'Challenges make the memories': York County man finishes cross-country bike trip

Tina Locurto
York Dispatch

In Delaware, Bill Swartz heard a symphony of bull frogs croaking throughout the night.

In Arkansas, he joined a 75-year-old Navy veteran on a fishing trip.

In New Mexico, the Spring Garden Township resident got caught up in a surprise hail storm — but that didn't stop him from reaching the Pacific Ocean and ending his nine-month trek across the United States. 

His bike trip wasn't just for the sights, however. Swartz biked 3,800 miles through 16 states to raise money for Bell Socialization, a homeless shelter in York City. By the time he saw the blue waves of California's coast, he raised $21,135.

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“It's been fascinating to cross the country at 10 miles per hour,” he said. “When I could just smell the salt air and finally saw the Pacific, I just couldn’t believe it."

Swartz, who worked at Bell Socialization as a case worker in his 20s, said he wanted to embark on this journey not only to raise money for the nonprofit but to bring attention to the issue of homelessness in York County. 

Donning a bright neon safety vest with "coast to coast bike ride," Swartz piqued the interest of strangers along his journey — many of whom were moved by his trek and donated to his cause. 

After biking 3,800 through 16 states to raise money for Bell Socialization, Spring Garden Twp. resident Bill Swartz reached the Pacific Ocean on Monday, July 19, 2021. Credit: Bill Swartz

He struck up countless conversations with motel clerks, gas station attendants and residents of small towns.

Every person he encountered was nothing but kind toward Swartz, he said. Some even offered a room with a warm bed for the night — a departure from the sleeping bag and tent he would typically set up each night.

He described the phenomenon as "trail magic" — never knowing what you'll encounter on your journey on the open road.

“You’re all alone out there and you feel vulnerable. But the next thing you know someone is inviting you over for a barbecue or offering for you to stay in their garage," Swartz said. “It has totally restored my faith in America — everybody was so kind."

Bill Swartz in Birmingham, Alabama. Credit: Bill Swartz

While the people Swartz encountered made his journey a positive experience, the physical elements, wildlife and dangers were another story.

He was most nervous biking through Texas — notorious for charging wild hogs, jumping tarantulas and spitting toads.

Swartz only saw one rattlesnake during that leg of the trip, however.

“The trip was challenging, but sometimes the surprise challenges become some of the most memorable," he said. 

Bill Swartz sets up camp for the night. He departed for his journey back in October with only his bicycle, camping gear, freeze-dried food, a sleeping bag, water and clothing. Credit: Bill Swartz

Swartz started his journey back in October with only his bicycle, camping gear, freeze-dried food, a sleeping bag, water and clothing. He rode at a pace of 30 to 40 miles each day and usually stayed in one location for several days to rest, he said. 

He will return by plane to York County this week. His GoFundMe for Bell Socialization is still active at https://gofund.me/2b62f557.

"It's kind of fun to go out there and face the elements," Swartz said. “The challenges make the memories."

— Reach Tina Locurto at tlocurto@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @tina_locurto.