Dentist, 73, cycles cross country

Provided photo William McDonald stands amid the Teton Mountains at 8,500 feet.

Provided photo
William McDonald stands amid the Teton Mountains at 8,500 feet.

By Dan Colton | Correspondent.

A 73-year-old Woodstock dentist completed a cross-country bicycle tour this summer just to see if he could.

“I have always tried to lead a proactive life,” William McDonald said. “I just wanted to see if there was some payback.”

Born in New York City in 1942 as the son of a railroad man, McDonald spent most of his youth in suburban New Jersey. As a boy, he was captivated by the railroads racing across the country. But dreams of entering the railroad industry vanished when he graduated from high school, he said.

“When I came of age, the industry was in rough shape, so I decided to go to dental school,” McDonald said. “When I finished, I bought a practice here (in Woodstock) from a fellow who retired here in town. I’ve been here 39 years now.”

The decision to travel cross country surfaced after his 40th college reunion, McDonald said.

“I just had my 40th reunion at Tufts dental school in April,” McDonald said. “So I said, ‘Shoot, I just have to take on some kind of a challenge.’ I said to myself, ‘I’m 72 years old, I wonder if I can do this?’ I just started riding more.”

“Riding more” meant a 60-mile daily commute to his Woodstock dental practice. After a few weeks of the training regimen, McDonald signed up with the cycling outfit America by Bicycle, and set off for Oregon in a rental car.

McDonald left Oregon on June 15 on his bicycle. He cycled through the Cascade Mountains, out through Idaho, across the Rocky Mountains into Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

From Wyoming, McDonald said, he passed through Montana and visited Mount Rushmore before blasting through Minnesota and Wisconsin where he boarded a ferry, crossing Lake Michigan.

The journey stopped near Niagara Falls in London, Ontario.

“That was 3,000 miles,” McDonald said. He said it took him about 5 weeks.

McDonald adding that his life of healthy living — a good diet, not smoking at all nor drinking heavily — allowed him to enjoy physical freedom into his 70s.

“They talk about how 70 is the new 60, and maybe that’s true,” he said. “Here I am 73, and I have no problem peddling across the country.”

Along the way, McDonald maintained an email log for friends and family members. The blog recounts his journey day-by-day and the experiences he had with cyclists he met along the way.

By Day 6 of the journey, McDonald had traveled 500 miles, many of them mountainous.

“I will never grow to enjoy hill climbing,” he wrote.

Every day held another experience, something new. On Day 7, McDonald rode out of the mountains and into Snake River Valley, Idaho, drinking tomato-soup concentrate to maintain his sodium and potassium levels.

By Day 16, the Teton Mountain range was etched out on the horizon. A day later, he was cycling 85 miles through Wyoming’s Wind River Valley. There wasn’t a single town the entire stretch, he said.

“I had these visions of being left behind,” McDonald said. “But that didn’t happen. I was in the middle of nowhere, hundreds of miles from anything, with nothing but a bike.”

McDonald said he averaged about 90 miles every day. The roads changed elevation often, forcing him to work harder. He climbed 4,500 feet on his bicycle one day; a few days later, he climbed 3,700 feet. On Day 9 alone, McDonald peddled up 5,500 feet in elevation.

“I cannot understand what kept me going, other than the guilt I might have felt if I capitulated,” he wrote of one climb.

In the end, McDonald said, he was simply testing himself.

“It’s radical, isn’t it? I wanted to have a big challenge,” he said. “I wanted to see if I could do it.”