From coast to coast, local bike riders raise awareness for eating disorders

October 29, 2011|By Chris Eckard, The Baltimore Sun

With an impending graduation and no job lined up, John Windsor sat in his apartment at St. Mary's College and listened to his old high school friend pitch him an idea of traveling across the country on a bike.'

Hours later that January night, Windsor and Jonathan Zorn, classmates at St. Paul's High School, were already pinpointing their journey on a large map of the country — a trip that would take them from the wooded coastline of Oregon, through the flat Midwest and all the way to the rolling hills of Virginia.

The pair had never been on a bike trip longer than three days. Still, with a love of the outdoors, and no job lined up after school, Windsor needed little convincing.

Joined by Raphael McGowan, a 28-year-old from Australia who Zorn met studying abroad, the trio embarked on a 4,500 mile cross-county trip on July 23 that lasted until Oct. 8.

"There is nothing out there but wilderness for miles and miles," Windsor said. "It's a nice feeling that just gives you a peace of mind."

But the trip wasn't just for pleasure. Windsor, who had family members struggle with eating disorders over the past year, decided to raise awareness for the Johns Hopkins Eating Disorder Program.

By sending out support letters, reaching his friends through Facebook and creating a blog about his trip, Windsor raised more than $10,000 for the program, which will go toward research and patient analysis.

The journey also helped raise support for a group McGowan knew in Australia called beyondblue, which helps people battling depression.

"I knew I wanted to do it for a cause," Windsor said. "The money I'm raising is great, but the awareness I'm raising is just huge. I don't know why, but it's an issue that's just swept under the carpet. It's an issue that needs to be solved."

The bikers started planning in the spring by training, speaking with experts and local bike shops and researching bike maintenance.

They ultimately decided to take the TransAmerican Trail, a path created by the Adventure Cycling Association. The 4,262-mile route starts in Astoria, Ore., and finishes in Yorktown, Va. The group altered the plan by taking a few detours, like visiting St. Louis, and ultimately riding all the way to Virginia Beach to literally go from coast to coast.

After a few weeks of training, the three flew out to Oregon in late July. Using racks attached to their bikes, they each packed a tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, one clean pair of clothes, several biking shorts and jerseys and some basic cooking supplies.

While Zorn played golf at Towson and Windsor earned All-Academic honors during his four-year lacrosse career at St. Mary's, it took the group some time to adjust to the daily routine of nearly 70 miles of biking.

"I remember there just being a lot of emotions," Zorn said. "The Oregon coast is just unbelievable. I wasn't as overwhelmed as I thought I would be, but I just remember being sore. And mentally it didn't start getting to me until a week and a half in."

Originally the group planned to just find a place to camp out every night once they got to their destination. But the late day stress started weighing the group down.

"That was just so irritating at the end of the day, when you're tired," Windsor said. "It's just not the time you want to be figuring out where you'll be sleeping at the time."

Using a computer when they could, Windsor started researching churches and fire stations in advance, calling to see if they would be open to housing the trio for a night. They relied on pasta and corn for most of the journey, rarely looking more than 24 hours in advance for meals. Instead, they viewed their day-to-day job to find food and shelter a blessing.

"One older couple invited us into their home [in Oregon] and cooked this huge breakfast for us," Zorn said. "It was like we were extended family just how they treated us, and I've never experienced anything like that before. … You learn just how important human relationships are and just how much they teach you and how much you are dependent on them."

The wind in eastern Colorado and the wild dogs in Kentucky — which would run alongside, bark and attempt to latch on to equipment — provided several challenging moments for the crew. But looking back, they would recommend it to anyone, even those without biking experience.

"One guy we met on the trail had never got on his bike. He said he didn't even know how to change a flat tire," Windsor said. "It really does build your confidence back up in America because you see all the nice people and everywhere you ride is just so beautiful."

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