SPRING HILL — Some time ago, Tammy, Jay and Neva Warren began bonding over a niche sport, BMX bicycling. Now, the family is trying to take their pastime to a new level through an endeavor some might call insane.
It all began three years ago, when Tammy and Jay Warren closed their party-planning business in New Jersey after 17 years. Their daughter, Neva, had been riding BMX bikes since she was 4 years old, and the couple had been in search of something to not only take their minds off the enormous changes in their lives, but also to bring them closer as a family.
Riding bicycles together was the answer.
Tammy tossed on some skin-tight Spandex, and Jay slipped into a pair of Capri shorts, and they were off. At first, they rode their bikes three times a week with their daughter, who competes at the Tampa and Sarasota BMX tracks.
"When we first started riding, we knew what we were," Tammy said. "We blogged about it, and we wrote about how we were two fat people, out of shape, just out there having fun."
A couple months ago, an idea crossed Tammy's mind. Always wanting to make the most of a situation, she thought about a summer trip for the family. She and Jay discussed the concept, and Ride the Nation — a bike ride that starts in Florida and takes a circuitous route to Kentucky — was born.
When she introduced the idea to Tampa BMX Track director Art Heinrichs, he initially called her crazy.
"After some consideration, it was obvious that their level of commitment was far beyond what I originally thought," Heinrichs said. "A lot of people that talk about these cross-country trips usually peter out about halfway through.
"I'm very impressed with the amount of time they've put in. It's so grueling, both emotionally and physically, to do something like this."
The idea took off quickly. Tammy was contacted by sponsors from Comfort Suites, Smoothie King, J&R Bicycles in St. Petersburg, Ohio Dreams BMX Camp and RiderzReady.com. Money has been donated, and stops have been set up along the way at various BMX tracks.
The goal is to pedal 3,189 miles and visit 25 tracks in 12 states before hitting the BMX Grand National Championships in Louisville, Ky.
The trip, which began Wednesday after the family rode 28 miles to the Tampa BMX Track for a launch party, is expected to take 134 days, ending on Labor Day weekend.
They will be riding touring bicycles and towing Neva's racing BMX bike and the family's pet, a 20-pound French bulldog named Coco.
For weeks leading up to departure day, the family rode five days a week on the Suncoast Trail between Hernando and Pasco counties. Draped in Ride the Nation signs on their bikes and blogging on ridethenation.org, the family became more motivated by the day.
"We ride up to 65 miles a day sometimes," Tammy said. "It takes about six hours, which doesn't sound like much, but when you consider some people work eight-hour days, we just look at it as a day of work."
Neva, 12, the youngest of three children, is homeschooled, so the family has the luxury of taking her lessons on the road with them. Although she is the youngest of the three riders, she has the most experience on a bike as a member of the National Bicycle League for the past seven years. She also might be the most excited.
"I'm looking forward to traveling," Neva said. "I've already visited 49 states, but it's going to be a different experience on a bike. Riding through back roads and small towns and meeting people is like nothing else I've ever done."