My Friend Paul


By David Ward — On March 14, 2022, on a beach in Santa Monica, California, Paul Spilker dipped his rear wheel into the Pacific Ocean and commenced pedaling east, his ultimate goal being to dip his front wheel in the Atlantic Ocean several weeks hence. Paul is not alone in deciding to ride across this beautiful country of ours. But he is certainly one of the oldest to do so.

In August, Paul will turn 80 years old. So right now, he is a spry 79. He must have decided to do this before turning 80 as he might then be too old. Kidding, of course! For most, 79 is indeed too old for such an effort and adventure. And that he could do this at all is especially remarkable given that just a year and a half before (October 2020), Paul was involved in a cycling accident which broke his pelvis and two pubic bones, and which caused an inguinal hernia that was repaired the following January (2021). For six months, Paul was unable to ride either his bike or a trainer. Now, just a year later, here he is doing a cross-country bike tour.

I met Paul in 2017. We have a small group that rides together frequently, and we train yearly for the LOTOJA, some to ride it solo and others as relay teams. Paul joined our group that year to train and ride with people who would work with him during the LOTOJA to help him become the oldest rider to finish it.

As we hadn’t ridden together this past winter, I hadn’t seen Paul since last fall. I only learned of Paul’s plan just days before he started. I discovered he would be riding across northern Arizona about the time my wife, Karma, and I would be driving down to Fort Worth. I thought it would be nice to ride a day or two with Paul, so I contacted him, and things worked out for us to meet up in Winslow, AZ on Monday evening, March 21. Karma graciously agreed to provide sag support for us.

David Ward and Paul Spilker arriving for lunch at Petrified Forest National Park. Photo by Karma Ward

The next morning, after off-loading Paul’s bike packs into the car, we set out from Winslow under a bright blue sky but in a cool 40˚ F. We first rode through Holbrook which reminded me of Radiator Springs in the movie, “Cars”. As we entered, we stopped for photos of the Wigwam Motel, the inspiration for the Cozy Cone Motel in the movie. From there, we rode to a parking lot just outside of the Petrified National Forest where Karma met us for lunch.

It was nice to finally arrive there. After leaving Holbrook, we caught a northerly cross wind that we fought for the next 30 miles, thankful for the shelter and draft we provided each other. At this point, we had covered 60 miles, and we were equally grateful for the excellent lunch Karma prepared and provided us.

After another 22 miles, for a total of 82 miles, we arrived at our motel in Chambers. Given this was my first ride over 30 miles since last October, I was especially glad to be here. Later that evening, my legs were cramping and I felt a bit nauseous. I was really cooked. But I finally fell into a good sleep about 1 a.m., and awakened refreshed and ready to ride.

Julie was also doing a loaded cross-country tour. Photo by David Ward

Paul was also ready to ride. Being over a week into his adventure now, he was used to these long mileage days. Before setting off, Paul, Karma and I met for breakfast at which time we ran into another cyclist, Julie, who was also doing a loaded cross-country tour. She had set off a week before Paul and was taking a more leisurely time to cross the country (if you can ever describe pedaling a loaded bike on a cross-country tour as “riding leisurely”).

Paul and I set off from Chambers and headed to our next destination, Gallup. I had learned during the night that there was a weather pattern that was pushing strong winds from north to south. That explained the wind we fought the day before and, sure enough, we fought again and were glad both days for the shelter and draft we could provide each other.

We were also glad for the wonderful lunch spread Karma again provided us, this time in Lupton. We arrived at a rest stop to find a fully laid out picnic table with delicious wraps, Karma’s “power balls”, chips, candy and, for me, a Coke.

By the end of the day, we were in Gallup, NM, having ridden a “meager” 55 miles. It seemed meager, especially to Paul, as he was putting in 80 – 100 miles a day. But I was glad for the shorter day and felt much better than I had after yesterday’s 82-mile ride.

Karma and Paul. Lunch at Thoreau. Photo by David Ward

As I was feeling better, and as we had the time, Karma and I decided to stick with Paul for one more day. This day, we rode 62 miles to Grants, NM, crossing the continental divide in the process. But we now had a mild tailwind and a fairly gentle climb up to the divide, so it was a fairly easy day. Karma again provided us a marvelous lunch spread, this time at a picnic table in front of, appropriately, the Senior Citizens Center in the small town of Thoreau.

At the “Continental Divide” marker, we met and had a friendly chat with Steve, a motorcyclist from England, who had purchased, five years before, a BMW motorcycle in Boston and was coming over every year to tour the U. S. for several weeks. In between, he would find someplace to store his motorcycle till his return the following year. However, he had missed the previous two years, due to Covid, but was now back on track.

Seeing new and amazing sights and meeting interesting people such as Julie and Steve are the highlights of a bike tour. Paul has continued to meet up with many interesting and helpful people, and see many unique and interesting sights, in the weeks he has journeyed across our great country.

Paul loaded down. Photo by David Ward

Sadly, we now had to leave Paul. So, we took him to dinner and then sent him off the next morning, his bike loaded down once again. I felt sad leaving Paul. I felt I had been a help to him, and I think he was glad to have me along for a couple of days. But I know he was especially grateful for Karma’s sag support and lunches. She did send him off with a bag of her “power balls” which he loved.

Along the way, Paul has also had great support from family and friends. Shortly after we left him, and in a surprise move, Paul’s son Sam, who lives near Houston, Texas, and Sam’s family surprised Paul in Amarillo, TX, sporting t-shirts that said, “Go Grandpa! From Sea to Shining Sea”. Sam rode two days with his dad while Sam’s wife and family provided support and transported Paul’s bike packs. Paul was also able to spend Easter weekend with another son, Ben, and his family in Shelbyville, TN as well as his wife, Anne, who flew in from Salt Lake so she and Paul could spend the Easter weekend together.

Paul Spilker at the Atlantic Ocean. Photo by Jeff Favero

On April 30, Paul dipped his front wheel into the Atlantic Ocean at Virginia Beach, VA. My brother, Nick, also a part of our riding group, met up with Paul to ride the last couple of days with him, with Nick’s wife, Nancy, driving sag. At the beach, Paul was greeted by his nephew and his wife, Randall and Angie Wood, who live in Virginia Beach, and by Paul’s daughter and her husband, Teresa and Jeff Favero, who flew in from Ogden, UT, to cheer Paul at the finish and celebrate his remarkable accomplishment.

It is an amazing feat for a man of 79 years. It takes a combination of an active lifestyle, good health habits and, perhaps as much as anything, good fortune and good genes to reach Paul’s age with that kind of strength and ability. I am “only” 71, also live an active lifestyle and have fairly good health habits. But I have had two hip replacements and enough surgeries, major and minor, to need both hands to count them. And as I feel my body slowly but certainly losing the battle with time, I am uncertain if I would be able to duplicate Paul’s feat when I reach his age.

But Paul has also faced health issues and challenges, and yet here he is. He is an amazing man.

Oh, and that LOTOJA we helped him ride? He did finish it, only to discover that a man about three months older had also finished. But he is going to give it another go this year. And with all these cross-country miles in his legs, he just might do it.

For those wishing to read it, a day-by-day account of Paul’s journey was maintained by his daughter, Becky on Facebook. (

Paul is raising funds for Huntsman Cancer Institute. On his Facebook page you can donate to his cause, if you desire.


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