After earning a Journalism degree from Springfield College this past May, I wanted to apply it in a extraordinary manner, with an experience I’d never forget. Jim Dang, my best friend and SC ’14 classmate who received his diploma in Recreational Therapy, felt the same way. It was our estimation that a 13,000-mile, 14-month, self-supported bicycle trip dedicated to mental health awareness and volunteering would suffice.
After a summer of working and interning, we left my hometown of Waterbury Center, Vermont, with a meager amount of money, no training, and only a faint idea of a plan. What we’ve experienced since departing on September 16th, 2014, has been a constantly stimulating adventure, probing our professional capabilities and testing our physical, mental, and emotional limits — exactly what we wanted.
This isn’t our first bicycle trip. After our sophomore year at SC, at the ripe age of 20, we rode 3,600 miles over 75 days from Moretown, VT, to Redlands, CA, and followed that up with a week long trip before our senior year, which brought us from Waterbury Center, VT, to Robbinston, ME. However, if you couldn’t guess, this trip is by far the most demanding and meaningful.
Growing up as a “normal,” Central Vermont youth, I was exposed to many aspects of life that I understood to be regular, yet now regard as uncommon and extremely influential to my personal formation. For example, a propensity Vermonters seem to instinctively possess is to help those in need, and we do that in many different ways: stopping to see if roadsided people require assistance, ongoing community food and clothing drives, or massive outpourings of support during times of extremity, i.e when Tropical Storm Irene ravaged practically the entire state.
Another attribute fairly endemic to Vermonters is interacting with those around us. A conversation with a neighbor on the street, communicating with a stranger in a public place, or exchanging a wave on a back road – it just seems natural. Elsewhere that’s far from ordinary, and people often operate with conduct centered around individualism.
There’s also a ubiquitous presence of health and wellness in VT, atypical to the rest of the country. Frequent recreational events –like “100 on 100” (a 100-mile relay race on Route 100), the Green Mountain Stage Race, or The Vermont Point-to Point –and health-conscious economic movements — such as farm-and-garden-to-table, localvorism, and buying local — are components at the hub of our salubrious lifestyles.
To many, the idea of hiking Vermont’s legendary Long Trail would be outlandish, but in Vermont, it’s a relatively normal thing to do.
Perhaps the most significant and enduring philosophical facet I gained through my Green Mountain upbringing is an awareness of the beauty and value of our environment. The habitat we share has endless recreational avenues, and it’s something we cherish with efforts such as Green Up Day and extensive conservation action across the state. Elsewhere, we observe roadways and areas consistently strewn with litter.
So with all this mentioned, are we crazy for desiring to pedal a bicycle farther and farther away from everything we’ve come to know and love? Well, we could be, but we want to test the waters on the rest of the nation.
As Americans, we live in the 4th largest country with the 3rd most people on the planet. Our nation is comprised of an extremely diverse populace, but is there a commonality we all share? Could there possibly be?
All walks and creeds and animate beings of the US, simply by being citizens, have the beautiful freedom to choose how we live our lives. We’ve discovered through our adventures that, for the most part, Americans make the choice to live as compassionate, empathetic, and generous individuals — in one way or another.
Of the hundreds to thousands of people we’ve encountered, I’d venture to say that 99% have wished us good luck and safe travels along the rest of our journey. Many have contributed to our success — from providing helpful information, to donating useful resources.
When we’ve been in need and reached out, there has been overwhelming support. Like when we couldn’t figure out a place to stay in Culpeper, VA, there was Willis who, after I asked if we could camp in his backyard, instead offered his two guest beds and guest bathroom, fed us dinner that night and breakfast the next day and gave us lunch and snacks for the road.
Often times, when we’re trying to figure things out on our own but struggling, others reach out without us even asking. Like when we were at a Dunkin’ Donuts in Wilmington, DE, stressed and trying to figure out how to navigate around DC and Baltimore, the owner, an immigrant from India, gave us a dozen donuts on the house as some comfort food. Both of our gear-racks have also broken, and both times welders have came out of nowhere and helped us repair them, completely free of charge.
Our daily budget is a paltry $30 ($15 each), but many have helped us out with a meal here or there or supported our cause on the crowd funding site we have, www.GoFundMe.com/DylanandJim.
Though we’re far from the small state we call home, we’ve had our faith in humanity ceaselessly restored and powerfully strengthened by our nationwide neighbors. This is a bold statement, but I can say from experience after experience that people, at their core, long to be good and want to help however they can. People may or may not believe that, but I know it, and it’s all because of a decision we made to immerse ourselves in an unpredictable, vulnerable situation.
We frequently find ourselves saying “I love people.” We’ve derived courage to do what we’re doing from unspoken love we felt growing up in our hometown communities, but our courage is consistently renewed and refreshed as we discover the same love exists all around the country.