On 18 October 2021, Lynnea Salvo rode her Cannondale Synapse endurance bicycle into San Ysidro, CA, USA, on the US-Mexico border, just over six weeks from the day she left the Peace Arch on the US-Canada border.
The Pacific Coast journey, which took 43 days to complete and spanned 2,083 miles, earned the cyclist her most recent record title for the oldest person to cross America by bicycle (N-S) (female) at 72 years and 27 days old.
However, this record was part of a wider, long-term goal - to create a colossal GPS image of a peace sign across America and Canada.
But how did this incredible feat come about?
Interestingly, riding her bike cross-country wasn’t a goal Lynnea particularly had her eyes set on.
In fact, one of her very first experiences with riding a bicycle nearly deterred her from ever setting foot on a pedal again.
"At age seven in 1956, I was straddling the back fender of my brother’s bike, my arms clinging to his waist. My face was buried in his back and my vision was obscured. I felt the ground detach from beneath us and sensed that we were plummeting off a cliff," Lynnea recalled.
"I panicked and clamped my legs together. My foot went into the spokes, and the next thing I remember is our next-door neighbour wrapping my sprained ankle."
In 1970, Lynnea’s brother John Thomas West was killed when the F-4 Phantom the 28-year-old was piloting crashed in Laos.
The painful event would eventually serve as a source of motivation for Lynnea and pave the road for her bike trek across America.
"As I was about to turn 50, I needed to decide what I wanted to do when I grew up. I started a business and a PhD and began running to balance them," said Lynnea.
Lynnea didn’t touch a bike again until the year 2003, nearly 50 years after her childhood accident.
"In 2003, I ran the Boston Marathon, having barely qualified the year before during my first marathon. When I developed running injuries, my coaches suggested cross training, so I got on a bicycle for the first time since my childhood bike accident," she continued.
When her son was ten years old, she clipped an article about a teenager who cycled across the U.S.
"It was an activity I thought my son might like to do. At the time, I didn’t realize I had planted the seed for my own endeavor."
And so, her journey began.
Lynnea pedalled a peace sign shaped route across the U.S., not only in honour of her brother John, but in the name of world peace as well.
Her recently completed continent-sized peace sign was made up of over a dozen segments in total.
Lynnea’s two other record titles include:
- Oldest person to cross America by bicycle – Achieved on 23 October 2016 at 67 years and 32 days old, when she completed her journey between Oceanside, California to Bethany Beach, Delaware, U.S.A.
- Oldest person to cross Canada by bicycle (female) - Achieved on 26 August 2018 at 68 years and 340 days old.
Although cycling the Pacific Coast proved to be challenging, deciding where to start was easy.
"Since I was cycling a peace sign, I was always on the lookout for peace monuments," explained Lynnea.
"On the Pacific coast border between the U.S. and Canada sits the Peace Arch. The 100th anniversary of its completion was 6 September 2021, so I chose that as my start date."
Cycling down the Pacific Coast was challenging for Lynnea, with well over 100 thousand feet of long and steep climbs along the way.
Some days, she had more than one major climb, but said that the views she enjoyed were rewarding.
"Because I was on a bicycle, I could stop in spots inaccessible by a car and look out on unique panoramas," said Lynnea.
"Visiting peace monuments added a significant dimension, notably the Korean Friendship Bell south of Los Angeles. Retrieving my brother’s wedding ring in Everett, Washington was also particularly meaningful."
Lynnea also mentioned that another major obstacle she faced was an encounter with a wildfire.
During one of her stretches, she was able to see a fire from her lodging.
Because the route she had planned for the next morning was completely blocked by the fire, she quickly searched for an alternative route, which included going over a difficult mountain pass instead.
The pass was long, steep, and had narrow shoulders, making it perilous for a cyclist.
"Traffic was heavier than normal because it was rerouted the same way I had to ride," said Lynnea.
"Once at the top of the pass, I had to get back down. The descent was steep with deep switchbacks and no guardrail."
"Fortunately, there were a few pullouts where I could stop and recompose myself for the next stretch," she continued.
She also found herself challenged when some of her equipment failed - her front derailleur suddenly stopped working.
"The small ring is the one required for ascending, so I was able to climb, but on downhills and flats I lost much of the power I am normally able to apply," Lynnea recalled.
Due to supply chain issues, it took a full week before the cyclist could source the piece.
Ultimately her bike mechanic, who was located three thousand miles away, was able to remove the part from a bike he had in his shop and air ship it to her.
The final stroke of bad luck was the road construction Lynnea encountered, forcing her to constantly reroute.
"I shared the road with huge logging trucks in the Pacific Northwest," she recalled.
"On the Astoria bridge from the state of Washington to Oregon, a hostile driver slowed down next to me and yelled."
But that incident still wasn’t enough to off-road the bicyclist, who trained rigorously for the attempt.
To train for her record title, Lynnea maintained a base of 100 miles per week, adding on an additional 10 percent each week that went by.
"Since my records are age-related rather than speed related, I don’t have to go fast, so I don’t suffer the exhaustion speed cyclists do," admitted Lynnea.
"Whenever I was weary, an encouraging word from the three people I cycled with, or our support-and-gear driver was all it took to keep me going."
For her next expedition, Lynnea was prepared to cycle from the Arctic Circle to the Mediterranean Sea.
Unfortunately, her plans were postponed for the first time in 2020 due to COVID-19, and once again in 2022 because of the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war.
Despite these setbacks, Lynnea doesn’t intend to hit the brakes on her future aspirations anytime soon.
She hopes to eventually achieve the record titles for:
- Oldest person to cycle across Europe (female)
- Largest GPS drawing by bike (individual)
- Oldest person to bike across Africa (female)
- Oldest person to bike across South America (female)
Lynnea is motivated by her appetite for adventure and the challenge of cycling such long distances.
"I love researching and planning these adventures and seeing the world at bicycle pace," she said.
"I also want to continue raising money for peace organizations."
Lynnea hopes that her newfound record title will send the world the message that ordinary people can do extraordinary things.
"A bike ride begins with a pedal stroke. Whatever your goal, it can be achieved in tiny steps."