My Proudest Moment on a Bike: Heading to California, by Moishe Lettvin

03.14.2011 | 4:57 am

A Note from Fatty: This is going to be an intense week, work-wise. Luckily, several readers have stepped up and sent in some fantastic stories for me to publish. As a result, I think you’ll find that this week is going to be awesome, content-wise.

About the Author of Today’s Post: Moishe Lettvin writes code, rides his bicycle, runs and can’t wait to take his daughter adventuring on two wheels. He’s on the web at

When I was a kid I was, to put it mildly, not very athletic. Whenever I played a sport involving a ball, the ball would hit me in the face; whenever I played a sport involving speed, I was slow. This bothered me but only in a vague way; I was more interested in other things, primarily computers. I felt like I was pretty good at that and if I couldn’t run a mile and a half during gym class, oh well.

Junior year of high school, my friend Mark and I were sitting in the cafeteria during study hall, likely struggling with our French homework. Mark looked up and said something off-the-cuff and probably not very serious.

He said, “Hey Mo, after we graduate, let’s ride our bikes to California.” As I remember it this suggestion was completely unexpected; it’s not like we spent lots of time riding our bikes around or talking about the sunny climes of California. Maybe it arose from the general wanderlust of teenage boys or a sense of confinement in our small suburban town, or… well, who knows. It changed my life.

I became obsessed. I started riding my bike, a heavy Schwinn Continental, all around the back roads of eastern Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire. That summer, the summer between my junior and senior year, I rode to the beach in Gloucester; I rode along the Merrimac River; I sought out the steepest hills I could find so I could bomb down them.

I saved up the money from my job — at a local software company, natch — and towards the end of summer bought myself a bright red Cannondale, equipped with racks and low gears, perfect for long-distance touring.

I went back to high school that fall 40 pounds lighter and almost unrecognizable from the pasty nerd of the year before. I was more distracted than ever from my classes; I spent my time daydreaming about being on the road and the feeling of setting out for an adventure to the other coast. I spent every calculus class doing math, yes, but not calculus.

“How many miles a day will I have to ride to get to California in 3 months? How much water will I need to carry? I wonder how many flat tires I’ll get?” I got rollers later that fall so I could keep riding when the snow fell, and I rode through the winter mostly in my bedroom. Occasionally I’d venture onto the messy roads, ending those rides by chipping frozen slush off my down tube in my parents’ garage.

Spring came and the snow melted and I easily fell back into the rhythm of watching the sun rise on my weekday rides and seemingly endless rides on the weekends. I graduated high school – barely – in May and spent the summer writing software and riding my bike to the exclusion of pretty much everything else.

What about riding to California? Isn’t summer the time to do it?

Well, yeah… but Mark couldn’t go. So I fell back to the BikeCentennial classifieds to find some riding companions, and found three people who wanted to leave from New England around Labor Day. We exchanged mail (actual physical letters — this was a long time ago) and phone calls and planned to meet at my parents’ house the day before Labor Day, figure out last minute logistics, and set out the next day.

So plans were made. I was riding to California! All I had to do until September was ride, and ride, and save some money. I did that.

Around the middle of August, I set out kinda late in the day for a long ride. I’ll bet — though my memories are hazy now — I rode out to the coast in Manchester, past the tourists buying antiques in Essex, through the rolling farmland in Ipswich and Rowley. I probably got a snack in Newburyport. I may have continued north into New Hampshire, or looped over towards Haverhill, but I know that by the time I got back onto the long, empty stretch of route 1A heading back from Crane’s Beach in Ipswich towards my parents’ house, it was dark.

It was dark, and I might’ve been worried by that, but it was one of those summer nights that people write songs about. If you’re from the northeast, you might know what I mean: the warm air, crickets, stars and moon hazy with humidity. There was no traffic. I’d ridden close to 100 miles and nothing hurt; indeed I felt as good as I ever had in my life.

I took my hands off the bars, sat up and let the warm air wash over me. I thought of adventures to come. I thanked whoever came up with the idea of balancing on two wheels. I thanked Mark for the crazy idea to get on a bicycle and start riding, ostensibly to California, but really just to ride. I thanked my parents for being so willing to let their kid take off on some crazy adventure. I thanked my muscles and bones and tendons for adapting themselves so ably to what I asked of them. I thanked myself for not letting the images I and and others had of me – fat, not athletic, a computer nerd – get in the way of something magical.

I might have teared up with gratitude and happiness and a touch of pride, but it was probably the wind.



  1. Comment by bashzilla | 03.14.2011 | 5:41 am

    Awesome story. I really want to ride to California now.

  2. Comment by Douglas | 03.14.2011 | 5:41 am

    Great Monday story.

