On more than one occasion leading up to their family’s big cross-country trip next week, Fernando Barrios and his wife, Sarah O’Grady, have said to each other — and in some cases, to themselves — “Are we crazy for doing this?”
Riding tandem bikes with two teenagers for 3,500 miles? A chorus of parents just cried out, “Yes, you are!”
But for the Medford couple, any doubts are quickly supplanted by the hope and belief that the epic adventure of pedaling from coast to coast will bring the family closer together, and create lasting memories they’ll look back on fondly for a lifetime.
On Sunday, Barrios, O’Grady, and their two daughters, Isabel, 15, and Anna, 17, will fly to Oregon before hopping on a pair of tandem bicycles and riding all the way home, a roughly two-month journey they’ve been discussing for years.
“I’m just excited to go through these sections that are so different from where we live, and see the change in the country, and just be there together,” said O’Grady. “We’re going to have some tough days — physical days — and kind of getting through that together.”
While the trip may seem incredibly ambitious, the family has completed long distance rides before. They’ve traveled by tandem bike to Cape Cod and during fund-raising events, racking up hundreds of miles on the road together.
And for Barrios, 54, and O’Grady, 51, exploring the world on two wheels is what brought them together 25 years ago. The couple first met in France in 1996 while working for an American bicycle tour guide company, called Backroads.
Shortly after the two became friends, their jobs took them to Spain, where they cycled the Camino de Santiago, a network of ancient pilgrim routes stretching across Europe, for an entire week together. By the end, a spark had ignited.
They later returned to the United States and briefly went their separate ways. Eventually, they reconnected when Barrios was working in Mexico, and biked from Yucatan back to US soil — a trip they credit with officially merging their two paths into one.
“We consider that, jokingly, as our second date,” Barrios said.
Once they settled down and built a life together, bringing their daughters on a long, remarkable journey seemed like the natural next step, one the family started talking about in earnest when the girls were very young.
“We love to bike and we do love to travel,” Barrios said. “We just wanted to share some of that with them.”
“Since they were kids, they would go anywhere,” O’Grady added. “They love to go places and see things.”
On June 1, Barrios, O’Grady, and their daughters will start their journey in Astoria, Ore., where they’ve already shipped their two Co-Motion PeriScope tandem bikes to a local shop to be assembled.
Once they pick them up and strap on all their gear, they will dip their back tires into the Pacific Ocean — a tradition in the bike community on coast-to-coast trips — and set off East.
The family’s itinerary will bring them through Idaho, Wyoming, and the northern part of Colorado. From there, they plan to slip into Nebraska and then Iowa before arriving in Illinois.
The next leg of the trip depends on whether Canada relaxes COVID-19 restrictions for vaccinated visitors from the United States. If they can cross the border, they will ride to Michigan and then north to Ontario, before reentering the United States at Niagara Falls. The home stretch of the trip would take them across New York and back to Massachusetts.
Before they finally arrive in Medford, the family plans to bike to the ocean in Revere or South Boston, this time ceremoniously dipping their front tires into the Atlantic, making it a full coast-to-coast crossing. They will be avoiding busy highways and interstates and sticking to backroads, trails, and paths.
To get ready for the adventure, the family has been going on practice rides from Medford and out to Concord, Lincoln, Sudbury, or Bedford since March, slowly increasing their mileage during each session.
“We have some miles and we know what it feels like to sit on your bike seat for a long time,” Barrios said.
On their trip, they plan to tackle an average of 70 miles each day — taking breaks every so often — with a goal of rolling back into Boston by the beginning of August at the latest.
Along the way, they will stay at campgrounds, hotels, with friends, and at the homes of volunteer hosts from Warm Showers, a group whose members open their doors to cyclists on long treks throughout the country.
The family originally planned the trip for last year, but like everything else it had to be put on hold during the pandemic. But Barrios, O’Grady, and their daughters agreed that the past year stuck at home, in close quarters, probably fortified them for life together on the road.
“It probably did prepare us for being together all the time,” Barrios said.
While Isabel and Anna will be learning about the ins-and-outs of traveling long distances by bike from their parents, they will be teaching the adults a thing or two about maintaining a social media presence on the trip.
Although they will be missing out on a few months of summer vacation with their friends, Isabel and Anna said they’re looking forward to the adventure, especially doing something new and different each day.
“I’m a little nervous just because we haven’t done anything like this, ever, and both my parents have way more experience,” Isabel said. “But I’m just excited to see the country and get this once-in-a-lifetime chance.”
For her part, Anna said she’s also slightly in disbelief that they’re actually going through with it. But her biggest hang-up isn’t the mileage — it’s accepting that they can’t bring a bigger wardrobe.
Although their panniers won’t be stuffed with extra sweatshirts, the sisters said they are loading up their smartphones with entertainment for when they’re alone with their parents — in separate tents — and totally off the grid.
“We are downloading Netflix shows and music,” said Anna, “for when we won’t have any service.”