• Wed November 12 2008
  • Posted Nov 12, 2008
by Monsicha Hoonsuwan Finally, he was back in Des Moines. It was August 2008, and the weather was hot. After arriving at the Greyhound Bus Station downtown and making a quick stop to pick his key up at the Drake Real Estate office, Derryk Gan (B4), an actuarial science senior, was back at home. Of course, it was not really his home; it was a rental house. But after a month-long trip that forced him to camp out on the side of the road, sleep in a cold valley and spend nights in various motels, Gan was happy to come back to his room. "It was all over," he said. He probably would not do it again, although he had learned so much during his summer trip. He saw things he would have never thought of. But biking 1,018 miles to Washington D.C. from Des Moines, Iowa, was a lot of work. However, what he did was so little compared to the person who inspired him, Gan said. He had read an article about a person who biked across the U.S. from California to the East Coast, took his bike across the Atlantic Ocean to Europe and then biked all the way down to Malaysia. "That was … wow!" Gan said. "I might as well just try it." And Gan wanted to truly see America. For him, the easiest way was to drive a car or ride a bike. However, he had declared himself a "car-free" person; thus, biking became the only option. On May 31, Gan grabbed the second-hand bike he bought in Des Moines and started his journey. THROUGH CORNFIELDS His first obstacles were heat and insects. The sun was burning through his clothes, and little green insects in Iowa City tried to land on his face. One of them landed in his eye when he was on the side of the road as cars were passing him by. It was dangerous, he said. And he swallowed a few of them. Still, things did not go smoothly. In Davenport, after three days of biking, his bicycle's brake broke. Gan crashed into a hedge, ruining his bike. It was getting dark. He dragged his broken bicycle into a restaurant and someone offered to bring him and his bike to a nearby motel. He could not continue his journey with a broken bike. From Davenport, Gan took an hour-long bus ride to Chicago. He invested nearly all his savings into a new bike. It had seven speeds, large tires and a small body that was made specifically for long trips. Most importantly, it was durable. He hoped it would be with him until the end. BIZZARE STORM He was still biking through farmland. "You won't see a tree for miles and miles and miles," Gan said. But he did see rain clouds coming. Gan went into a small lumber shed with no walls. It had only a couple of large planks and a roof. He sat there, waiting. It was June 7, the second day after leaving Chicago, heading toward Indianapolis. And it was a few hours after he had heard a tornado warning. About 15 minutes passed and Gan turned back. He saw a wall of clouds 50-60 miles in front of him. "It was a wall almost all the way to the ground," he said. The rain hit him horizontally. Not even a car could move amidst this massive storm; Gan climbed up the planks of the shed, seeing two inches of water below him. He felt scared as if he was seeing a giant tornado coming. "It was scary," Gan said. He dragged his voice before letting out a laugh. "I got so wet and so scared that I just went to a little town." Despite having nice bicycle trails, the weather in Indiana was not suitable for cycling. Gan spent the whole week waiting. "At 4 o'clock, the storm would come rolling, and (it would) rain for several hours through the night," he said. The road from Indianapolis to Ohio was bad. Gan's tires were busted several times. Fortunately, he received help from a 60-year-old Boy Scout leader and a professional long-distance biker who gave him a spare tire so he did not have to drag his bike 2-3 hours back to Indianapolis. Some days, he would bike about 12 hours straight, taking him 90 miles closer to his next destination. A COLD NIGHT Gan liked biking through hills more than farmlands. Of course, Pennsylvania was mountainous, but the trails in the Appalachian area were built on what used to be train tracks and canals. They were quite flat and smooth. Gan deliberately went to Pittsburgh, Pa. He had heard about the Allegheny Passage Trail - a 150-mile biking and hiking trail system that connected Pittsburgh and Cumberland, Md. This trail would take him to the start of the Potomac River. From there, he would continue biking to Washington, D.C. Despite a 50-degree temperature in the Appalachians, Gan chose to camp in a valley near Ohiopyle where two rivers met. It seemed nice until the clouds rolled in. Gan knew he could not escape the rain, and the night was not going to be easy. "I couldn't sleep all night, and I was shivering," he said with a laugh. Having to travel on a bike, he could not carry many belongings. His tent was not good enough to keep him from the cold, wet weather, and all Gan had to keep him warm was a blanket and a black jacket - the one that normally kept him warm even if the temperature dropped to the 40s. But everything was soaked. He survived, though. Wet and cold, but he got through it. Now, he could see it at the horizon - the end of his long cycling trip. Washington, D.C. was just a few miles away. THE BIG LOSS His bike trip ended just like that: dangerously. If people did not keep telling him that it was dangerous to bike through New Jersey and Manhattan, he might have gotten on his bike and cycled two days to New York City instead of paying $20 for a two-hour train ride. "Everybody I asked said, 'Whatever you do, do not go through New Jersey, don't try to bike through Manhattan. You'll kill yourself.'" In Brooklyn, N.Y., Gan stayed with his friend. Gan locked up his bike and went up to his friend's room for a six-hour visit. The next thing he knew, his bicycle was gone. Somebody cut his lock and stole it away from him. His first reaction was panic. "It was not there when I woke up," he said. "These people have a lot of guts. They'll steal anything." He did not know what to do; the bike was all his savings. Gan e-mailed his mother asking for help. A few hours later, she got back to him, saying that his great uncle who lived in Queens, N.Y. would let him stay in his apartment as long as needed. Gan's eyes absorbed every letter, every word. And he cried. Gan stayed with his uncle for a week before he took a bus to Niagara Falls to meet up with his friends. Then he took another bus trip to visit a friend in Grand Rapids, Mich. But Gan was still mad. His bike had gone through everything with him. For the past month, it had been his closest friend. "It survived the whole month," Gan said with a raised voice. "I would have still kept it." MEMORIES On the dull cream-colored wall of his room, a week after he came back, Gan hung some memorabilia from his trip, such as maps that he used and a ticket to see Niagara Falls. Everything was over now, but he still remembered what he had encountered. He remembered people who helped him. He remembered how much his muscles pained him, and all the emotional moments he had had. Gan knew it was all worth it. Because, he said, it was the best thing he had ever done.

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