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Cyclists complete cross-country `trip of a lifetime'

WASHINGTON—The flowers, balloons and applause were nice, but Bill Cook, having biked 3,284 miles, had one thing in mind.

"A beer would be terrific," said Cook, 70, as he and almost 40 other cross-country riders dismounted Tuesday at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. About 30 friends and family came from as far away as California, Texas and Massachusetts to meet them.

"It's a trip of a lifetime," as cyclist George Head of Irmo, S.C., put it, "because I'm not sure I ever want to do it again."

They'd started out in Seattle 49 sweaty days before and they smelled like it. Loved ones hugged them just the same.

Over the toughest terrain, they cycled 50 miles a day; over the flattest, 100 or more. As they crossed 12 states, they encountered tragedy, exhaustion, celebration—and plenty of beer and ice cream, the bikers' favorite blend of fuel.

Cook, who rode a recumbent bike, kept a Web log of their tour through the final day, making the journey public and keeping loved ones in the know.

The blog was the way Scout Leo, of Austin, Texas, kept in touch with his mother, Monica, one of the cyclists. "She would tell me, `Hey, did you see the blog today? I'm in it!'"

The blog sometimes bore bad news, as it did on the fourth day, when a car struck and killed rider Phil Smith. His death is still under investigation.

Rod Kramer, tour director, said such incidents were extremely rare. Cook, however, called long-distance cycling "one of the most dangerous sports you can get into."

The risks are especially high on country roads without shoulders, Cook said. According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, 622 bicyclists nationwide died in accidents involving motor vehicles in 2003, the latest year for which figures are available.

Cook said Smith's death saddened but didn't deter him.

"I knew the risks before I started," he said. "I said I was going to do it, so I was going to do it. You don't start off something thinking you're going to quit."

Two other bikers were involved in a second traffic accident, but both were able to finish the trip.

Majestic scenery and local charm made it onto Cook's blog, which featured photos and videos. He also reported on birthdays and romances on the road.

On the last night of the tour, he said, fellow riders voted him "the person never to share a confidence with."

Cook said they wanted to know if he'd turn the material into a book. "The answer is no," he said.

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For the full story of Cook's transcontinental ride, go to

http://www.washingtonbureau.typepad.com/bikeblog

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(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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