Driftless Stories -

Linda Tacke Takes a Bike Ride Across America

By Steve Harris | Summer 2022 Inspire(d)

A Lanesboro, Minnesota resident reminds us it’s never too late to get out of our comfort zones and live (and adventure) with intention

In the fall of 2021, Linda Tacke went on a bike ride. The Lanesboro, Minnesota, resident pedaled her 16-year-old Bacchetta titanium recumbent from San Diego, California to St. Augustine, Florida. Numbers help tell the story. Days: 58. Miles: 3,100. Miles per day average: 63. Elevation Climb: 0 to 8,000 feet. Temperatures: 37 to 104. Pounds lost: 4. Flat tires: 7. Boogie Board: 1 (waiting for her on a Florida beach). 

Linda Tacke made friends on her bike ride across America
“Biking is solitary, but it also builds friendship,” says Lanesboro’s Linda Tacke. / Photo courtesy Linda Tacke

Wait, one more. Linda took this adventure two months shy of her 70th birthday. Lots of stories in those numbers. Lots to learn, too.

Twenty-plus years ago Linda was working at Park Avenue Methodist Church in Minneapolis. A weeklong senior high bike trip was going to be being cancelled if they couldn’t find one more adult counselor. Linda volunteered. “I did it and fell in love with biking,” she remembers.

 When Linda and her husband, David, bought a home in Lanesboro in 2008, she became a RAGBRAI regular (13 times so far) and even started considering a cross-country ride. “David knew I was dreaming about doing that,” she says. “He made me promise I wouldn’t do it alone.” 

Linda Tacke rode a recumbent bike
Linda was the only one riding a recumbent bike in the group with Adventure Cycling. “There were probably side bets on whether I’d make it,” Linda says. “I did!” / Photo courtesy Linda Tacke

Linda kept her dream, and her promise, after David passed away in August 2017. “I signed up with Adventure Cycling for their Southern Tier Route and traveled to San Diego to join a group of 11 bikers and two guides. We were from all over: Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Washington. I was the only Midwesterner. Other than our guides, I was also the only woman. Ages ranged from late 30s to early 70s. They were all really decent human beings, serious bikers, who shared a love for biking.”

Their journey began on September 25 with the traditional bike-tire dip in the Pacific Ocean and took them on a carefully planned route through California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, and Florida. Each day presented unique road conditions, some unpredictable weather, and a fixed daily routine (pedaling each morning by 8 am, meet back by 4:30 pm). Sleeping accommodations were a mixed bag, from RV parks to Quality Inns to KOAs to a police station to church lawns to pitching tents in the gravel parking lot of the Apache Gold Casino in San Carlos, Arizona. “You learn to be flexible,” Linda says.

She wanted to see America by bike and she got her wish. “In California and Arizona we biked through state and national parks with fabulous scenery. Pedaling through beautiful date and pecan groves is a special memory. Lots of hours under big skies, too. We hit 75-mile stretches in Texas that didn’t have a single intersection.”

Two small towns became highlights. “Marfa, Texas has a growing reputation as a unique arts center,” Linda says. “We arrived there on one of our ‘rest days’ and had a great time exploring.” Merryville, Louisiana, a community of about a thousand people, provides wonderful hospitality to long-distance bikers. “For Sunday dinner they fed us seafood gumbo, crayfish pie, fried alligator, and scratch chocolate cake. Phenomenal!”

Linda Tacke and the other bikers got along great
The group made fast friends. “We lined up fastest rider to slowest–we knew who we were!” says Linda. / Photo courtesy Linda Tacke

Spectacular scenery, plenty of food, and miles of roadway made for quite a trip. Challenges, too. “On our first night as I rode into camp, the seat fell off my bike,” Linda says. “Bad timing. I was hot, sweaty, and scheduled to cook dinner for 13 people. I texted pictures of the broken bike to my engineer-brother, John, and he prescribed epoxy and c-clamps. It worked.” Days later, with the chipseal roads of Texas tearing up her tires, an emergency side-trip to an Austin, Texas, bike shop led to modifications on her bike-frame that allowed for bigger, more durable tires. That worked, too.

