FORMER teacher Frank Towers is wary of “traffic, vagabonds and wild animals.” And not necessarily in that order if a picnic pouncing “Yogi” bear suddenly takes a shine to his lunch box in Yellowstone Park...
Yet today Frank is in New York for the start of an epic bikeathon across America to raise funds for a new £700,000 sports centre at Bush Lane, Freckleton, to replace the existing rundown Rawstorne facility.
Frank, who lives in Freckleton, taught for 27 years at Lytham High School in the PE department, 23 of them as head of department, until accepting redundancy two years ago.
It marked a change of pace for the free wheeling sportsman – and the start of a new challenge. He explains: “I am fairly fit for my age, 56, and decided that I would take on a big project before hitting 60.”
Back in the 70s he played what passes for football there. Frank, then playing for Morecambe and Southport, decided to “give it a go” for four summers. “I did OK, I played four seasons in the American Soccer League.”
But what inspired his mid-life challenge was driving coast to coast on his American travels.
“It was a great drive and I often wondered what it would be like to cycle. So two years ago I set my mind on taking on the task this summer with no World Cup or Euro Champs to watch, and the Olympics falling next year, not this.”
So as other Brits returned to work yesterday after the Easter break, and prepared for a royal wedding, and an election, Frank took off to New York for the start of his sponsored 4,000-mile cycle marathon, wholly self-funded at a cost of £10,000. Frank reckons the first leg, 464 miles, will take seven hours (66 miles an hour?), but will be broken down to more manageable chunks of 40 miles a day for 100 days. It will take him from New York City, through Syracuse and Buffalo, up to Hamilton, Ontario, where he plans to rest up with relatives for a few days, before the, er, serious cycling starts...
“I head off to Chicago (480 miles), through to the mid West of Iowa (531 miles), then from Sioux City, Nebraska, through South Dakota to Casper Wyoming-West, onto Yellowstone, Idaho, total distance 948 miles for that stage, the fourth, alone.”
The sixth and final stage takes him from Idaho Falls, West Yellowstone, through Nevada, passing historic towns such as Carson City, to San Francisco, California – a further 936 miles. I hope to finish at the Golden Gate Bridge at the end of July.”
Frank’s wife and two daughters will meet and greet him and for a family holiday to recuperate. Frank also has relatives in California.
“Two people are cycling some of the route with me and various others are supporting me in cars,” he adds.
But he owns up to feeling nervous at going it alone for three weeks.
“I have been warned about what cyclists call the Four H’s ... heat, headwinds, height and humidity. I am also wary of traffic, vagabonds and wild animals, and am likely to encounter all three en route.”
In spite of such hazards, Frank’s motivation remains high. “Being involved in sport all my life has led me to be the chairman of the Rawstorne Sports Centre in Freckleton and I have held the position for five years or so. I am increasingly frustrated at the lack of provision for sport in the village, for people of all ages, and have looked at the idea of putting a bid together which may attract lottery and other funding.
“I am looking to attract sponsorship in undertaking the bike ride, which I believe will work well with any match-funding bid from the various Govenment-backed schemes. It would be great if I could get the half million or so pounds from donations.
“The exercise is as much to highlight the need to bring our facilities into the 21st century. A supporting committee has been a great help in generating interest in what’s become known as the Frecklestorne Project. Every house in the village was posted a flyer. Now we have a website at www.frecklestorneproject.org.uk where pledges can be made.
“The pressure is on though, it’s 4,000 miles, some of it in 100 plus degrees of heat, and the furthest I’ve cycled until recently was from here to Dunsop Bridge, about 34 miles, which is fairly hard going, but nothing like reaching Golden Gate Bridge!”
l Follow Frank’s progress via franktowers on Twitter.