On the go with Rich: Two-wheel reunion
I first met Jeff Bucher in the summer of 2000 on my cross-country bicycle trip from Seattle to Boston. It was a 4,300-mile adventure that averaged about 80 miles a day in a nine-week span.
Jeff, who was from Arizona at the time, grew up in New York and did the first two weeks of the trip, packed up his bike for five weeks, went to Aruba and then ended the summer by rejoining us for the final two weeks of the challenge. I remember that when he returned for the last two weeks, his bike was still in the same box it was when he shipped it home at the beginning of the trip!
After the trip ended, He and his wife Clare spent the night in Boston with me and we went to a New York Yankees/Boston Red Sox game at Fenway Park.
Jeff is one of those guys that you just like to be around. He has a charismatic personality and always puts a positive spin on things. I’d say he is one of the most interesting guys I’ve ever met.
One of my first memories of Jeff was on the very first day of our 2000 trip – a rather short 50-plus mile trek from Seattle to Skykomish, Washington. Just a few minutes into the day after dipping our back tires in the Pacific Ocean to begin, Jeff hit a slippery railroad crossing and immediately went down. He hit the pavement hard and was ridden over by another cyclist. His helmet protected him from a serious injury, as it was probably in seven different pieces – what a way to start!
I spent a good portion of the trip (when he was there) with him conversing and talking sports.
Fast forward 18 years to the summer of 2018 – Jeff was doing another cross-country trip and one of his stops was in Manitowoc, Wisconsin. We set it up months ahead of time for me to make the 45-minute trip from Green Bay to spend a few hours together. I remember on my own trip in 2000 how nice it was to get visitors, so I wasn’t about to pass up such an opportunity.
Jeff would be the first to tell you that he has a lived a “crazy life.” Shortly after that 2000 summer, he and his wife went on a bicycle trip to New Zealand and fell in love with the country. They had also visited a Subway restaurant while there. Upon returning to the states, he proposed the idea of selling everything he owned and moving to New Zealand, buying a Subway and starting a new life!
He’s not just talk, he’s a man of action. So, after selling his house, cars and other possessions, he moved to Christchurch, New Zealand (on the south island) with Clare and two of his sons (his oldest son had just enrolled in college), bought that Subway and began the “second half of his life” as he stated.
“You can’t believe how liberating it was to do what we did,” said Jeff from a Perkins restaurant in Manitowoc. “The feeling of downsizing and starting a new life was scary, but it has been an amazing experience.”
I won’t go into the details of what Jeff did to that first Subway to make it profitable, but he eventually became so successful, that he had amassed about 10 of the stores. He didn’t like the problems and responsibilities that came along with owning so many, so he sold all of them. He took a chance back then and it paid off. He now is part owner of a Brazilian BBQ restaurant along with his two boys.
“I’m not too sure what’s even going to happen with this restaurant,” Jeff said. “I’m pretty much done with taking risks on things and wanting all that. My boys can decide what they want to do with it.”
As for the biking and cross-country trips, Jeff says this is the last one he will ever take in the United States of this length. He had to take more breaks on this crossing and was actually looking forward to it being done. His 66-year-old body just couldn’t handle the rigors of riding 100 miles a day anymore.
We talked about his life now and how the U.S. is different than New Zealand. I came away from our conversation with some interesting observations.
First of all, Jeff confirmed that food is EVERYWHERE in the states. He said in New Zealand, there’s not a restaurant every place you turn and that gas stations and grocery stores don’t have snacks all over the place. He used our meal at Perkins as an example.
“If I had a Perkins – or a Dairy Queen – in my hometown, I’d eat there every day and be 300 pounds,” Jeff laughed. “I’m having this meal for five dollars here. In New Zealand, it’s expensive to eat out and the portions are a lot smaller.”
He has traveled much of Europe and he said the same thing is true over there.
This is coming from a guy who lived in the U.S. for 50 years and still has one of his sons here. When I asked him if he’d ever considered moving back, he pondered for a second and said “no.” He’s happy in New Zealand, but that’s not a knock against the Stars and Stripes – he just likes that corner of the world. He does want to come to Green Bay someday and go to a Packers game, though.
Another interesting observation came when discussing the riders on the trip. Jeff said that two cyclists from the Netherlands – despite their age – were two of the best riders in the group – why? He said it was because they’ve had years of walking and biking EVERYWHERE in their home country, something that a lot of folks don’t do here (myself included).
“I’m not too sure the two cyclists from the Netherlands really liked cycling here,” said Jeff. “America is a beautiful country, but things are so far apart for biking at times. That’s not the case in Europe. You can bike and see things in a very short period of time. In my 60-mile ride from Fond du Lac to Manitowoc, I saw cornfields. It takes a special person and a dedicated cyclist to do such a trip. The routine is mentally exhausting.”
We did talk about how our states are as big as countries over there. I believe I once read that Wisconsin is the same size as Germany.
It’s definitely not as easy commuting to work via bicycle here. Sometimes people have to travel 60 miles on an Interstate to get to work – it’s just not feasible to do that with a bike.
But unlike those two European cyclists, I liked the open spaces of the United States’ landscape. Yes, there were days it was mentally exhausting to see cornfields and soybeans for five hours, but I loved the challenge, too.
There are things Jeff misses about the U.S. – mainly access to going to sporting events. He loves his New York Yankees and NFL football. Cricket and rugby are not for him, although he appreciates the sports.
Jeff is not quite sure where his future lies, but I’m hoping it doesn’t take another 18 years for us to meet again.