On June 14, Keith Morical set out for the ride of his life with one goal in mind.
The mission: to beat the Guinness World Record for the fastest bicycle ride through the contiguous lower 48 U.S. States. The statement: to prove to himself that — at 60 years old — he can still get better. He can still grow. And he can inspire others to do something better for themselves.
So, after launching out south of Walla Walla, Washington, near the state line — and with a small support crew at his back — the Twin Cities, Minnesotan, is on the brink of the unthinkable.
He just might pull this crazy thing off.
“It’s really all about my personal purpose of trying to help other humans maximize their potential,” Morical said, while cutting through sharp winds in southern Indiana on July 5. “I’ve been in the human resources field my entire life, working to try and help people figure out — including myself — how to be better at what we want to do with our lives.”
In the early morning of July 5, Morical and his small team briefly skirted into Kentucky, crossing the Cairo Ohio River Bridge between Wickliffe and Cairo, Illinois, before doubling back into the southeast Missouri bootheel.
It’s the only time he’ll visit the Bluegrass State on this personal trek, as he instead opted to traverse the southern states in order to circumvent the perils of the Appalachian Mountains.
“I went through Indiana twice to get to Ohio (his 24th state), instead of going across the Appalachian mountains to hit Ohio,” Morical said. “The Appalachians are tricky, hard mountains to ride. Much harder to ride than the Rockies.”
As of 5:30 p.m. on July 8, Morical is on his 28th day across the country, having already traveled 5,407 miles at an average speed of 12.1 miles per hour.
Pushing almost 194 miles per day, he’s got roughly 1,670 miles to go and just the eastern seaboard states remaining, with his end point set for the southern-most tip of Maine — across from Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
If Morical maintains this rapid pace, he’ll finish the journey in 8½ more days, completing the feat in less than 37 days.
For context, the current world record was set in 2016 by Paola Gianotti, an Italian woman, in 43 days.
Not only is there leeway, but Morical thinks he can do better. He’s already had three days where he mashed out more than 300 miles. He put in 425 miles during a 25-hour stretch on June 17 through the heart of Utah.
“Things can go to hell in a handbasket in a hurry,” Morical said. “But I’m cautiously optimistic that I can do my super-stretch goal, which would be to do this in a month.”
A hard start
As with any massive personal project, the start — he notes — was the hardest.
He’s been cycling his entire life, since his early days studying at the University of Minnesota, but only recently converted into an ultra-endurance rider in 2018.
So for the better part of three years, Morical has been training for this moment ... if a month can be a moment.
In 2019, he finished second overall in the Trans America Bike Race (an unsupported ride of nearly 4,200 miles), managed to finish first in the North Star Bike Race (a 10-day journey to the Canadian border), and completed the Paris-Brest-Paris (a near-1,200-kilometer ride through France dating from 1891) in under 80 hours.
In the final two weeks leading up to June 14, he got one night of eight-hour sleep — planning the routes with his two older sisters and an old college buddy, Dan Drown, while making sure he had enough equipment, water and fuel (he needs more than 10,000 calories a day) for the journey.
“The toughest thing to this point was really getting everything ready for ‘the start,’ ” he said. “This is only the fifth event I’ve ever been in my life, and the other four were unsupported, where you have to do them on your own.
“In this case, I have a crew, but it’s totally foreign. None of us have done this before. So we had to learn it. And the amount of energy that it took was hell. Almost 10 times more energy than it took to train for this ride, and I’ve been training for this for 2½ years.”
Highs and lows
Morical almost didn’t make it out of the Great Basin, as two wrecks within five days of pedaling through Utah took out one of his two cycling frames (each worth more than $10,000), and battered both his ego and his energy.
And of all the weather he’s faced so far on this journey — the 100-degree days in the heart of Nevada, the cool, chilly rains of Washington and Oregon, the melt-the-blacktop humidity of the South — it’s the 20 mile-an-hour, in-your-face winds of South Dakota that have, so far, stymied him the most.
“It’s just draining to go into the wind for two straight days with no shelter,” he said. “The Plains states are known for the wind, so it’s not a surprise, and it’s my third time across the plains. But there’s no wind coming from the back, and no prevailing wind. Those were, by far, my lowest totals, and I couldn’t do more at that point.”
But it certainly hasn’t been all frustrations.
His early wounds have mostly healed. The bike he’s riding now — an “Open U.P.” (opencycle.com) — was a birthday gift from his wife, just one night before his potentially historic hustle.
When his crew dipped into Ohio, it was the halfway point in states and a “relief” to the crew. And the halfway point in distance came within 10 miles of is home in Minnesota, where he could get one night’s rest in his own bed — and a surprise party with German chocolate cake from Cafe Latte — near the Twin Cities’ well-known Summit Avenue.
“When I left my house, there were a number of friends and bikers (there),” Morical said. “And that biking community knows more about this (ride) more than maybe the rest of the country. And I had mentioned to them ... German chocolate cake and a cafe latte in St. Paul ...
“That was very heartwarming.”
Succeed or fail, Morical is in the middle of building a new website, actualiz.org, and this ride serving as a major conduit of his new efforts.
He’s also seriously contemplating a book about this adventure, as a photographer and a videographer are part of the small traveling crew at his side.
But right now, things are moment to moment. And he just hopes this ride is one that gets people thinking about themselves and their long-term goals.
“Too many people are living their lives with too tight of blinders on, you know?” he said. “They aren’t seeing their own potential, and they’re not living as full as they can for themselves.”
For more information, you can find Keith Morical on Facebook, or follow his ride digitally on https://tinyurl.com/y8pqzet8.
Follow Marlowe on Twitter @dreamarlowe85, call him (270) 575-8661, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.