At only 18, Ashley Laws has completed the journey of a lifetime.
Last Thursday, the spirited and ambitious North Carolinian with an infectious smile ventured 3,542.9 miles across the United States from the Pacific Northwest to her final destination in Westmoreland County.
And she did it all by bicycle.
Not only did Ashley fulfill a lifelong dream with help from her family and friends-she also helped raise awareness for a charitable cause.
On July 25, Ashley finished her “A to Z Across America” bicycle tour that began on Memorial Day in Astoria, Oregon and ended in Zacata.
To ride across the country was a dream Ashley has had ever since she was a little girl. In fourth grade, she rode across her home state in her first Cycle North Carolina event.
In her blog, Ashley added that by cycling across America, she aimed to encourage healthy choices and motivate others to get in shape, as well as raise money for the American Heart Association (AHA).
Talks of the cross-country ride had been ongoing for a few years before Ashley, with hopes of becoming a trauma surgeon, decided that the summer before her final year at Caldwell Early College High School was the time to make that ride a reality.
“My life’s going to be a little crazy with schooling for the next 13-some years and this was the summer to do it,” Ashley said as she enjoyed lunch with her father, Rick Laws, and their friend, Rick Lott, of Johnson City, TN, at Angelo’s Restaurant in Montross after they had reached Zacata.
Throughout nearly two months of pedaling across the nation, Ashley fell in love with the quaint town of Walla Walla in Washington, climbed the Lolo Pass in Idaho, reveled in Montana’s scenery and spotted the one animal she had her heart set on seeing.
“We did get to see a moose!” she shared excitedly. “That was the highlight of my day…it was right outside Yellowstone, and we got to see my moose!”
Her father, Rick, described one of the more intriguing individuals they had come across while he rode with her a part of the way.
“You knew you weren’t at home when you saw a cowboy wearing spurs at the convenience store,” he said. “We asked if he minded if we took his picture, and he said, ‘As long as you’re not Russian espionage.’”
Rick added he was very friendly and shared that he was a horse whisperer, which, Ashley noted, was her “favorite thing in the whole world.”
But Ashley admitted to enduring her share of challenges along the way.
Ashley recalled one rainy occasion where she ended up covered in mud from head to toe.
“I looked like a monster from the Black Lagoon,” Ashley said with a laugh.
Her “favorite” part of the trip, as Lott playfully teased her, was biking through tunnels.
“I did not like going through tunnels,” Ashley said, pointing out one day where she came upon them unexpectedly- and alone- on West Virginia’s North Bend Trail.
“I did actually have a light, but it was so weak that it was really useless,” she described. “I had to go through tunnels that were 1,400 feet long, and you couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel because it curved and it was just creepy.”
Mist was actually coming out of the fog, Ashley said, but she kept on “because there was no other way.”
One of the tunnels she had passed through- Tunnel 19- was even deemed to be haunted, Lott said.
“The railroad engineers [who passed through the tunnel] used to see a lady with a flowing white robe,” he added. “Usually, when they’d see her, they’d stop the train, get out and look and nobody would be there.”
Ashley contributed: “The one time they kept going, the people from the houses beside the track were calling in, saying, ‘There’s something lying on the front of the train!
“I’m glad I did not know that story before I went through that tunnel!” Ashley added.
In reaching Zacata, Rick praised the Jones brothers of F E Jones and Sons Grain, for their hospitality.
“They actually gave us a watermelon and some fresh fruit,” Rick said. “They let us walk into the post office even though it was closed.”
Although Ashley rode the entire span on her own, several persons joined her on various segments throughout the trip.
Rick rode with his daughter for the first three weeks, with Richard Sanders, Eddie Winkler, Karen Kaufman and David Wray also riding with Ashley for stretches. Everyone who rode with her except for Kaufman were part of the National Ski Patrol- an organization that Rick said was “extended family” with a focus on helping other people as well as each other.
Wray, Ashley’s godfather, was instrumental in helping plan her trip, including fixing her bike route.
Wray and Ashley’s sister, Megan, as well as her mother Karen during one segment of the trip, served as her “sag crew” by riding along in their 24-foot Winnebago RV, setting up camp and cooking dinner for Ashley and other riders during the whole trip.
Ashley has a goal of raising a minimum of $12,000 through donations. She and Rick said that $8,000 will cover the cost of the trip, with the remaining $4,000 going to AHA. To make a donation, go to http://www.gofundme.com/28nnvs.
In reflecting on her completed adventure, Ashley said: “If you have the idea, go for it. It’s a trip of a lifetime. Dream, believe and achieve.”
For more information about Ashley’s cross-country cycling trip and other places she had traversed, visit http://atozacrossamerica.webs.com or read her blog at http://atozacrossamericabybicycle.blog.com. Pictures of the trip can be seen on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/AZAcrossAmericaByBicycle.