Teacher bikes coast-to-coast with students along

Virtual support helps sustain man through 44-day trek

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CAMAS — David Blair endured the heartland’s oppressive heat, all the potholes and cracked roads his tires could handle and plenty of aches and pains while biking across America this summer — all in an ill-fated attempt to attend his 30th high school reunion in Ohio.

In seeking to reconnect with his youth, the Skyridge Middle School fitness teacher stumbled upon a way to connect with his students via the social networking site Facebook. Blair posted a nightly question, often related to geography or history, on his “Big Reunion Ride 2011” page that included them in his journey.

Blair, 48, finished his 44-day, 2,581-mile ride Aug. 5 in Washington, D.C. He noted that the Facebook idea, which started almost as an afterthought, played an integral role in his ability to finish the grueling, rewarding trek across 14 states.

“I was really proud of the accomplishment,” Blair said of his ride, which started June 23 in Everett. “There were a number of times I was tempted to stop, especially in the Midwest. Had I not had the Facebook setup with the kids following along, I may have called it quits.”

Blair considered quitting after learning his high school reunion in Tallmadge, Ohio, was happening in October, not August as he first thought. The reunion had provided the chief inspiration behind the cross-country bike ride. He did eventually meet up with high school friends for pizza, however.

Another major driving force was his desire to bike across America once more before he turned 50.

Blair biked across the country multiple times in the 1990s. He even offered a guided tour in the latter part of the decade.

Back then, Facebook was not yet a glimmer in founder Mark Zuckerberg’s eye. Blair had not yet moved to Washington, either.

Today, Facebook is used by millions across America and the world, and Blair is set to start his fifth season at Skyridge on Tuesday.

Students included

Blair hoped 100 students would follow his progress this summer. As of Friday, he had 332 “likes” on his page, http://facebook.com/BigReunionRide.

In addition to his nightly Facebook question, Blair stayed connected with students by wearing a T-shirt signed by 120 of them on his first and last day on the road.

“It was cool that he included us in his ride,” said eighth-grader Megan Lieser, 13, a former student of Blair’s. “We got to follow along with him, and we learned a lot of new things.”

Lieser won small prizes, including Mt. Vernon T-shirts and a pair of sunglasses, for answering the most questions correctly.

Lieser’s classmate Lindsey Latimer said Blair’s adventure inspired her to bike more this summer.

“You get to see the whole journey and the real components of how hard his journey really is,” Latimer, 13, said, explaining what she found fascinating about Blair’s Facebook accounts.

Blair described enduring the Midwest’s heat as the hardest part of his trip. He tailored his rides to start at daybreak to avoid the worst of the midday and afternoon heat. But he still found the heat challenging at times.

He mapped out the trip months in advance. Among his toughest decisions was whether to stick with his lightweight 1996 Trek OCLV bike or buy a new one. He opted to go with his 15-year-old forest-green bike.

Unlike previous trips, Blair stayed in hotels each night rather than camping. He occasionally had others riding with him, which he said gave him a boost. For instance, fellow Skyridge Middle School teacher Rick Houston rode with him through Washington state.

“He practices what he preaches,” said Houston, noting that Blair’s devotion to fitness makes him an ideal children’s fitness teacher. Blair is Houston’s assistant in coaching the girls’ cross-country team.

Blair has dreams of one day leading students in a ride across Washington, potentially as early as next summer. He also hopes to teach them important bike-related knowledge, including how to change a flat tire. He had five flat tires — all on the back wheel — during this cross-country ride.

Asked if he planned another nationwide ride anytime soon, Blair tapped the brakes.

“I’m relieved I got it done, but I wouldn’t want to do it again anytime soon,” Blair said.

Ray Legendre: 360-735-4517; http://facebook.com/raylegend; http://twitter.com/col_smallcities; ray.legendre@columbian.com