FLORIDA TO ALASKA AND BACK
Into Alaska 54 days and 6,364 miles from Florida;
with 125-pound bob-trailer from Pittsburgh
140 Day Trip and 13,769 mile trip of a Lifetime
The days slowly dragged on throughout the final year of high school counting down the day to be set free at graduation. At times the waiting seemed to be never-ending, but as time progressed I started to learn a very important aspect in life. This was that whatever is really worth the while in life will be attained through time and patience, not quick fixes or short-cuts. When I heard about having to do a Senior Research project in English class, I thought “O great, another time-consuming and tedious high school assignment.” As the days rolled on towards the topic deadline for the project, I began to deeply think about my life and where I am heading after high school. I thought “hey how about this time you do this for yourself?” I told myself to not just complete this assignment to get a grade or for obligation. Complete this assignment for yourself, not anybody else.” Personalize and dedicate this project to gain something bigger and better than any other assignment high school could offer. Take this project on with a passion to gain something that will stay with me long after high school concludes. Something that will stay with me far greater than any vocabulary or math test could offer. I special requested to do my senior research project on two books that were not on the list; Into The Wild and Into Thin Air. Completing and presenting my senior research project was one of the best things I ever did throughout my entire high-school career. I became very inspired by reading Into the Wild and Into Thin Air and finally connected deeply with something and gained an insight and passion that will stay with me for some time to come.
During the last six months of high school I dedicated most of my high school study and homework time to my Senior Research project. During the week it was school, after school riding, working out, studying and senior research project, and then bed. I had very little time for friends or anything else and at times I felt as if I was missing out on something; I never went to high-school parties, drank alcohol, smoked a cigarette or a joint, or attended any proms throughout all of high school. I told myself “You keep doing your thing baby; you know what you’re doing after high school.” I always told myself that I was not missing out on anything.
I was one of the only 11th and 12th grade students that rode a bicycle to school. The majority of my high school class was mainly concerned with driving in cars, college, party plans, and making money at a part-time job. I did not care what everyone else was doing. I wanted to be different and loved every second of it. I did not care if I was the only person in the entire high school that rode a bicycle to school. Nor did I care what kind of clothes I wore to school or if I had the most up to date cell phone. After using up all of the weight training classes between 9th and 10th grades, I wanted to continue getting to work out during my school period. After finding out that I could not retake a weight training class and I was not allowed to sign up for the football class which had weight training, I quickly found a solution to this unjust problem. During the school lunch period I would work out in the school gym, which became banned but I still managed to find a way to workout. The weight training/ football coach had a respect for my work ethic and we developed a tacit agreement that he would turn his head when he saw me working out at lunch. Holding me back from training is like locking up a wild animal in a cage. I would not allow this to happen. I would then eat my lunch in the German class after; the teacher was also one of my favorites.
When observing the clothing fellow high school students wore, I observed a lot of shirts reading “Hollister” or “Abercrombie & Fitch” or some kind of store name which was considered a acceptable clothing item by many. I simply did not understand this. I always thought “why the hell would I walk around representing some store that really did not do anything for me but take my money?” If I am going to wear something let it be something truly have a passion for and not something that other people want to see me wearing or what is considered by many to be “nice clothing”. My favorite shirt to wear was one I got in the 6th grade for an endangered species fundraiser. It read “Foreverwild” and had a picture of a Florida Panther on it. I really could care less what people thought and loved wearing this shirt because I have a strong passion for the Florida Panther and saving the Florida Panther from extinction. While I unleashed my mind and body into my cycling, it was easy to find persuasion from other to veer off track. I fought to maintain a strict moral code and self-control when it came to high school temptations. No car, no alcohol, no parties. Focus. Did I really want to do what thousands of other high school students do with their money after they turn 16 and get a license?
When the weekends finally arrived it was my time in which was dedicated to long bicycle rides. Rides where I could get far away from home and free my mind into the beauty of the Ocala National Forest or the Gulf of Mexico. I could free my mind and release the stress from the week of high school life. I usually woke up early around 5am and did a pre-ride push-up and crunch routine, listened to music, in particularly Lady Gaga’s “Just Dance” and the All-American Reject’s “Move Along”. I began to envision the road to Alaska and continued to listen to the soundtrack music from “Into The Wild” as well. I would then ponder upon my Florida Atlas gazetteer and plan my ride out for the day. This would get my energy flowing and help to mentally prepared me for my long 200+ mile ride that day. I would be gone for pretty much all of the day and return home around dark. I would call up my Uncle at night to tell him of my new big mileage feat. The footloose exploration led to exhaustion and high feeling after these long rides.