  3. Comment by gfurry | 03.14.2011 | 6:16 am

    my weather widget says 23º at the moment but I want to get on my bike and ride thanks to your story. I see 46º as the high for the day. I will definitely be outside on the bike this afternoon.

  4. Comment by Jenn | 03.14.2011 | 6:20 am

    Great story, well-told!

  5. Comment by Angela | 03.14.2011 | 6:24 am

    Awesome story! Made my day!!!

  6. Comment by Dave | 03.14.2011 | 6:28 am

    Great story, happy Monday.

  7. Comment by Bragger | 03.14.2011 | 6:32 am

    What an awesome story! Now I’m afraid to submit anything…

  8. Comment by Jeff | 03.14.2011 | 6:40 am

    Now I want to ride to California!

    Great story!

  9. Comment by MattC | 03.14.2011 | 7:40 am

    This is gonna be a GREAT week! Nice lead-off Fatty! And MO…very well done! That’s a great story and extremely well told!

  10. Comment by MattC | 03.14.2011 | 7:41 am

    Oh…and I LIVE in Calif, and I want to ride to Mass!

  11. Comment by Janice in GA | 03.14.2011 | 7:59 am

    So did you actually GET to ride to California? :)

  12. Comment by stuckinmypedals | 03.14.2011 | 8:04 am

    Great way to start the week, Moishe!

  13. Comment by Matt | 03.14.2011 | 8:08 am

    Nice story – and you must’ve grown up within a few miles of where I did (though apparently I did so later, since there was email/AIM when I was in HS).
    I lived right off 1A in Hamilton, and biked all over the North Shore area – but on trails rather than roads.

  14. Comment by Gareth Rowbotham | 03.14.2011 | 8:19 am

    Great story, and well told.

    I can see why Fatty published this one rather than mine! It makes me want to ride my bike and improve my blog writing!

    Time to up my game!

  15. Comment by Linda TP | 03.14.2011 | 8:29 am

    This story made me smile so wide…and makes my spirit so happy. Thank you!

  16. Comment by Terry Miller | 03.14.2011 | 8:37 am

    Great story! Thanks

  17. Comment by NYCCarlos | 03.14.2011 | 8:55 am

    Great story Mo!

    Side note – I see your name spelled frequently… how is it pronounced?? Is it “Mo-ee-sha”? “Moy-sha”? “Moy-shay”? “Bill”? none of the above?

  18. Comment by Jeff Dieffenbach | 03.14.2011 | 8:58 am

    Unrelated to Moishe’s excellent story, Easton Cycling (I have no affiliation to them) is having a pretty cool contest. To enter to win a $9k dream bike, create a model of your dream bike using one or more bicycle spokes, snap a picture, post to their FB page, and then get the most “Likes.” I would think that the power of would be a great way to get the most votes!

  19. Comment by Matt Densley | 03.14.2011 | 9:05 am

    Wow what a way to start off my week. Thanks for the story. I have had rides like this too. Not 100 miles in one ride but the magic of the ride. Yes. Thanks so much for the story. I loved the detail.

  20. Comment by Janey | 03.14.2011 | 9:22 am

    The problem with this being such a beautiful story is I want MORE. How does it end? There’s some great foreshadowing; might have worried about the dark, hands off bars, might have teared up. But WHAT HAPPENS??? I get the feel of ultimate bliss from the back of your bike (I ride a mule and I can bet any of you cyclists, I share some equally blissful moments), but did you fall and wake up in hospital? did you pull something and were out of cycling for a while, did the people who committed to ride to California with you flake out? WHAT HAPPENS NEXT. Its not so much that I want a complete, nicely wrapped package. But, you’ve truly peaked my interested and that is the hallmark of a true raconteur. More, please.

  21. Comment by Bryan (not that one) | 03.14.2011 | 9:25 am

    Very inspiring story and a great way to start the week. Thanks, Mo!

    It would be cool to hear some details about the actual ride to Cali.

  22. Comment by Moishe | 03.14.2011 | 9:26 am

    Thanks for all the great comments everyone! Reading all these makes my morning.

    Matt @ 8:08AM : My parents still live in the house I grew up in on Cunningham Drive. I try to go mountain biking when I go back to visit them, mostly around Greenwood. I did the Big Kahuna once, back in ‘01. The quality of trails has improved dramatically since the eighties, that’s for sure!

    NYCCarlos: It’s pronounced “moy-sha”. “Mo-ee-sha” is that TV show :) There’s a moving company out there in NYC called “Moishe’s Moving,” right?

  23. Comment by Mark J. | 03.14.2011 | 9:38 am

    If you’ll notice, he is standing in the ocean with a big grin on his face, so I’d say it’s safe to assume he made the trip successfully. Great story. Well written. I really wish I had done something like that when I was younger.

