Wheel Power: Pedaling 3,600 Miles in 66 Days
By Dianne Shaw
June 2010 brought not the usual summer job or trip to the coast or the mountains for 15 young men from Chapel Hill. Instead, they cycled “sea to shining sea”: Aberdeen, MD, to Anacortes, WA, covering 3,600 miles in 66 days. Along the way they raised awareness of and more than $25,000 for cancer research at UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.
The team began training in March, led by Brian Burnham and David Hare. Both had made a similar trip in 2007, but Hare, now a sophomore at UNC, was then a junior in high school. Three experienced guides took part as well as 10 high school students from Chapel Hill, East Chapel Hill, and Carrboro High Schools, all members of Boy Scout Troop 845: Rourke Bauers, Matson Conrad, Ty Fenton, Mark Flournoy, Zach Jansen, Alex Johnson, Aidan Kelley, Jonah Keyserling, Charles LePrevost, Miles Rosen, Mike Ruston, Brian Stanton, and Sam Ward.
Burnham says, “The only way you can really train to bike across the country is to bike across the country. Leading up to the trip we would do rides around town on the weekend and later in the spring we did a ride from Chapel Hill to Wilmington. While these rides did make us a bit stronger, they were really designed for us to test our equipment, learn to ride in groups, get a feel for riding in a variety of traffic situations, and also learn what it’s like to put in 70 miles in the saddle. Once we got out there we started out biking about 35 miles a day, which felt like an eternity in the Pennsylvania mountains, and over the next 10 days worked ourselves up to the 70 mile per day average.”
Camping in parks, near firehouses and community centers, the intrepid team braved physically taxing wind, rain and heat while camping their way across the country. Throughout their travels they met cancer patients, family and friends of cancer patients, and experienced great kindness and support for their cause.
Burnham describes a typical day. “A typical day began at 6am and consisted of a gas station breakfast of juice, a granola bar and a fresh muffin if we were lucky. We would try to ride hard in the morning before the heat and wind picked up, so that by the time we stopped for lunch we had already completed 40 or 50 miles. Naps after lunch were common, unless there was a swimming pool. In the afternoon we’d push through the heat and often-brutal wind to finish around 3 or 4pm. Dinner tasted amazing absolutely every time! Despite our regular post dinner food comas, we often entertained ourselves in camp playing cards, writing in journals, shooting baskets, swimming in the town pool, or just chilling out. “
Hare says, “The hardest part was sticking with it when times got tough and the end was so far away. If the wind gets really bad and you wake up not feeling right, there is nothing you can do but push through it. With weeks left in the trip, you can't look to the end for comfort. Instead you have to try to think differently. It adds a new level of personal strength to push through things, because there are not many situations in the world where you have no option to quit. I think that showed all of us what we were capable of doing. It doesn't matter how old you are or what experiences you've have in your life. Being on the road for ten weeks and learning to be independent and take care of yourself definitely teaches you a lot about yourself.”
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Dianne Shaw is deputy director of communications at the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center and has been with the Center since 1984. She is a seventh-generation Chapel Hillian who enjoys contra dancing and yoga.