The reason Jay Aldous and Matt DeWaal are going to ride almost nonstop for 10 days along the original Pony Express Trail next month isn't because they need to get some mail delivered from Sacramento to St. Joseph, Mo.
It gets a lot more intangible than that.The original idea for the Pony Express route was so Californians could write letters to their family and friends back East and tell them how totally great it was to be living on the West Coast and that the weather was terrific for any baseball teams that might like to relocate. Teams of riders on horseback would relay this and other useful information back and forth along the trail. Using a relay system, some 80 riders and 120 horses could get a letter from Sacramento to St. Joe, or vice versa, in 10 days. Or, just slightly faster than today's mail service.
Now, Aldous and DeWaal plan to ride the Pony Express Trail at a similar pace. But with, well, variations. Instead of 78 other riders and 120 horses they plan to do it on their own - riding bicycles. Their journey figures to be a tribute to the spirit of the Pony Express, to Aldous and Dewaal's penchant for pedaling to the sound of a different drummer, and, not incidentally, to the invention of the mountain bike.
On the paved portions of the 1,938-mile trail they'll race like mad on their racing bikes, and on the non-paved portions - which includes extensive desolate areas in Nevada and Utah - they'll switch to their fat-tire mountain bikes.
It won't be easy, cycling almost 2,000 miles in 10 days, especially if the wind blows from the wrong direction or if the mountain bike portions of the trail take longer than expected. But if you wanted to line up two guys with a running headstart, take these two Utahns whose last adventure was traveling around the world. On bicycles.
They cycled through 26 countries and 14,290 miles in 106 days in 1984. If you don't believe it, you can retrace their route, and ask people in places like India and Thailand if they remember two glassy-eyed Americans who looked like they were in a hurry; or you can look it up. The Guinness Book of World Records documents that DeWaal and Aldous lopped some 32 days off the previous around-the-world-on-a-bicycle mark. They averaged more than 140 miles every day of the way, and about 100 times that many calories.
When they got home they made a stab at being normal working people, and they both got married. But the winds of adventure never cease, and so they came up with this latest quest, which they admit could be their last for awhile since Matt's wife, Jolene, is expecting, and, as Jay says, "I don't think she'll want me calling him up anymore."
They have spent the past 15 months familiarizing themselves with the exact Pony Express route. They have gotten themselves lost several times, tried to sink Matt's car in a bog somewhere near Wendover, explained to dozens of ranchers why they're walking through their hay fields, and, in the process, they've turned themselves into something approaching authorities on the subject. They found that there is a lot of myth surrounding the Pony Express period, which lasted barely over a year from 1860-1861. But with the aid of their trip historian, Joe Nardone, author of a soon-to-be-published book called "In Search of the Pony Express," they believe they now have the original path down to the inch. They'll follow it religiously, with the exception of large chunks of land in the states of Kansas and Nebraska. There, farmers have cultivated much of the exact trail and, since even mountain bikes don't do well in corn fields, they'll have to follow along on country roads as nearby as possible.
They plan on sleeping in tents on the sites of original way stations. But they don't plan on sleeping for long. Six hours, maximum, a night. Neither rain, nor sleet, nor hail, nor a warm sleeping bag at 4 a.m. . . .
A support crew will have their balanced, carbo-packed meals always waiting, so they won't be eating out at McDonald's unless their official Pony Express dietician happens to be out of sight, and there's a quick easy-off, easy-on access.
The ride is scheduled to begin June 7 in Sacramento, out front of the Wells Fargo building there. Matt and Jay hope to be in Salt Lake City four days later, on Saturday, June 10, and have scheduled downtown stops at their two major sponsors, Nate Wade Subaru (providing the support crew cars) and Smith's Food King (providing the 8,000 calories a day, each), early that afternoon. For about 15 minutes apiece. Then it will be up Emigration and East Canyons and on to Wyoming.
They don't anticipate any problems with Indians, but, still, they'll be keeping an eye out for truckers, and for headwinds, and for pot holes; for anything that might conspire to keep them from their appointed rounds. Like their Pony Express predecessors, these riders are determined to make it from California to the Pony Express Stables in St. Joe in 10 days. Their message to the folks back East will be that they made it. As for what they'll do after that, that's their problem.