Jack’s back: Ex-Gov. Markell completes his cross-country bicycle tour

REHOBOTH BEACH — On June 30, as Gov. John Carney was fretting over whether lawmakers would be able to pass a budget on the last day of the fiscal year his predecessor was dealing with a challenge of a drastically different sort.

Jack Markell was in southern Idaho at the time, 11 days into a cross-country bicycle tour.

Mr. Markell officially concluded his 3,671-mile ride Tuesday following seven weeks spent biking across the United States.

After starting his ride by dipping his bike in the Pacific Ocean, he ended it by doing the same in the Atlantic.

Mr. Markell, who served as governor of Delaware from 2009 until January, rode through 10 states and Canada as part of an initiative called Motivate the First State, launched in 2014 in part due to his efforts.

Former Delaware Gov. Jack Markell leads over 150 cyclists who came to support the finish of the final leg of his cross country bike ride from the Pacific to the Atlantic Ocean in Rehoboth Beach on Tuesday by dipping his bike’s front wheel in the water to complete the journey. (Special to the Delaware State News/Chuck Snyder)

His cross-country tour raised more than $120,000 for charity.

An avid cyclist who has stayed out of the public eye since his second term ended, Mr. Markell called the ride the “experience of a lifetime,” even as he noted he “wouldn’t want to do it again.”

The route took him from Astoria, Oregon, through Idaho, Wyoming, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Canada, New York and Pennsylvania before ending in Rehoboth.

He was accompanied for much of the trip by a group of about 40 other cyclists, although many of them parted to head for New Hampshire at Niagara Falls, New York. State Sen. Dave Sokola, who Mr. Markell called a “much better” cyclist than him, joined the journey in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and they spent the last three weeks biking home together.

Mr. Markell arrived at his Wilmington-area home Sunday, where he was greeted by dozens of friends and family members.

He documented his trip on Twitter and on a blog (blog.jackchallenge.org), posting plenty of photos and offering brief snippets of his experience.

But there’s no substitute for actually biking the equivalent of 38 Delawares.

The ride was harder than he anticipated for about the first month, as well as more dangerous.

“We had several injuries,” he said. “Thank God I didn’t. I fell off my bike a couple times but really, compared to others I was really lucky. But just driving on some of these roads out West you got these massive trucks going 80 miles an hour and you’ve got a shoulder that’s like this wide, it’s scary.”

Mr. Markell waves to Sen. Thomas R. Carper.

By mid-July, his soreness had gone away and it was (relatively) smooth sailing. The group averaged about 80 miles a day, with five rest days built into the schedule.

They rode in rain and in temperatures of more than 100 degrees, up hills and across flat country, and through many cities and small towns, including Delaware, Canada.

In South Dakota, more than 1,500 miles from Delaware, Mr. Markell ran into a Pike Creek family. “Such a small world!” he wrote on his blog.

On Tuesday about 150 riders accompanied him on the trip down to Rehoboth Beach, with some joining in at designated locations in Milton and Lewes.

Among those waiting to greet the former governor was U.S. Sen. Tom Carper, who gave him a high-five as he crossed the finish line on Rehoboth Avenue.

“My wife and I looked at each other and said he has lost his mind,” Sen. Carper said with a laugh as he recalled his reaction when learning of Mr. Markell’s trip.

Mr. Markell’s favorite part of the ride? The Badlands National Park in South Dakota, thanks to the “fantastic” scenery.

He received surprise visits from family members on two occasions: His daughter, Molly, and her boyfriend visited him in Boise, Idaho, and Molly and Mr. Markell’s wife, Carla, met him in Kutztown, Pennsylvania, on his last day on the road.

While he may have been biking 80 miles a day, sometimes on rough terrain, there was a silver lining: For the first time since 2008, he didn’t have to worry about getting a budget passed.

“I was thinking, this is a really hard day but I’m not having as hard a day as Gov. Carney,” he said with a smile, reflecting of his memories of June 30.

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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