By OnMilwaukee Staff Writers   Published Jan 08, 2011 at 5:30 AM

You aren't likely to hear Graham Anderson complain about the width of bike lanes or an occasional pothole here in Milwaukee.

Anderson--a 25-year-old Milwaukee bartender and UWM alum-- biked across the country in 2008 from Jacksonville, Fla. to San Francisco with Bike and Build, an affordable housing advocacy group.

Along the way he encountered painful obstacles like seemingly endless western mountain ranges, biblical thunderstorms, and punishing tailwinds. A relative newcomer to cycling at the time, Anderson covered roughly 3,000 miles in 66 days that summer; stopping along the way to help build houses for those in need.

Anderson talked with about what it's like to pedal across America. How did your decision to cycle across the country come about and what went into planning it?

Graham Anderson: The ride came about when I was introduced to the organization by someone that I went to school with at UWM. I was just beginning to become interested in cycling, and I'm the type that likes to go whole hog when I get into something The route had been ridden before, but it changed logistically every year, so there were definitely some obstacles in planning for 30 people. It was probably a 6 to 8 month process done by the group leaders, and there was a lot of interaction with the organization directors at the headquarters in Philadelphia.

OMC: What kind of set up did you have and what did you pack as far as food and gear went?

GA: I had the luxury of riding on a Specialized Allez racing model instead of a heavier touring bike. It was part of our fundraising, and donated by Zane's in New Haven, Conn. We also had a sag wagon to carry all of our heavy gear, so we only carried a couple of tubes, a patch kit, multi tool, air pump, Clif Bars, rain gear, and 5 liters of water in a CamelBak. That a little different than people who travel without a van, pretty minimalist. Whenever we arrived in a town, if we had somewhere to stay, we would usually have meals prepared for us by churches or Habitat for Humanity chapters. If not, we would eat as cheaply as possible in town and if that wasn't an option, it was cold beans or PB&J. Lunch was always PB&J.

OMC: Where would you sleep and what was that like?

GA: Again, we kind of had it good sometimes and would sleep in churches or high school gymnasiums if it could be arranged. If that wasn't available we would sleep in tents. In the southeast it was usually pretty hot through the night, and in the southwest it would get into the mid 40's, so there was a good amount of fluctuation in temperature as we made our way west and found ourselves sleeping outdoors.

OMC: What was the ride like physically?

GA: The first few weeks were the hardest, but I was surprised at how quickly my legs responded. We were averaging around 85 miles a day with some really long ones here and there topping 115 miles. So some days were harder than others but I learned to push my body and ignore the pain. I don't know if I mentioned how well I slept yet.

OMC: What was the toughest moment?

GA: Oh man, it would have to be while we were in Nevada biking across route 50. I don't think that I had showered in about four days. Nevada is extremely hot in August and there seems to be a constant head-wind. You climb up 3 to 4 small mountain ranges a day, all about two to three-thousand-feet then fight the headwind across the valley floor in between them.

Well, I could see a large range in the distance and knew what the score was, but it wasn't anything that I hadn't done before and I was pretty road worn at that point. We climbed up the first 4,000 feet and saw the small green sign at the crest, you know, the one with the elevation and summit name. Well the last 100 or so feet were brutal, and when we got to the top our expected relief of an easy descent was replaced by the sight of another 3,000 or so vertical feet of switchbacks. One of the girls we were riding with broke down in tears. I was not very happy that day.

OMC: What was the best moment?

GA: Too hard to choose from. The road is a spectacular place, and one filled with it's own unique and defining experiences. I met so many amazing people during my journey, and was privileged to ride alongside some very inspiring people. I would say that it was not one specific moment that made this trip as great as it was, but the experience as a whole that has left such an impression on me.

OMC: What was your favorite day of the ride?

GA: Another tough one, but it would have to be the last day. We were ready to head into San Fran from Point Reyes, and like usual the area was socked in with fog. We rode Highway 1 south to Sausalito, which is a collection of hair pin turns and stunning vistas of the Pacific Ocean. Then we regrouped at the west end of the Golden Gate to cross as a group. When we came out of the fog halfway across that bridge, and saw San Francisco shining in the bay below, the struggles and tribulations that I had overcome in the last two months became immediately worth the effort.

OMC: What was the most beautiful thing you saw?

GA: I saw the north rim of the Grand Canyon for the first time, talk about a sight that takes your breath away. I was standing out at Bright Angel Point, this kind of observation platform that was built along the canyon wall, and this French woman was standing next to me watching the sunset over the landscape and weeping. It was one of those sights that you can see over and over again and still be awestruck.

OMC: Did you lose a lot of weight? What kind of physical toll did it take on you?

GA: I really didn't loose that much weight, but I guess it depends on what you eat. The physical toll is really not as bad as you would think it would be. Like I said before, you would be amazed at how quickly your body responds to the constant cycling, except for saddle sores which are kind of an accepted hazard and completely preventable. As long as you are resting and keeping your body fueled getting up every morning and climbing into the saddle just becomes a part of your routine.

OMC: What was the worst weather you encountered?

GA: We had taken a detour north out of Texas in into Oklahoma somewhere around Altus. It had something to do with a guy who offered us all free McDonald's, but that's a different story. Regardless, we were making our way back south when we rode through something out of the perfect storm. You know, the kind of rain that windshield wipers can't handle and people pull over until the storm passes? That kind of rain. We were in the middle of nowhere and there was nothing around so we just rode through it. The ferocity of the thunderstorm and the downpour that it produced was unlike anything else we saw the entire trip.

OMC: Would you ever do it again? Do you have any other long rides planned?

GA: Maybe not with the group that I rode with before, although I recommended them to any college aged kid that is interested in this kind of stuff. I would love to do something like this again though, I read about people riding from Alaska to the tip of Argentina and I get the itch.