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November 10, 2013 • 02:21:43 p.m.

Couple travel the country on a two-seat bicycle

By JAMI KUNZER - jkunzer@shawmedia.com

Steve and Nancy Ellis on one of their stops around the country. (Photo provided)

After teaching math for 39 years, Steve Ellis set out to reconnect with his wife, Nancy. 

So the Wauconda couple hopped on a tandem bicycle and pedaled around the perimeter of the country for more than five months.

"This was like a freedom ride, you might say," said Ellis, who taught at Lake Zurich High School before retiring and now substitute teaches. In 2010, he was named the Educator of the Year by the Chamber of Commerce, having taught at the same school for nearly four decades.

He and his wife left in early March and finished their trip in late August.

Starting out from Jacksonville, Fla., they'd camp for a couple of nights, stay in a motel a night, then camp some more along the way. In all, they camped about 101 days and stayed in motels about 40 days.

The entire trip around the perimeter of the country and back to Florida encompassed about 10,500 miles.

"You're really close to your partner all day long and then sleeping in a two-man tent," Steve Ellis said. "You have to fight a little bit to get used to each other, and then you start bonding a lot better." 

The couple already road bicycles regularly before the trip, but trained before taking it on. The family, including the couple's three grown daughters, Jenny, Katie and Tamie, has taken bicycle tours every summer.

The longest tour they ever took was about 1,000 miles. This would be much more extensive. 

"We knew it would be hard," Steve Ellis said. "Riding a tandem is a little bit tougher than a single because we had all the weight on the bike. We carried 70 to 80 pounds on the bicycle in saddle bags."

Depending on the weather, they averaged about eight hours of riding a day.

They endured a few bicycle break-downs but always seemed to find a way to pull through, Steve Ellis said. At times, the wind was so strong they couldn't ride. 

But friends and even strangers helped them along the way, even when they broke down on a mountaintop in Vermont. Someone from a bicycle shop nearly 40 miles away came to help them.

"It was a lot of hard work, and I would say that God was faithful," said Steve Ellis, a member of the Evangelical Free Church of Wauconda, along with his family. "He took care of us every day. Every time we had a breakdown, He sent someone to help us out."

They saw places they've never been, riding across Texas, and along the California coast and through Washington, Vermont, Louisiana, South Carolina and elsehwere. They met other riders, as well as numerous locals along the way.

Steve Ellis said he was surprised by the number of homeless people he saw, especially in California, as well as the numerous other bike riders, several riding for causes.

"It's a great adventure," he said. "I would recommend it to anyone. All you have to worry about is food, water and where you'll sleep. You get to see the country go by pretty slowly."

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