Enduring extreme heat exhaustion, 30 mile-per-hour winds and a 10,000-foot mountain pass sound like the feats of a grand adventurer in a novel. But for North Bend resident, Kirk Gillock, it was what was needed to send a message.
Gillock recently concluded a 4,233-mile solo cycle tour through 13 U.S. states in the shape of a heart.
His inspiration for the self-funded tour, “Heart for America,” stemmed from seeing the hurt and political division in the U.S. upon his return from Thailand where he was living for almost 15 years leading a charity.
“When I came back from Thailand in [Oct. of 2017], I saw so much hate and division in our country and I wanted to do something about it,” Gillock said. “I wanted to send the message of love, unity and balance.”
Following the lead of many others who cycle for a cause, Gillock decided to do the same. However, instead of cycling a specific distance or cycling from one coast to the other, Gillock wanted to cycle in the shape of a heart.
“I knew that when people heard about what I was doing and could see my route on the map it would make them smile,” he said. “I thought it would be original and cute and also beautiful — people would feel emotion when they saw it.”
Gillock left for his nearly-three-month journey on Aug. 3 in Austin, Texas, and began cycling northwest along the heart shape route he created.
The route included every type of paved and unpaved terrain possible. He said he suffered extreme heat exhaustion as he cycled through New Mexico and just continued “day by day” to get by and stay hydrated.
Cycling the mountains in Colorado also proved challenging for Gillock as he said he “didn’t train as much as [he] should have.”
“Before going on this tour, people asked me, ‘Aren’t you going to train for this?’ and I was like, ‘No, I’ll be fine.’ Yeah, maybe I should’ve taken their advice and done some training beforehand,” he said.
His heart-shaped cycle tour took Gillock through west Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri and Arkansas, arriving back in Austin, Texas.
On a good day, he said, he would cycle 120 miles. However, on a bad day, he would cycle only 40 miles, averaging about 70 miles a day.
He had a few planned stops along the journey and stayed with friends and relatives, but he mostly slept in local motels, his tent, or anyone who would offer him a bed for the night.
For his tour, half of his bicycle was painted blue and the other red, representing the democrats and the republicans. For him, it symbolized a need for balance and unity between the two parties.
“It takes both sides, the left and right, to be a stronger country. And, just like riding a bicycle, we need balance to keep moving forward,” he said. “If we lean too far left or too far right, we will fall and we will fail.”
As he cycled through each state, Gillock said he met people at all points on the political spectrum and found that the country isn’t as divided as it seems.
“I met everyone on the political spectrum you could imagine and it really helped me connect with my fellow Americans,” he said. “I found that while it seems like each side is vilified by the other, it’s just not so true… We all want to work together and be happy, and no one really wants to fight.”
With the new people he met, he gave out American heart stickers. He said he handed out hundreds of stickers across the 13 states.
He returned from his 4,233-mile cycle tour on Oct. 26 and has been settling into life in North Bend.
The overall response to his campaign has been overwhelmingly positive, Gillock said.
“Everyone I met was so receptive and agreed that our country needs some balance and unity,” he said. “People have told me that I’ve inspired them to spread the message as well as get on their bikes.”
As a way to continue the Heart for America campaign, he said he continues to give the stickers to people he meets.
“Now I also give the stickers to all my Uber passengers, as a way to continue the heart campaign,” he said. “The heart really speaks for itself.”