Aside from his love of cycling, lot of things changed for Andy Sninsky in the past 50 years.
Sninsky, a multiple myeloma survivor, passed through Globe last week as he finished up the final leg of his cross-country tour on the 50th anniversary of his first coast-to-coast bicycle trip that he took in 1968 at the age of 19.
Back then, he set out on a bicycle with two rear-mounted bags (panniers) and a blanket for sleeping. Instead of GPS, iPods and online resources such as crazyguyonabike.com and warmshowers.org, Sninsky and his friend Terry Mathews traveled what is now the Southern Tier Bicycle Route using maps from Gulf gas stations, and the only music they heard blared from the radios of passing cars.
Back then, there were not ATMs or other ways to withdraw money from a distance, so they had family members send them cash to general post office boxes in cities like Phoenix or Savannah, Georgia. They also sent letters to mayors of towns along the way to let them know of their adventure to try to arrange places to stay for the night.
While most modern touring cyclists do the trip in three months, Sninsky and Mathews did the 4,500-mile trip in 42 days — about one hundred miles a day — from Compton, California to New York via Florida. “That was long before NWA and ‘Straight Outta Compton,’” Sninsky mused recently at the offices of the Arizona Silver Belt.
“We were 40 years ahead of the times,” Sninsky, now 69, quipped when he stopped by with his riding partner Tom Moinet, aged 70. Back then, Silver Belt staff writer Athia Hardt wrote a story about their adventure, and the chamber of commerce arranged a night’s stay at the El Rancho Motel, free of charge.
According to Sninsky, back in 1967 Mathews went down a list of friends looking for a riding partner. After receiving several emphatic “noes” he finally reached Sninsky’s name.
“He went through all his friends his age and worked down the list, and when he asked I said sure, but I really wanted to see an alligator,” he said. “I thought you had to go to the Everglades to see them, but didn’t realize I’d see them all the way from west Texas to North Carolina.”
Along the way, Sninsky was besieged with flat tires — he had five between the coast and Globe alone — and when they arrived in New York, their bikes were stolen by knife-wielding thugs as they crossed the bridge into the city.
But in 2008, Sninsky’s life took a brutal turn when he was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a form of cancer that attacks the blood and bones of its victims for which there is no cure.
For the next three years, Sninsky was treated with radiation, chemotherapy and even stem cell therapy. When he was finally through the treatments, he was happy to be alive, but never thought he would ride long distances again.
His friend Moinet encouraged him to give it a try, though, so in 2010 the pair decided to retrace the 1968 tour one section at a time.
They began with a leg from Newport Beach, California to Bullhead City, Arizona.
When they came through Globe last week, they were on the way to Duncan for the final leg to El Paso. Moinet has a train to catch there on April 12.
“I missed this section in 1968,” Sninsky said. “[Back then], I was climbing a grade in the dark with no shoulder and no light, of course, when an 18-wheeler clipped me and knocked me into the scrub at the side of the road.”
He recovered from minor injuries and caught a ride to Texas to finish the rest of the trip.
While he likes to talk about bicycle touring, Sninsky is doing it this time to draw attention to multiple myeloma and its survivors.
“March is Multiple Myeloma Action Month, so I’ve tried to time my trips around that,” Sninsky said. “There are monthly support group meetings and there are so many patients.”
The day he came through Globe, Sninsky had just returned from such a meeting in Mesa earlier in the day.
To follow Sninsky’s travels, go to www.crazyguyonabike.com and search for Andy Sninsky.
Globe is located on what is known as the Southern Tier Bicycle Route, created by Adventure Cycling in Missoula, Montana. ACA, originally known as Bikecentennial, created the first official cross-country bike route in 1976 in celebration of the country’s 200th anniversary of its founding.
Anyone interested in hosting a traveling cyclist, can sign up at warmshowers.org.