After seeing and reading Into The Wild, a true-story about Christopher McCandless who hitch-hiked his way to Alaska to live off the wilderness, I became motivated to ride my bicycle from Florida to Alaska and back. A dream many doubted was attainable or realistic. With the doubt led to wisdom and determination to make the dream come true after graduation high school. As 12th grade progressed, I began to feel a disconnected from what most students were focused on: college, parties, and jobs. My cross-country running coach tried to encourage me to finish of the 12th grade year running track. I told myself to never, ever, predestine myself into someone else’s plan. To always follow my heart as I know it shall lead me to my destiny.
Finally the day did come first with graduation on June 5th, 2009 then with the start of the trip to Alaska on June 8th, 2009 . Ever so slowly I would start to find out my true love of bicycling. This was all me, with no team or coach to slow me down or control my desires from within. This was my dream trip in which the road, my Uncle, and I would come together as one. No school, no work, no teachers, no coaches, no parents, no tedious deeds, no society, and no holding back.
Three days after graduating from high school I set out on my journey to Alaska. Seven days and 1,259 miles after leaving my home in Longwood, Florida I made it to Pittsburgh on my bicycle. There I would later depart with my ultra-marathon cycling uncle Danny Chew on an epic journey to Alaska. On the ride from Florida to Pittsburgh I became absolutely amazed by the breathtaking views and became at one with the land while riding in North Carolina along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Throughout the many miles alone I thought about McCandless on his journey to Alaska and the over 100 days alone he spent alone in the wild. I was not alone, and whenever I did feel alone I always had my music that I would think of to keep me moving along. Every morning before leaving on my 170- 250 mile rides from Florida to Pittsburgh, I would listen to music. In particularly The All-American Rejects “Move Along”, Lady Gaga’s “Just Dance” and “Poker Face”, Nelly’s “Heart of a Champion”, and Eddie Vedder’s “Hard Sun” and “No Ceiling”. I became easily swept away by the gorgeous and lusciously green mountains and miles and miles of untouched mountains and wilderness. I would love to step back in time to when most of the planet was as tranquil and solitude as the Blue Ridge Parkway of North Carolina. At the time the Blue Ridge Parkway was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen in my life.
I ended up riding 13,769 miles from the start of my trip on June 8th, 2009 from Florida to October 31st, 2009 ending back in Florida which was the absolute best time of my life. Memories and lessons I learned from the trip will stay with me forever. For nothing I have gotten out of college to this date has compared to this amazing journey. My uncle and I built up an unbreakable relationship on the trip that no one can take away. Almost every day started with writing in my journal. For the first 47 days from Pittsburgh to Alaska I was deprived of my music. In no way did this stop my drive and determination of making to Alaska. In the progress, we rode 39 consecutive days in a row of 100 miles or more each day. I did not take any music device or headphones. Going without the music and only the real necessities made me connect with land and really get in touch with my cycling soul. I gained much patience and mental toughness by enduring the hundreds of miles day in and day out. After each day was done I began to become more and more confident that my seemingly endless and much anticipated goal would soon turn into a reality.
After 47 days after meeting my parents at the Alaskan Border I finally got to hear the old familiar tunes of “Move Along”, “Poker Face”, “Hard Sun”, and “Heart of a Champion”. I appreciated the music so much more than ever before. My ears filled with euphoria and so did my body as I concluded the 51 days and over 5,600 miles from Pittsburgh , PA to Anchorage , Alaska. Then it was a couple days of rest in Anchorage then riding to Fairbanks then back to where we entered Alaska. Alaska was absolutely gorgeous and tranquil and by knowing I got there from my home if Florida on only the power of my one two legs on my bicycle made the time in Alaska that much more gratifying. My Uncle and I then rode the entire way back to Florida to conclude my 140 day and 13,769 mile trip of a lifetime. The hell with drugs, acids, alcohol, and illegal doping substances. I got my high through the glory and beauty of the land, the miles and miles of bicycling across the country, living a life freed of irksome obligations, and having a big goal in mind of making it to Alaska .Alaska .Alaska .Alaska . Sometimes the days seemed to drag on and on and on and the distance still to go to Alaska seemed to be interminable. As I progressed however, I started to build a mental toughness and tenacity that continued to build. Concluding the Alaska trip brought about memories that I will never forget. My Uncle and I started to become companions becoming at one with the road and at one with life.
