Tom Snyders, a comedian who takes the term "road work" quite literally, began his cross country bicycling trek June 20, 1987, in Las Vegas, Nevada.
"The trip got off to a bit of a rough start," says Snyders. After pedaling his first 1,400 miles in 14 days (across the deserts of Arizona and New Mexico in late June), Snyders found his first scheduled appearance, in Des Moines, Iowa, canceled due to the club burning down!
This initial discouragement and
other setbacks have been short- lived, however, as 20 years later Tom is still out there pedaling his act across the country. To date, he's pedaled more than
142,000 miles on his "Smile America Bicycle Comedy Tour." That's the equivalent of riding across the country more than 41 times!
Breaking 100,000 miles
Tom officially broke the 100,000-mile mark on January 6, 2000, when he pedaled his bike into the Laugh Factory on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles. A ribbon stretched across the aisle to the stage stood between him and the record-breaking 100,000-mile mark. "I was worried that I might not have enough momentum to actually break the ribbon -- how embarrassing would that be?" asks Snyders.
Fortunately, Tom did break through the ribbon. The standing-room-only crowd at the Laugh Factory cheered and applauded as Tom proceeded to do a stand-up set that featured slides from his 16-year collection of weird road signs from America and around the world.
"I know if I saw a slide projector and screen I'd be worried about some guy showing vacation slides of him and Emma by the pool," quips Snyders. "But these road signs are very funny. And it's not because I'm some creative genius; they're out there for the taking. But I'm not going by at 60 miles an hour, and I've always got a camera loaded with slide film in my front pannier."
Evidently the crowd at the Laugh Factory enjoyed Tom's slides as they laughed throughout the entire routine and gave him a rousing ovation as he pedaled out the door, on the way to his next gig.
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It's been quite a journey
Tom has endured 110-degree desert heat, snow, hail storms, tornadoes, forest fires, dogs, muggers, rattle snakes, truck drivers, skunks ... and comedy club owners.
A few years ago, Tom pedaled his bike across seven countries in Europe. "I already had all these great slides of American road signs and I wanted to get some strange and funny European ones," Snyders says.
There was also that memorable encounter in 1995 when an elderly driver in a Rolls Royce hit Tom and dragged him 30 feet. "The right front wheel of the car came to rest on top of my chest," Tom says. "Apparently the guy didn't think I was finished yet, so then he backed over me."
Tom had several broken bones and spent three days in a coma and on a respirator in the intensive care unit of UCLA Medical Center. The doctors said only one person in a million would have survived that accident. After eight months of physical therapy, Tom was back on the road on his bike (even though that meant pedaling with a metal plate and eight screws in his left ankle).
We are happy to report that he is doing much better these days. In fact, he regularly cranks out 100-mile days on a fully-loaded touring bicycle.
In the summer of 2000, Tom pedaled his bike the 6,100 miles from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, to Key West, Florida. That would've been a lifetime adventure for anyone else, but for Snyders, it was simply an interesting two months within an incredible, ongoing
19-year bike trip.
June 20, 2002, marked exactly 15 years that Tom has been pedaling the backroads of the United States. To commemorate the anniversary, Tom rode his bike from Key West to New York City, where he performed at Caroline's Comedy Club on Broadway. He then pedaled from New York to Las Vegas in 31 days! Upon arriving in Las Vegas -- after a Utah and Nevada desert crossing -- Tom rode his fully-loaded touring bike through the crowded Stardust Casino and into the Avalon Ballroom to officially open the "Las Vegas Comedy Festival."
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Rewards of the Journey
In his live performances and television appearances, Tom makes a point of talking about the many good and interesting people he has met on this country's backroads. "Meeting them and having the chance to experience the real America has made the journey worthwhile," he says. "Saying that makes me feel like a younger, more physically-fit version of Charles Kuralt -- without the Winnebago."
Tom has been documenting his journey not only with pictures, but with a journal he's been keeping for the entire 19 years. Snyders has also written a screenplay; coincidentally, it's about a comedian who travels by bicycle to all his stand-up comedy performances. "It's Forrest Gump meets Seabiscuit," he jokes.
To see more of Tom's images of weird road signs or to see what people are saying about "The Bicycling Comedian," continue to the
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