MARLBOROUGH, Mass. – Even with the saddle sores, Debbie and Tim Bishop look back on their 3,529-mile honeymoon bike trek across the U.S. as the perfect culmination of their “dream come true” marriage.
For 61 days, the newlyweds shared spellbinding vistas, aching legs and the faith that their mid-life marriage had been blessed by a higher power who guided them from Seaside, Ore., to Cape Elizabeth, Maine.
“Starting our marriage on this trip was great. We truly bonded,” said Debbie Bishop in their Marlborough home.
Photos of a brilliant sunset over Eagle Lake, a pronghorn antelope standing by the roadside and cycling along the Erie Canal flash by in a digital picture frame hanging on the wall.
“If we could do this,” she said, “we could do anything.”
The Bishops have now written “Two Are Better,” a travelogue and love story about their even longer journey from solitude to marriage.
Unlike their two-month cross-country ride, their stop-and-go courtship meandered for seven years, sometimes drifting into the breakdown lane of uncertainty before accelerating to a whirlwind proposal and marriage.
Born just 15 days apart, Debbie and Tim were singles who’d never been married when they met online on a Christian website.
Born in Houlton, Maine, on the Canadian border, Tim had spent 26 years mostly living in Bangor, working his way up to treasurer of a local heating company, living a quiet life with his family and elderly mother.
Debbie had traveled more, living and working in Colorado before moving to Marlborough after accepting a job in 1996 as a home economics teacher in Framingham and eventually becoming a literacy specialist at the McCarthy Elementary School.
After they met on the website in 2003, they corresponded for a year about their shared interest in bicycling and the outdoors. When they finally met a year later in Keene, N.H., there “were no fireworks.”
Debbie remembered, “We were both sort of leery, very cautious.”
For seven years they got together every few months, often for biking trips.
Looking back, Tim feels he let himself “get distracted” by work. Waiting for a “commitment” that didn’t come, Debbie began relationships with two other men in 2004 and 2007 that “didn’t work out.”
In 2010, as Tim neared retirement, they mutually agreed on a “three-week break from each other.”
Tim used the time to compile a list of “91 reasons” why Debbie was the mate he had always sought.
“She liked biking. She was a Christian. She didn’t drink,” he recalled. “She was nice looking. Industrious. I enjoyed her company.”
Then on April 22, 2010, just days before Tim’s retirement banquet, the couple climbed Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park in Bar Harbor, and as the sun set, Tim asked Debbie to marry him.
“I was so shocked. I said, ‘Really?’ ” Debbie recalled. “After I got over my shock, I was elated.”
Describing the moment in “Two Are Better,” Tim wrote: “The sparkle in her eyes attested to the divine nature of our heavenly moment. Instantly, years of heartache, longing and waiting vanished.”
Coming down from the mountain, they agreed to get married soon and discussed the possibility of a cross-country honeymoon.
Debbie and Tim married in June 19, 2010, and began their trip 11 days later on July 3, only realizing later that they hadn’t trained enough for such a demanding challenge.
They set an ambitious pace, averaging 56 miles daily for the first 15 days before both were incapacitated by painful saddle sores.
After resting four days in a motel in Great Falls, Mont., and getting medical treatment for Debbie’s “mother of all sores,” the Bishops hit the road again with renewed vigor, averaging better than 60 miles a day for the next five weeks.
Written jointly after the couple returned to Marlborough, “Two Are Better” succeeds on several levels.
The Bishops share their deep appreciation of the American landscape and the people they met, complemented by around 100 gorgeous photos.
Instead of writing a detail-heavy “how to” manual of cross-country biking, they have included enough details and hints to send others in the right direction.
Most importantly, Debbie and Tim write honestly about making their new marriage work, sometimes under stressful circumstances and the strength and support they found in their long-held Christian faith.
They have since started Open Road Press, which is publishing “Two Are Better” and will also release “Bicycle Touring How-To,” more of a practical guide to planning a trip.
As Debbie prepares to retire from teaching in June, the Bishops are considering different routes west to east across the country.
They end their book by exhorting readers to find support in a loved one and not put off their dreams.
“You don’t know when your window of opportunity will slam shut for good,” they write in the Epilogue. “So, get at it! Debbie and I are convinced more than ever, that two are better than one.”