British cyclists visit Taco John's

Mick Howarth, Frank Towers and Phil Alcock of Preston, Lancashire, England, stop in Sheldon at Sheldon Taco John's on Wednesday, Aug. 21. The three Englishmen are cycling across the United States to raise money.

Three British guys and a journalist walk into a fast-food restaurant sounds like the beginning of a bad joke; however, it was my reality on Wednesday, Aug. 21.

A tipster came into the Iowa Information office in Sheldon and told editor Jeff Grant three men from Britain were bicycling across America and were headed to Taco John’s to grab a bite to eat.

I thought he said “Britton,” which sounds like it could be the name of a random small town in Iowa, but either way, I was going to pursue the lead because I’m a sucker for these types of random stories.

After grabbing all the essentials — notepad, camera, recorder, etc. — I went to TJ’s and was greeted outside by three employees on break.

I asked them if three British dudes on bikes were in there and they confirmed they were. Also, I could spot the bikes in the entryway but it never hurts to be sure.

I walked into TJ’s and immediately bumped into Phil Alcock near the registers. He was a little sweaty and wearing cycling gear, but I still asked if he was with the British bicyclists, a fact he amusedly confirmed.

I asked if he was open to doing a story, which he was, and I was invited to sit with him and his fellow road warriors, Mick Howarth and Frank Towers.

Their journey through America is for pleasure and to serve a greater purpose.

All three men are from Preston, Lancashire, England, about four hours northwest of London. They are raising money for Rookwood A Ward, a department in a hospital located in their neighboring town of Chorley that specializes in caring for patients with dementia.

They started their ride on Aug. 9 in Denver and plan to conclude the journey in Hamilton, located in the Canadian province of Ontario, on Sept. 10, which also coincides with Frank’s birthday.

“We’re going to celebrate Frank’s 65th birthday in Las Vegas,” Mick said. “The end of our destination on the cycling is Hamilton, Ontario, where we are meeting Frank’s cousin and his wife and family and other friends that are flying out to meet us.”

For the fundraising aspect of the adventure, Mick said they do not have a sponsor. They are providing updates on a YouTube page and asking people to donate to their page on www.justgiving.com.

As of Monday, Aug. 26, they had raised £540 pounds — about $670 — from 26 supporters. That amount puts them a little past the halfway mark for their goal of a £1,000 pounds — about $1,220.

On the Iowa leg of their journey, they passed through Sioux City on their way to LeMars, where they stayed overnight before they reached Sheldon. Unfortunately, they weren’t able to get ice cream in LeMars.

“We arrived in late so by the time we got changed, we just popped out. I saw some distant relatives out of Orange City — my second cousins — we hung out with them and then we went back to the hotel and slept like babies,” Phil said.

Outside of the challenges of riding a bike on the Highway 60 expressway — “not overly cycle-friendly,” Phil noted — Iowa left a positive impression on them.

“The overall experience in Iowa is that people are extremely friendly,” Frank said. “We are so grateful.”

“We had a couple of punctures today on the roadside and as we were changing the puncture, a guy stopped and said, ‘Is everything OK? Have you got your kit to repair it?’” Phil said. “We went ‘Yup,’ but he would have been happy to help if we hadn’t.”

Obviously, with this bike ride the guys could have chosen anywhere so I asked why they picked the United States.

“Frank had done a similar trip to this eight years ago, go ahead and embellish him on that,” Phil said.

“I cycled from New York to LA eight years ago,” Frank said.

Frank said the biggest difference between that trip and this one is that is has been windier.

During our interview, the guys were chowing down on tacos and Potato Oles. So here’s the question I’m sure that’s on everyone’s mind: What did they think of Taco John’s?

“Taco John’s is good,” Phil said. “Never had it before a day in my life.”