By: Michael Lander
Like millions of others in the U.S., Tim Wheat is a cyclist, but what makes him different than most is what has inspired him to ride and what drove him to do multiple cross-country trips on a bicycle.
Wheat, who was originally from Huntsville, Ala., and who has been a long-time Midtown Memphis resident, is the program director for the Memphis Center of Independent Living, (MCIL).
He did his first cross-country trip in 1987.
“That year, my friends and I decided that we would run the Bay-to-Breakers in San Francisco so I planned to get in shape by riding my bike across the country. The ride was great, but it really didn’t help me to run any better.
Three years later, in 1990, Wheat found an entirely different reason, altogether, to make another attempt at a cross-country bicycle ride.
“I was doing student teaching in graduate school, but I did not feel I had enough worldly experience to be a teacher. I convinced myself that cycling across country one summer would make me an adult, expose me to unique experiences, and give me some distance from the students,” Wheat said.
|This photo was taken of Tim Wheat at the Monument Valley|
Park in Arizona. He traveled through the State of Arizona
on his cross-country bike ride from September 5 - 16, 2002.
Wheat readily admits that he did not become an adult like he had planned, but the trip for him was an amazing experience and, through it, he discovered a great way to see the country, travel and meet people, and he knew after doing it that he had to do some more of it.
In 2002, Wheat came up with an idea to ride a bike around the U.S. for a third time after he finished research for a fair housing complaint in Memphis that lawyers said would take years of litigation before it was settled.
By that time, Wheat had moved from Boulder, Colo. and had begun working for the Memphis Center for Independent Living and he came up with the idea to ride around the U.S. and visit Centers for Independent Living and report back his findings.
Wheat had learned over the years that most Americans don’t know a lot about the 300 Centers for Independent Living throughout the U.S., nor do they know about what they do.
|This picture of Tim Wheat was taken of him next to the Rio Grande|
as he rode through the State of Texas from April 17 - 26, 2002.
He also knew that there was little to no cooperation and marketing between these centers and so he was determined to set out and see what he could do to change all that by visiting as many of these as he could and he figured that, since he had plenty of time on his hands, he could also do this on a cross-country bike ride.
“This ended up being a great adventure for me, personally, but it was not the national celebration of Centers for Independent Living (CILs) that I was hoping for. Most CILs have a very hard time explaining what they do and, honestly, I did not add much to the public’s awareness of them,” Wheat said.
In spite of this, Wheat was happy about at least having made the effort and the bike riding aspect of the trip was something that he said he will forever cherish.
Whenever he reflects on his three cross-country bike trips, Wheat feels that he has come away with some wonderful memories of the people and places that he came across along the way and how much better that the overall experience was for him on a bike.
|Tim Wheat stopped to get a picture next to a sign for the|
Loveland Pass, which is located at the Continental Divide
in Colorado. He rode his bike through there from July
29 - August 12, 2002.
“On my cross-country trips, I have always ridden solo and self-contained and I was that I could ride my bike across the country. I love to travel and it allows me to see the countryside, to really experience the weather, the hills, and the wind. I also love it because whenever someone will talk about their travels in this country, I have a related story about the area from my bicycle seat,” Wheat said.
Some of the most memorable and profound experiences for Wheat on his 2002 cross-country journey included the Blue Ridge Parkway and Skyline Drive up from Asheville, N.C. to Virginia. The C & O Towpath from Washington, D.C. to Cumberland, M.D. was another.
“The C & O Towpath canal must have been a horribly ugly industrial highway 70 years ago when the park service took it over, but they have reversed the trend and recovered much of the natural beauty along the Potomac,” Wheat said.
In addition to that, Wheat was equally entranced with what he found in Utah and Colorado and Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks.
|Tim Wheat posed with Paisano Pete at Fort Stockton,|
Texas. He had ridden through the State of Texas on his
cross-country bike ride from April 17 - 26, 2002.
“The parks and desert in Utah are a perfect experience by bicycle,” Wheat said.
“On a bike the uniqueness of the country is unreal. I especially enjoyed the huge space that seemed to dwarf any problems or issues that I had. My curiosity would build about the different landscape that I would see next and where I would stay and who I might meet next,” Wheat added.
Wheat’s passion for the outdoors and exploration of it on a bike is something that almost matches that of his desire to help others.
“I really wanted to do something unique and I was looking for something in civil rights when a counselor suggested disability rights,” Wheat said.
“I applied for and ended up getting a job at the Memphis Center for Independent Living and I immediately got hooked on the struggle for equal rights. I was even part of an activist group and was arrested for non-violent civil disobedience in Atlanta,” he added.
|Tim Wheat stood atop the roadside marker when he made it|
to Texas. He was in the Lone Star State from April 17 - 26,
It was years later, in 2002, while waiting for the litigation to work its way through the court system, (that arose from a grant that he had worked on for promoting fair housing for people with disabilities), that Wheat was able to take his bike ride around the country on behalf of those in Independent Living Centers throughout the U.S.
“I was able to do my bike ride for the Memphis Center of Independent Living after its executive director at that time, Deborah Cunningham, gave me a stipend to report back about what I saw at other Independent Living Centers around the country. She bought me a laptop and I took off on an adventure that was called, ‘Independent Living Across the U.S.,’” Wheat said.
Wheat started at the Center for People with Disabilities as an Independent Living Instructor and he is most proud of his work in giving people the chance to live in the community and help people with significant disabilities to move out of expensive institutions and nursing homes and to live in their own home.
These days, after his last cross-country excursion on a bike, Wheat mostly rides a bike for commuting purposes. He currently has a Trek 460 road bike, a Specialized Sirrus Cross, a Univega mountain bike, and a Cruiser.
“I mostly commute and I am happy to live where cycling to work is easy. I also love to put my camera in my panniers and ride aimlessly around midtown,” Wheat said.
Wheat finds his bike rides in Memphis though, to be considerably different than what he experienced while living in Boulder.
“On my three mile ride to work in Boulder, I used a bike path, six bike underpasses, and an overpass where there was no competition with autos,” Wheat said.
“I find Memphis to be more slowing-going because of the residential riding that I must do. I am always making my decisions on the path to take by the traffic that I expect to encounter. Of course, I am riding around midtown, too, to view the people, buildings, and neighborhoods,” he added.
|Tim Wheat got a picture of himself leaning against the|
roadside marker for New Mexico. He rode his bike
through that state from April 8 - 17, 2002.
Even though Wheat may no longer be doing any more cross-country bike rides, he still rides his bike to work at the Memphis Independent Living Center and he is continuing to combine his desire to help others with his love of cycling by commuting to his job on a bike.
To learn more about Tim Wheat, his bike rides, and his life’s work for those with disabilities, you can visit his website: http://www.timwheat.com.