Doubts of my Alaska Trip: FOCUS
There were times when the trip may not have happened if my Uncle did not recover from his back surgery. There was talk from my parents to post-pone the trip to a future date. I knew in my mind that I would not allow this to happen as the 12th grade year dragged on. I knew that with time and patience good things would come. I told myself “Finish high school strong and your time will come.” The separation I felt from the rest of my classmates continued to build as more and more stress was put on college applications, SAT’S, ACT’S, and various other high school pressures. I knew what I was going to do after high school, for it is my time to explore possibilities and really ponder upon where I shall head in life. The idea of having to jump right into college after high school and pre-destine oneself to a teacher or coach’s plan is in-humane and demoralizing. I knew that I would not back down from this dream no matter what. Thousands of High school students graduate high school each year and have college planned out as the number one priority. Why do I want to do what thousands of other high school students do? Why do I want to follow the same boring and secure routine thousands of other high school students have after high school? I knew that whatever lay down the road as far as college goes could wait. With the fear of college and other irksome obligations getting in the way and dominating my life, I knew that after high school was the time to start and let unleash my desires from within.
Better than my worst day…
There’s always someone worse off…
Whenever I am in pain or suffering in training, in a race, on the road, or in any matter in life, I always compare the situation to my worst day. I think back to a time that was much worse and remind myself that what I am going through at the given moment is not that bad and that I will make it through. If somehow the pain or struggle is so bad that I cannot think of anything else I have done that was worse and indeed it is my worst day, then I tell myself that there is someone out there that is or has been worse off than myself. I think about my inspirations like the brave souls that died climbing Mount Everest or Chris McCandless starving from Into The Wild. Moreover I think of the thousands of innocent and helpless animals that are controlled and destroyed by humans like cows and farm animals going to slaughter houses. To me, this is the worst imaginable living condition of any being on the planet; far worse than any conditions humans have to deal with. So relatively speaking, my pain and struggle on the back or in isolation on the road is nothing compared to the pain animals go through on a daily basis. This is why one of my big lifetime goals-dreams is to save as many endangered species as possible and continue to be a vegetarian for life.
The ride to and from Alaska gave me the mentality that I can do anything if I set my mind to it and allow time and patience. Any triumph really worth the while in life will take much passion, time, and patience. In future goals in life I will remind myself of the time and patience it took to bicycle from Florida to Alaska and back. Dreams, triumphs, and seemingly un-attainable goals are waiting out there for me to go after and conquer. The stereotypical idea that one must jump right into college right after high school was totally erased from my mind during the last few years of high school. The freedom of being on the road allows me to unleash the desires inside of me, have control, and decide the path for my own destiny.
With time and patience good things will come
The greatest feeling of euphoria has stayed with me ever since my uncle and I crossed into Alaska. Perhaps the true glory of it all arises from me telling myself that with time and patience I can accomplish anything my heart desires. A lot of people can talk about big plans and dreams but turning these big dreams and desire into reality is all the more gratifying. There was no $1,000,000 prize waiting for me at the Alaska border. This was a dream that once accomplished has no monetary value. I would do this trip a hundred times over for no prize money or awards. The biggest reward comes from within, the natural high feeling and peace that takes over the body once the seemingly endless goal has been accomplished. Little did I know at the time what doors would later open up for my in my cycling future.
Appreciation of Life
The trip to Alaska and back really opened up my eyes to appreciate the absolutely gorgeous countryside. It also bonded my Uncle and I which formed a companionship stronger than ever. We experienced disgusting weather conditions, pushed through hard times, lived on a tight budget, and challenged ourselves to riding well over 100 miles per day. We built appreciation for a home, family, home-cooked meals, shelter of an automobile, and friendships. I rode with the rhythm of The All-American Rejects song “Move Along” in my mind all the way to the finish. I kept Christopher McCandless’s words “Not Necessarily to Be Strong, but to feel strong” in my mind throughout all the bad times of my trip. I reminded myself of the poor and brave souls that tried to summit Mt. Everest and died in the undertaking. Most importantly, I reminded myself that there is always someone to look at as an inspiration and there is always someone out there that is worse off than myself. “Whenever someone asked what are you doing this for?” or “What are you trying to prove?” Inside my mind I would remind myself that I ride to prove not a thing to anybody on the planet but myself.