The ride of a lifetime

Former resident pens cycling memoir

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO Former Marshalltonian Jim Cochran has just written his first book, a memoir entitled: “A Simpler Time: Transcontinental Bicycle Tour 1991.” It chronicles his 3,500-mile cross-country bike ride, with the content based on the journal he kept during the experience.

IOWA CITY — Washington state to Washington, D.C. Traveling 3,500 miles, over the course of 48 days. Two friends, two bicycles.

This is the plot of Marshalltown native Jim Cochran’s new memoir entitled “A Simpler Time: Transcontinental Bicycle Tour 1991.” Cochran, who now resides in Iowa City, grew up in Marshalltown, graduated from MHS in 1986, and went on to graduate from the University of Northern Iowa in 1991. He taught math and coached athletics at Miller Middle School from 1993-98.

“The book is an expansion of my daily journal entries on a trek across the United States by bicycle with my childhood friend Pat McKay,” the author said.

Cochran’s love of cycling is deeply-rooted in his childhood, growing up the son of Charlie and Lois Cochran, with siblings Lisa, Steve and Don.

“Our neighborhood was filled with kids of all ages, and bicycles were our main mode of transportation, exploration, and daring feats. We would make ramps for jumping contests, compete in high-speed races around the block, and have coasting contests down the hills that we used to think were so giant,” he said.

Weekend trips to Hickory Park Lake in Colo in his youth expanded to participating in RAGBRAI, to taking his first long-distance trip in 1985, biking from Arcadia, Calif., to Marshalltown that summer with friend Mark Hoober. But Cochran longed to push himself to undertake an even bigger trip.

“Originally, I planned to complete my student teaching in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, during the spring semester of 1991, and my contingency plan for not teaching outside the country was to instead use the money I had saved for a self-contained bicycle tour across the United States with Pat. It was in late October of 1990 when I found out I wouldn’t be traveling to Brazil, and Pat and I (or, more accurately, mainly Pat) started to plan our adventure,” he said.

With a budget of $1,000 apiece, the two young men boarded a bus in Cedar Falls‚ destination Seattle — and completed their journey to the nation’s capital, taking in the beauty of the open road, making new friends, overcoming adversities and learning more about themselves.

Cochran said turning his journal entries into a book was a 26-year-long process.

“I disliked English class, feared writing assignments and loathed spelling and grammar,” he said. “The book fell on the back burner, but my son, Sebastian, and partner, Lisa, helped push it along, as well as my editor Tricia Brown, who is also a cyclist.”

Originally, the author only envisioned his closest friends and family taking an interest in the book. However, he decided to self-publish it on Amazon with the hope of sharing his journey with others.

“I kept the book a secret from Pat until I presented him with a copy about a week ago,” he said. “I put it in an Amazon box, filled with beans, crumbled pretzels and Tabasco sauce — which was the kind of food we ate on the trip.”

Cochran, an active cyclist, puts around 8,000 miles a year on his bike. He is currently employed as a professor of mathematics at the Iowa City branch of Kirkwood Community College.

“I hope the book will inspre others to get on their bicycle and rekindle the youthful spirit they felt on their occurence of balancing and riding down the road with the breeze blowing gently over their face,” he said.


Contact Sara Jordan-Heintz at 641-753-6611 or