana, across north central Idaho, and rode along the Columbia River in Oregon.

As navigator, Anspach-Rickey used Ride With GPS, Google Maps, and Adventure Cycling Association maps. She carried a tablet, and planned the route and where they would stay five days ahead. The couple stayed mostly in vacation rentals and with Warmshowers.org hosts for their entire 12-month trip.

Having sold their house and almost everything they owned, the couple had also arranged to stay at an Airbnb in the Seattle area after the trip. They reached the Olympic Peninsula with some time to kill, so they continued north to Port Townsend. On September 20, 2019, they met up with a group of friends and rode into Seattle.

Janet Anspach-Rickey and Stephen Rickey
Home sweet home: Janet celebrates the couple’s accomplishment.Janet Anspach-Rickey and Stephen Rickey

Their great perimeter trip was officially over, but Anspach-Rickey said they are still smiling more than two months later.

“We’re still on the bikes most days, so the transition coming back hasn’t been as tough as it has in the past,” she said. “This is our reality now. We try to get out a little every day.”

The couple saw a few people riding ebikes on their route, but no one doing a tour with pedal assist.

“No one is really promoting touring on ebikes, and there is such opportunity if people knew what a joy it is and that you can just keep going and going,” Anspach-Rickey said. “You can climb the hills, and if you see something going up that you want to explore, you can do it because it’s no big deal to add on. We encourage anyone to go rent an ebike and try it. They are just amazing.”