  24. Comment by Moishe | 03.14.2011 | 10:01 am

    Mark J.: Bingo :) That picture was taken in Newport Beach, CA on Christmas Eve, 1989.

  25. Comment by mike c | 03.14.2011 | 10:18 am

    Great way to start the week!

  26. Comment by Ali | 03.14.2011 | 10:46 am

    wow, so glad that ended well, with such a build up I kept expecting it to end with a tragedy – I was actually reading slowly for fear of the end – apparently I watch too many movies ;)

  27. Comment by Adventure Monkey | 03.14.2011 | 11:30 am

    Amazing, inspiring and well written! I think I had a tear in my eye at the end, but it was probably the recycled air in the cube.

  28. Comment by Tim Joe Comstock | 03.14.2011 | 11:46 am

    Really well done. The photo was just right, too. Makes my submission look like I was drinking when I wrote it. Well, actually, I was…Good job, Moishe!

  29. Comment by Jeny | 03.14.2011 | 12:24 pm

    From one former fat kid to another, awesome story. Love to see how cycling (or whatever your sport of choice) builds confidence and all that other good stuff.

  30. Comment by maryb | 03.14.2011 | 12:30 pm

    loved the post, but I was thinking you were building up to a horrible bike accident! I kept picturing Meg Ryan in City of Angels where she is riding home from the market after buying Nicholas Cage those dumb pears and she is riding just as you described and so happy and then splat! she runs right into a logging truck.
    Glad your story turned out happier!

  31. Comment by Scott M | 03.14.2011 | 12:53 pm

    I was waiting for the splatt too. Glad it didn’t come.

    Great story. Thanks

  32. Comment by JB | 03.14.2011 | 1:19 pm

    Coming of age on a bike. Good story. Pretty good smile standing there in the Pacific ocean!

    Not sure I have the skills with the written word to describe my proudest moment on a bike.

    Look forward to the rest of the week!

  33. Comment by Microchip | 03.14.2011 | 1:42 pm

    Great post! A fine Monday read! :-)

  34. Comment by Cyclin' Missy | 03.14.2011 | 2:05 pm

    So cool.

  35. Comment by Richard | 03.14.2011 | 2:15 pm

    I love it…..more please

  36. Comment by Chris | 03.14.2011 | 2:50 pm

    Heck ya, awesome story! Happy Monday indeed.

  37. Comment by Fat Cathy | 03.14.2011 | 3:44 pm

    Great story! But I was waiting for that ‘City of Angels’ moment too. Whew!

  38. Comment by Kim | 03.14.2011 | 4:33 pm

    Thanks Moishe, I think I’ll go ride my bike now!

  39. Comment by thule | 03.14.2011 | 7:18 pm

    isn’t it remarkable how a stray question can create destiny. my history is very similar, except that I was/is a bluestocking. my nose was always in a book and I avoid Phy Ed class with a passion. hated doing anything outside or physical. the age of 42 found me sitting at the lunch table, entertaining my coworkers with tales of the teams at RAGBRAI (the Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa). someone turned and asked “why don’t you do it”. I had no response. except to start training for the next RAGBRAI (stationary bike every morning before work all winter). I have yet to complete an entire RAGBRAI, but last year I did log 4052 miles on the Trek. since 2004 I have logged over 16,500. it keeps me fit and sane. all thanx to a stray question. thank you for sharing your wonderful, familiar story, Moishe!

  40. Comment by roan | 03.14.2011 | 8:46 pm

    Great story, Moishe. I’ll need to check out your website for more. I remember my century before I knew it was called a century. A friend & I drew a circle on the state map, circle went through a town named Prospect, thus theme “Prospect or Bust” 50 miles out then return the next day.Year 1962,7th grade, Schwinn coaster with camping gear onboard, sunburn. Seems like last year and they weren’t even “Breaking Away” yet.

  41. Comment by davidh-marin,ca | 03.14.2011 | 11:24 pm

    So after this week of excellent stories what will Fatty think of next? Here’s an idea: A Fatty campfire at some event. Fatty, Dug, Moishe, and the others to come telling a bike story, washing down a beer soaked brat, and enjoying what is truly an impressive TEAM of people. Now, where will this happen?

    Thank you Moishe for the story, will we see you in Davis?

  42. Comment by Dan | 03.15.2011 | 10:00 am

    Loved it!

  43. Comment by kentucky joe | 03.15.2011 | 4:16 pm

    very cool story, thanks

  44. Comment by Kathleen@ForgingAhead | 03.15.2011 | 10:00 pm

    Lovely story Moishe! And well told. Thanks for sharing.

  45. Comment by Brian | 03.16.2011 | 6:22 pm

    Hey Fatty,

    Think you convince Moishe to write Part II: The Trip Chronicles?

    Hey Moishe,
    Think you can convince Fatty to publish it he’s successful?


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