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Myrna Rafalovich, right, original member of the Sprocket Rockets team that cycled across the country in 1976, pedals through Missoula, Mont., July 15, part of a celebration of cycling. Photo courtesy MYRNA RAFALOVICH

Merlin cyclist completes epic 1,000-mile journey

After cycling 1,000 miles over three weeks from the Pacific Ocean to Missoula, Mont., one of Myrna Rafalovich's first thoughts was, "I may never camp again."

The 69-year-old retiree from Merlin completed the epic journey to commemorate the 40th anniversary of an even more epic cross-country bicycle ride in 1976, the nation's bicentennial.

She was front and center on that ride, part of the Sprocket Rocket team that is featured in the recently published "America's Bicycle Route: The Story of the TransAmerica Bicycle Trail."

Rafalovich stood out among 16,000 bicyclists in Missoula for the mid-July Montana Bike Celebration, partly because she's in the book and partly because she appeared in the Missoulian newspaper, holding the book to a page with her photo from 1976.

"Still spinning after all these years," was the headline in the paper.

"I'm quite famous in that community," said Rafalovich, now home recuperating. "People were flocking to meet me, to sign their New Adventure Cycling books.

"It was amusing to have all these people, young and old, coming up to me (and saying) 'Oh, are you really Myrna?' " she said.

Rafalovich was joined on the ride to Missoula by Chris Wiscavage, Brian Blair and Takashi Komatsu — three of the original Sprocket Rockets.

On the reunion ride, Rafalovich said her pedal-assisting e-bike — with a battery to aid in propulsion — made the journey possible. She typically had to find someone with an RV hookup spot in the campground to charge it at night.

"The bike was a big part of it," she said. "These guys are all high-speed riders, cruising along at 19-20 mph. I couldn't have kept up that pace without it."

Riding over the four-mile long Astoria-Megler Bridge to start the trip may have been as harrowing as any other stretch.

"It's long, it's busy and it doesn't have much of a shoulder," she said.

After a glorious stretch of 30-mph tailwinds in the Columbia Gorge, more hardship popped up, including four days of rain beginning in Lewiston, Idaho. Some friends in Lewiston rescued her from that rainy camp.

Heading into Winchester, Idaho, Komatsu became hypothermic in the bitter cold. Rafalovich was able to drive in a vehicle that day, and in Winchester she had to seek shelter for the group. Finally, a waitress at Calamity's Restaurant hooked them up with a key to the community center, a quonset-hut style gym built 61 years ago.

For 100 miles along the Clearwater and Lochsa rivers, riders had no cellphone coverage, which previously kept them in touch.

They crossed the Continental Divide at Lolo Pass and stopped at Lolo Hot Springs before descending into Missoula.

Rafalovich's son, Howard Stevens, and his family joined her, while husband, Bob, was home, busy guiding on the Rogue River.

All told, she's in good condition considering her age and the mileage.

"I had apprehension about being able to do it. I had a lot of people trying to discourage me," she said. "But when I was riding along, I realized, you can't limit yourself by other people's limitations."

Reach reporter Jeff Duewel at 541-474-3720 or jduewel@thedailycourier.com

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