Story by Douglas Stutz on 10/09/2018Sitting for an extended period of time is not the idea of fun for Naval Hospital Bremerton's chief information officer.
Unless it involves bicycling along the entire Pacific coastline of the United States.
Pat Flaherty, accompanied by daughter Ruth, embarked on a late summer 34-day adventure along the Pacific coast highway of Washington, Oregon and California. They pedaled their touring bikes approximately 1,815 miles from the Peace Arch, Blaine, Washington, on the Canadian border, to Friendship Park, San Ysidro, California, on the Mexico border.
Welcome to the Tour of No Regrets, a spinoff title Ruth created from a favorable doctrine of her father based on deciding to take on something risky, even life-changing.
"It's based on the idea that if you don't do something you wanted to do because you hesitated, if you will look back upon and regret not doing that something, then you should do it," explained Flaherty.
The pedal power premise for such an outlandish as well as challenging undertaking came on Sept. 27, 2017, mere days after Naval Hospital Bremerton (NHB) deployed the Department of Defense new electronic health record MHS GENESIS. As chief information officer for the hospital and its three branch clinics, that project had so completely monopolized his time, efforts, and responsibilities over the past two years that Capt. Jeffrey Bitterman, NHB commanding officer, strongly suggested he needed to take some well-deserved time to recharge his batteries and internal engine.
"When I implored him to take some much deserved time off, I didn't realize at the time that it would inspire this trip, but it didn't surprise me either. Patrick is a man of conviction. We all look up to Pat as a leader and a role model" said Bitterman of one of the command's longest tenured senior civilian staff.
A day trip to the Washington coast with his youngest son Benjamin inspired him to think well beyond his boundaries and aim for the lofty goal of riding his bicycle from Canada to Mexico.
"I asked myself, what would I really like to do? I didn't share it with anyone then," Flaherty said.
Life's reality work and family commitments, age and exercise constraints tried to push the notion away.
Still, the idea lingered and with it, what initially seemed like a complete whim began to take shape. When Pat explained to his wife Terri what he wanted to attempt, she offered encouragement, and in a way, validation.
"Until I shared the idea with Terri which she supported 110 percent, it was just a proposal," said Flaherty, noting that his first order of business was to prepare for the long haul.
A bicycle trainer long on his wish list was on sale and purchased. He immediately started an intensive indoor training regimen to get in distance riding condition. He logged well over 4,300 miles that included rides of 100 plus miles.
"Starting in March for 10 weeks, I logged century rides or more on the weekend, along with other miles during the week on the trainer. That gave me the confidence, mentally and physically, for the road challenges to come," Flaherty related.
During this time Ruth was also training for the grueling Ironman Canada in late July, yet now she knew someone attempting an equally demanding feat. Ruth applied her father's aforementioned doctrine to herself. Would she regret not joining? She did just that, even quitting her job to take part.
The original goal to start on Memorial Day weekend was pushed back until August that provided extra training for Pat, as well as Ruth switching from swim, bike, and run workouts to just bike.
"There has been a lot of time to think about the trip and still can't quite put my motivation into words. I love leaving the world behind while pedaling down the road. It truly is my meditation, yet that isn't enough to make such an epic journey. Like work, I let the responsibilities of life consume me and I lost something. Something intangible but vital. When I point my bike south from Blaine, Washington, I will have already started my journey home. Home to balance and a reconnection with living," wrote Flaherty at the start of their trip.
Pat and Ruth rode unsupported, carried camping gear, and restocked along the way for needed supplies. Required staples included coffee and pancakes in the morning and ice cream when available.
"We probably could have tweaked our nutritional intake better," admitted Flaherty. "But we were expending a lot during the day."
They shared daily images and video on several social media sites, met new people, and with each passing mile, they toured unfamiliar and unforgettable locales. They underwent daily demands, confronted physical and mental hardships, and above all, had a blast.
"Camping out was a big deal. With a large family and as the kids were growing up, we did not do camping. This was way out of my comfort zone by sleeping outdoors, using camp restrooms and doing laundry by hand," said Flaherty.
They discovered that a bundle of firewood at night became a social gathering site at every camp site.
"It was fun meeting kindred spirits There were more people that we expected biking down the coast. Especially going from Portland to San Francisco. On one father and son team, the dad was 80 years young," said Flaherty.
Their journey took them by rugged seascape and rolling countryside, up one hill and down another, and negotiating narrow shoulders along scenic stretches. They also had to confront fatigue, both mental and physical, such as on northern California coast switchbacks outside the town of Leggett.
"There were long climbs all along the route, and a lot of elevation gain at times, but the hardest were those short and steep hills trying to reach Leggett where it was hard to get into rhythm. That was draining," said Flaherty.
On one memorable stretch, they found themselves quite by luck - courtesy of a California Department of Transportation repair project finished early to pedal alone down the middle of the 31-mile picturesque Avenue of the Giants amidst the massive redwoods.
"We could not have planned it any better. That was special," said Flaherty.
They had gone through two states, yet northern California proved more strenuous than anticipated. They had yet to reach half way, averaging approximately 50 miles a day. They hit a mental wall of sorts. A day away from relatives in Rohnert Park north of the Bay Area, they took stock. They had encountered gray mornings and sunburn afternoons, experienced saddle sore, and had kept a demanding pace up to that point.
"If we looked at the overall picture, it was still overwhelming how much further we had to go. We still had a lot of riding left. But everything in front of us we had already done up to that point. If we concentrated on the next pedal stroke, the next mile, the next hill, our projected goal was achievable," Flaherty said.
After a brief respite with relatives, they continued on refreshed in mind and spirit.
"That day off with family was healing. I know I was drained. Ruth was doing a lot more, such as posting video, photos and updates on social media every day. That had to be difficult on top of everything else. But what all her extra work did was keep us connected with friends and family. We got a lot of encouragement from their comments. It was their thoughts and voices that powered us up the most difficult hills, physically and mentally. We could not have done this without them," said Flaherty.
Just south of the Monterey Peninsula, the mountainous Big Sur coastline offered a string of panoramic views as their road continued further south. As was the case for most of the journey, Ruth took the lead, with Pat following approximately 100 yards behind. They continued in this way as they navigated alongside congested traffic in southern California.
"No drafting. Both of us wanted to pedal by ourselves all the way down," explained Flaherty.
When they reached their destination at the border of Mexico, there was no great sense of euphoria or emotion. The conclusion was anti-climatic. It was the journey itself that mattered, not the finish. There was gratification in the achievement, but the real sense of accomplishment for Pat happened once back home.
"I think that the kids looked at me in a different light when I got home. They knew I liked to ride, but not this far. There I was, back from riding over 30 days and roughing it by camping outdoors. I didn't feel any different, but to them I was," commented Flaherty.
What does a father of eight who just completed a 1,815 mile bicycle ride plan next?
"I'm thinking a full marathon. There is a big one in June over in Seattle," posed Flaherty.