Facing all the challenges, Linda hung in there. “I never seriously considered quitting,” she says. “Physically I was fine; on not one day did any part of my body hurt. I missed a turn in Los Cruces, New Mexico, and ended up a bit lost. Twice during the trip I had to take a ditch when it looked like a car behind me wasn’t moving over. But I just kept pedaling, moving ahead mile by mile. The guys called me ‘the girl with grit,’ and I took that as a compliment.” 

Linda Tacke carried a reminder of her loved ones on her helmet
A colorful little beaded angel rode with Linda throughout her trip to represent loved ones she had lost in the past. / Photo courtesy Linda Tacke

Why did she take a trip like this? “I enjoy challenges,” Linda says. “Taking this on made me feel very alive.” All those miles on a bike also gave her an unexpected gift: time alone. “Adventure Cycling has a policy of no media. My original idea to listen to audio books wasn’t going to happen.” She never felt lonely, though. “A number of loved ones have left this world too soon. David, of course. My friend and biking companion, Shannon, died the previous March. My youngest sister passed in 2014. While I was on the trip another friend died from cancer. Those faces were always with me.” 

Without a doubt, the trip changed Linda. “I had time to consider priorities,” she says. “It made me think about simplifying my life and the importance of gratitude. I’m enormously grateful that I could do this trip and for all the people who helped me along the way.”

The last day – November 20, 2021 – was maybe the most memorable. “We only rode 40 miles so we could coordinate our arrival with family and friends coming to St. Augustine to welcome us.” 

Linda Tacke dips her tires in Florida
They ended the trip by dipping bike tires at St. Augustine, Florida. “My big smile shows how happy I was,” Linda says. / Photo courtesy Linda Tacke

What a welcome it was. After their triumphant Atlantic Ocean bike-tire dip, it was time for warm hugs, a few sips of champagne, and photos all around. Her friend, Kim, who’d driven from Sarasota to welcome Linda back, had a surprise waiting. “She pulled two boogie boards out of her car trunk,” Linda says with a hearty laugh. “We both jumped into the ocean – me still in my biking clothes – and for the next hour and a half we swam, laughed, and splashed in the waves.

“I felt great that I had met this challenge at this point in my life. It made me realize how good it is for me – for all us – to venture out of our comfort zones. We really can do more than we think we can. And we can have a great time doing it. Playing in the ocean that day made me feel like a 7-year-old!” 

A 7-year-old. That may be her best number of all.

Steve Harris is a freelance writer and the author of Lanesboro, Minnesota, whose happiest trail is the 42-mile Root River State Trail from Fountain to Houston. 

Bike Safely! Riding by Highways: Heads up is best!

When you find yourself biking on the shoulder of a highway, special precautions are needed, says Linda Tacke. “We ended up riding in those conditions more than a few times on our trans-America trip,” she recalls. “To stay safe you need to stay extra careful.” 

What practical tips does she recommend?

• Always wear a helmet. Always.

• Make sure your bike has a mirror. You need to see what’s going on behind you as much as what’s going on in front of you.

• Make sure you’re visible! Cars need to see you. We rode with “slow-moving vehicle” triangles on our backs. Our bikes also had flashing lights. Bright clothing helps, too.

• Ride single file – always.

• No ear buds. Stay alert to traffic and to your surroundings. Hearing is an important part of that.

• If cars slow down and bunch up behind you, pull off the road and let them pass. Safe for you, safe for them.

• When at all possible, avoid highway-shoulder biking. Utilize good secondary roads and roads with less traffic, or at the least, roads with good wide shoulders.

• If you need to stop while biking on a highway shoulder, make sure you quickly move at least 10 feet off the roadway.