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Biking across the country -- the third time around

If I'm going to travel approximately 3,000 miles on my own power over 12 days , I sure don't want to do it in searing desert heat, against 30 m.p.h. winds, on back roads, fighting sandstorms, or in city traffic.

And I definitely don't want to do it while riding a bicycle!

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I guess that is what makes most of us different from John Marino, a physical education instructor from Newport Beach, Calif., who is tackling his third coast-to-coast cycling odyssey.

Marino took up cycling several years ago as part of a natural-healing program for a back injury from which doctors said he would never recover.

He currently is perched over two moving wire wheels somewhere between Los Angeles and New York, legs churning, arms and hands firm, chin set, eyes monitoring engine-powered vehicles as if everyone is a threat to his personal safety.

So what drives John Marino to such extreme levels of exertion?

"Once I reach a goal, I own a very rare feeling that only a trip like mine can provide," he explained. "When I made it from Los Angeles to Manhattan in 1978, I couldn't help but think back on all the mental and physical preparation that went into my journey and reflect on it. To me, getting there is sort of a personal gold medal."

On his present journey, Marino is being followed by a motorcycle that provides extra light for him at night, plus a van with four extra bicycles, parts, and a mechanic. His entourage also includes a motor home, in which his vegetarian diet is prepared, a press car, and a camera wagon used in filming his entire trip.

In 1978, in his first attempt at this distance, John set an all-time coast-to-coast record, which the Guinness people recognize, by making the trip in 13 days, 1 hour, and 20 minutes. He accomplished this only by covering the last 400 miles through the Pennsylvania mountains in 29 hours nonstop.

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Marino tried it again in 1979, but gave up because of navigational and physical problems in Philipsburg, Pa., only 60 miles from his ultimate destination. To break his L.A.-to-N.Y. record this year, John will have to cover an average of 250 miles every 24 hours for 12 1/2 days.

Marino, of course, is an experienced cross-country cyclist who knows what it takes, both physically and mentally, to attempt such a feat. For example, he trained for three years before making his first trans-America crossing.

When he failed over roughly the same course in 1979, it was primarily because of errors that sent him through the wrong part of Pennsylvania, costing him time and energy. More rain than he expected was also a problem, resulting in 13 spills.

This year, in the hope of traveling in weather more suitable to pedal pushing , Marino decided to leaver earlier than usual (June 16). The idea was to avoid as many sandstorms as possible.

He still had to test the Rockies, where at elevations of up to 7,000 feet the cold, wet mountain air is often tougher physically than the desert. Eventually he moved into the plains, where headwinds, more heat, and electrical storms are standard elements of a three-pronged obstacle course.

Once past the Mississippi River, John must prepare himself mentally for the curb-to-curb traffic of several large Midwestern cities. Heavy trucks to him are what linebackers are to a National Football League running back. More trucks have inadvertently forced him off the road than any other type of vehicle.

Marino considers the Pennsylvania hill country, with its steep inclines and sharp drops, his biggest challenge. This is the last lap of his journey, and his strategy is to cycle those 400 miles in 40 hours nonstop.

After years of experimenting, he has discovered that 100 miles of stress cycling a day is the optimum training level. Stress cycling, or covering shorter distances at greater speeds, makes training rides of a full 250 miles per day unnecessary. His average speed on this trip will be between 15 and 18 m.p.h.

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