Overcoming 200 miles in 16 hours, cycling across more than half of the states, traveling through Mexico, Canada, camping in the desert with wild animals, crossing the Mississippi, and surviving many adventures was accomplished by Vitaliy Prokopchuk. But this unique individual also spent a long time as an officer with the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department, investigating homicides. We talked to Vitaliy about his fascinating hobby, which helped him recover after difficult days.


— Vitaliy, are you still working in law enforcement? How many years did you dedicate to the police profession?

— I served in the police for 25 years, retired, but then returned to work a bit. I’m only 50 now. I spent the last eight years in the homicide department. I have over 300 investigations behind me. The work was quite tough, I’ll tell you.

— Is that where your love for travel and nature came from?

— Yes. So much stress and negativity accumulates due to the nature of the job that when I go on a cycling trip, I change physically, emotionally, and spiritually, becoming a different person.

— Did you really cycle around the world a couple of times?

— Even more. On the sports bike that I constantly ride, I have more than 60,000 miles. That’s almost two and a half times around the world. But these are regular trips – to the store, to work… And another almost 10,000 miles on a touring bike, those are serious trips. But that’s over 20 years.

— How did it all start? Why did this mode of transport attract you so much?

— It all started when my car broke down. I needed to go to the store for parts, which seemed close by. But it seemed close by car, and on foot, it was much longer and farther than I had anticipated. Near the parts store was a Walmart. I was earning well at the time and decided to buy a bike. And while riding home, I remembered my childhood. It felt so good that I thought, why not start cycling? And the more I rode, the more it captivated me.

— And is that bike always with you now?

— No, it was cheap; when I bought it, I didn’t understand much. Then I realized I wanted a good one. I spent about a thousand dollars and bought myself a sports, somewhat professional bike. When I sat on it, it was like a fairy tale after the heavy, rough Walmart bike. I enjoyed riding it so much that the distances became longer and the speed increased. I got hooked. My physical shape improved, and my mood lifted. Then I found out that in all states, including California, there are 100-mile rides. Even for a specialist, 160 kilometers is quite a distance, so I started preparing and riding 20, 30, 40 miles. Statistically, I knew that if a person constantly rides a certain distance, their body can withstand about three times more.

— What did you feel after the first ride?

— It was in California, in the town of Paradise, where there were quite good climbs. After the ride, I was so exhausted that I didn’t want to do anything. But when I got home, I had the feeling that I had achieved something. After that, I started participating in these rides more and more throughout California, even further, in Oregon. For example, I rode around Lake Tahoe, around Crater Lake, which is the deepest lake in the States. I could take the train from Sacramento to San Francisco and return by bike in a day.

— But you didn’t stop there?

— Yes, in California, there’s something called a triple crown, for those who want to ride 200 miles in one go. 100 miles is more or less for amateurs; there’s plenty of time. But 200 miles are for “hardened” amateurs. The conditions are tougher, you have to finish in 16 hours. You start at 4 AM and must finish by 10 PM. It’s organized; they track you, record you. And usually, there are mountain passes in these trips. Difficult sections.

To achieve this triple crown, you need to ride three 200-mile trips in a year in California. I did it in six weeks and met the standard. By the way, I made a friend there, an American named John. We did these two-hundreds together, helping each other out in difficult situations.

— Was there anything you didn’t like about the two-hundred milers? Where did the idea of long-distance travel come from?

— In the two-hundred milers, first, you get very tired, second, you start at 4 AM and finish at 10 PM. You ride for a good 4-5 hours in the dark with a flashlight, seeing nothing. Around you, people are riding with similar flashlights. When I ride a bike, I want to see the space around me.

I realized that I could ride such distances myself, plus you can save money since you have to pay the organizers for these rides. I got the idea to start bike touring. I assembled a bike for myself and started riding 50-60 miles from Sacramento. We did this with friends. Once or twice a month on weekends, we would go to a lake and stay overnight. When we explored all the surroundings, I wanted to go on a longer journey.

— How did you balance trips with such a tough job?

— I had 2-3 weeks of vacation a year. I decided to ride across America. The plan was to mark a city about 1200 miles away and fit the trip into two weeks. The next year, during my vacation, I would return by bus, train, or plane to where I finished and continue from there. The dream was to explore from ocean to ocean.

— Which of your tours do you remember the most?

— The first one. With my partner Mike, we decided to ride to Salt Lake City. Our route went through a pass with steep climbs and harsh weather. We really hit a blizzard. The road was difficult and dangerous. But we made it to Nevada. We spent the night near Carson City. The next day, my partner had bike problems. We agreed to ride the mountains at our own pace and wait for each other. He was delayed, and it turned out that some gear was broken. We managed to fix his bike and continued. We stopped for the night in a park with tents. While setting up, I decided to help my friend. When I pulled some things out of one of his bags, I found bike parts that were supposedly broken. I realized it smelled like sabotage. In the morning, he told me it was too hard for him, his wife would come for him, and I could either go with them or continue alone.

— Did you decide to ride through one of America’s toughest deserts without a companion?

— I had taken time off and prepared for this. The first day, I was very nervous. No one around, water difficulties, no phone signal, towns 150 miles apart, plus wild animals: mountain lions, pumas, and bears.

Near Austin, there’s a cave with petroglyphs. I camped there for the night. It was the darkest night of my life. No stars, everything covered in fog. I tried to touch my nose and couldn’t see my hand. It was scary because I understood I was alone, and every rustle made my hair stand on end.

I didn’t sleep but passed out towards morning. The next day, when I got back on the road, I felt such confidence! I realized I was capable of a lot.

In 12 days, I covered about 1200 miles. Even for cyclists on regular sports bikes, these are serious distances. And I was loaded and riding 100-110 miles daily.

— Did you achieve your dream of riding coast to coast in a few years?

— It took four years, four major segments. First: from San Francisco to Salt Lake City. Second: Salt Lake City to Omaha (Nebraska), then Omaha to Buffalo (New York). Then to Maine. I covered about 4800 miles in total.

— Did you stay in touch with Mike?

— We are still friends. Because after he got home, he was constantly on the phone, finding interesting places for me, arranging hotels, helping remotely.

— What were the most unforgettable experiences?

— The most enormous impressions were Niagara Falls, crossing the Mississippi River. When I was a kid, I read books about Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, or “The Deerslayer” by James Fenimore Cooper. I imagined all this in my head. And now I was in the places of my favorite book characters.

And the people were so kind, open, with true humanity inside. I didn’t have a single conflict on the entire journey.

— Next were Canada and Mexico?

— I had a plan to ride along the ocean from Canada to Mexico. But it was boring alone. I decided to invite John, who rode with me on the two-hundred milers. Since then, John has been my constant companion.

— Vitaliy, do you have any traditions or signs that developed during your travels? Like a black cat crossing the road, running out of water?

— I’m anti-superstitious by nature. But what developed over the years is the ability to read the weather; you could say I’m an expert.

— Does your family: wife, children – want to travel with you?

— They are not interested at all. They are just proud of me.

— Did you ever want to write a book about your adventures?

— I initially thought about keeping a journal. But then I gave up on that idea. It took time from my enjoyment. You sit by a lake, for example, and relax. But then you have to pull something out and write. I have photos, videos. But they don’t convey the impressions, the feelings that real mountains, a real lake, a real cold river, or heat evoke. It’s impossible to convey. So travel and enjoy.