Englishmen cross America on bicycles for cancer charities

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Englishmen Chris Watson, left, and David Knight refreshed themselves last summer at the Crooked Rail Pub before continuing their 2,300-mile bicycle trek across the Continental United States.

As the thunder of the Josh Davis Poker Riders rolled out of town about midday Monday on their pilgrimage to the Freedom Rock, a brace of British bicyclists passed through Perry on a pilgrimage of their own.

Chris Watson and Dave Knight marked one month on the road with a pint at the pub, a rare respite in their 2,300-mile bicycle ride across the continental U.S.

“People warned us,” Watson said. “They said we’d be gored by bison, trampled by elk, eaten by wolves.”

“And the grizzly bears were certain to devour us,” Knight added. “But none of that has happened. We have been rained on and sleeted on, however, and snowed on in the Rocky Mountain passes of Montana.”

The Englishmen are middle aged and in the prime of life, and their cardiovascular systems must be first rate for a journey so strenuous.

“We’re averaging about 70 miles a day,” Watson said, “and have only taken one day off. That was in West Yellowstone, where the weather was just too dreadful.”

Neither is a Londoner. Knight lives in Canterbury and Watson in Salisbury. They spent their April in England, where “the lowest boughs and the brushwood sheaf / Round the elm-tree bole are in tiny leaf, / While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough,” arriving April 30 at SeaTac, the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, where they began their transcontinental trek.

Theirs is not a mere pleasure cruise. As earnest Englishmen are wont to do, they are riding for a cause. Knight rides for Pancreatic Cancer UK which, according to the organization’s website, “is fighting to make a difference. We’re taking on pancreatic cancer together: by supporting those affected by the disease, investing in research, lobbying for greater recognition of pancreatic cancer and being there for everyone involved in the fight.”

Watson rides for Maggie’s Centres, a charity addressing the psychological and social fallout faced by cancer victims and their loved ones. “Maggie’s provides free practical, emotional and social support to people with cancer and their family and friends, following the ideas about cancer care originally laid out by Maggie Keswick Jencks,” according the the group’s website.

As a noontime pint suggests, however, they are not the dour characters of cliche. Chris and Dave have their own Facebook page, Chris and Dave’s Epic USA Cycle Challenge, which gives a lighthearted view of their travels. Their presence in Perry naturally drew attention to themselves.

“Are you married?” asked an inquisitive local, with rather more familiarity than is warranted by the British reputation for reserve. It is the kind of question that sometimes gets a “Damn cheek!” muttered sotto voce.

Dave, left, and Chris brought the roots of rural grimness to light when they stopped at the American Gothic House in Eldon, Iowa.
Dave, left, and Chris brought the roots of rural American grimness to light when they stopped at the American Gothic House in Eldon, Iowa.

“Yes, we are,” said Chris, hesitating momentarily before adding, “but not to each other.”

An awkward, Perry-bred silence ensued, finally broken by the raucous laughter of the bartendress as she communed with her cellular telephone.

“Now Canterbury and Salisbury are both cathedral towns, if I recall correctly,” said another local, moving the conversation to ground only slightly riskier than the weather.

“Indeed they are,” said Watson, “and home to the two finest cathedrals in the British Isles.”

Like the hero in Dante, Watson and Knight were midway through their journey when they found themselves in Perry. Refreshed with a nice bit of beef and ale at the Crooked Rail, the Ukanians remounted their two-wheelers and set off eastward. They mean to make an end in Washington D.C., perhaps in time for Independence Day celebrations.

No one thought to ask their opinion about Brexit.

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Chris Watson, left, and David Knight prepare to remount and resume their transcontinental bike ride, seemingly grateful for their encounter with a bit of local color in Perry, Iowa.
Chris Watson, left, and David Knight prepare to remount and resume their transcontinental bike ride, seemingly grateful for their brief encounter with a bit of local color in Perry, Iowa.

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