It’s been over 2,700 days since I finished the journey of a lifetime. It’s been even longer since I started it, alongside 24 other tenacious, goofy, admirable individuals, on a bright summer morning in the Baltimore Harbor. We had a few goals. The most obvious of which was to reach the Pacific Ocean in less than 70 days on the power of our own two legs. But more importantly, we came together to support the Ulman Foundation‘s goal of creating a world where no young adult faces cancer alone. It’s been a long time since I relished in the details of this epic trek, so I’m going to break it down into a few parts. First up, Baltimore, MD to the Mississippi River.
Check out the rest of the trip Here!
“It is the unknown around the corner that turns my wheels.” — Heinz Stücke
Days 1-5: Baltimore, MD to Grove City, PA (305 miles)
A 4 AM wake up call, immediately getting lost, and thunderstorms graced on us our first day. My most distinct memory from day one is when we were having trouble navigating the city streets and asked a local for directions. This kind stranger had just asked where we were headed when one of my teammates piped up and said “Oregon.” I don’t if it was a look of shock or utter confusion, but the mental image I have of that person’s face is one of my favorites from the entire trip.
Somewhere between Waynesboro and Bedford we found ourselves at the abandoned Pennsylvania Turnpike. Imagine a pitch black, post-apocalyptic looking tunnel. Now imagine riding through that with just one small bike light for miles. Dangerous? Sure, maybe a little. Worth it? Absolutely.
Our last few days in Appalachia took us to the Cannondale factory, up and over Mount Ararat, down to the Flight 93 Memorial, and through the hilly streets in and around Pittsburgh. We showered in an alleyway, sent a teammate to urgent care after they rode their bike into a fence (don’t worry – they were OK), met countless kind souls, and obviously got lost some more.
I laugh at myself when I look back on my old blog about these first few days. The climbs of the Appalachians had most definitely taken a toll on my legs, but I wrote about them as if I had no idea that we would be climbing much, much worse…namely, the Rockies.
Days 6-11: Grove City, PA to Sandusky, OH (286 miles)
More injuries. On our way to one of the Great Lakes, in a rickety covered wooden bridge, one of our teammates broke her hand. Thank goodness it was this specific teammate though, because she’s tough as nails and got back on her bike just a few short weeks later.
During our last sunset in Pennsylvania, we had a bonfire at Lake Erie. In between the sound of the lapping waves, you could hear laughter, a guitar playing, and the lyrics of “Hallelujah” coming from one of my incredibly gifted teammates. We were dirty, sore, hungry, and exhausted…but God, we were so, so happy.
Despite very smooth sailing along Lake Erie, sometime after we crossed the border into Ohio my riding team that day lost our marbles. As you might imagine, this would become a thing that happened regularly.
Somewhere in Ohio we were stopped on the side of the road in the pouring rain (lost, of course) when a kind stranger stopped to ask if we needed help. We had no idea where the water or food van was. When we explained our predicament, this kind stranger told us to follow her to her home. Upon arrival, she put a roof over our heads, gave us sandwiches, and refilled our water. She even happened to have a cake laying around. It was my teammate’s birthday, so she lit some candles for him and passed around the cake. Once our stomachs (and our hearts) were full, she gave us directions to our destination. It was at this point that we realized we had wound up almost exactly where we had started that day.
As I’m writing this, it is January of 2021. The coronavirus pandemic is still raging on. The 45th president incited an insurrection on the United States Capitol just a few short weeks ago. The media is an endless stream of volatility, hatred, and sadness. It has been an extremely difficult year for the vast majority of us, but looking back on moments like this one remind of the humanity that still exists in our world. I will be forever grateful for that glimmer of hope that the 4K gave to me.
Days 12-17: Sandusky, OH to Muncie, IN (293 miles)
I finally started to get my legs under me during this part of the trek. From Sandusky to Butler, we rode 67 miles in just under 4 hours including stops. We raced a horse and buggy, met some goats, and stayed at the Mohican Outdoor School where we got to view several raptor exhibits. There wasn’t any cell phone reception at this point in the trip, but surrounded by each other, that didn’t matter at all.
In Columbus, we hand delivered our first scholarship to a 19 year old battling his second round of cancer treatment. A stark and humbling reminder that cancer doesn’t discriminate; not by age, not by milestones reached, not by anything.
Upon leaving Columbus, we rode our very first century (my first century, ever). Of the 106 miles ridden that day, 60 miles were on a paved bike path! It was absolutely delightful…until at the end when we realized that somehow, some way we were STILL in Ohio.
Remember that 19 year old that we gave the scholarship to? Well, for our last day in Ohio, he rode with us. This man had never ridden more than 20 miles, but he rode the entire 60 miles from Eaton, OH to Muncie, IN with us that day. I was floored by his resolve.
Sadly, there was no state sign when we crossed into Indiana, so here is a photo of me, some tall grass, and a silo. That’s what most of Indiana looked like, on our route anyway.
Oh, and also, my tan lines at this point…
Days 18-23: Muncie, IN to Davenport, IA (355 miles)
We cruised through Indiana, averaging about 80 miles a day. We broke 1,000 miles and had our first mail drop in Chesterton which was a complete mental refresh. We spent all day on our bikes, only talking to each other, so getting letters from our friends and family was a pleasant reminder of all that we loved (and missed) back home.
From Chesterton, we biked straight to the Windy City, where my teammate promptly got a flat tire in Al Capone’s old stomping grounds, the South Side. After that, we were grateful that we had a rest day. I distinctly remember waking up at 8:30 AM and thinking it must be noon because our alarms were always buzzing before the sun came up. Thankfully we had almost a full day ahead of us and did all of the touristy things, like going to see the Bean, ooh’ing and ahh’ing at Lake Michigan, and eating deep dish pizza.
Somewhere between Chicago and Iowa, and amongst countless thunderstorms and tornado warnings, we lost our marbles again. Two of my teammates ran into a utility pole and fell into a ditch. Thankfully, none of us were moving quickly and everyone was unscathed. Then someone in a passing car threw a milkshake at us while we were riding in rural Illinois. Spoiler alert: the midwest is the least bike friendly region we encountered. But upon arrival in Davenport, on the banks of the Mississippi River nearly 1,200 miles from home, we received more letters from our loved ones and remembered, quite vividly, why we ride.