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Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Travel on 2 wheels: One cyclist’s long haul for charity

Alisha McDarris
SJ rode 800 miles to raise money for disaster relief in the Philippines following the recent typhoon. Here she is ready to take off on another day of pedaling after spending the night on the Terradrift couch.

Ever wanted to do one of those extra long bike rides across state lines? Feel the rush of the wind on your face and see the sites in dozens or hundreds of cities around the country? Well, one way to make it happen is by hopping on the lightest carbon frame you can find and pedaling for charity.
That’s what our friend Sarajean Byce did. After the devastating typhoon in the Philippines this fall she wanted to contribute to the rebuilding and could think of no better way than by cycling from Charleston, South Carolina to Key Largo, Florida to raise money for the Red Cross. We met SJ when she surfed on our couch with just a few days of her ride left to go and asked her to share her experiences with us, ’cause we’re pretty into cycling ourselves. Check out how she pulled off this 801 mile ride.

Terradrift: How long have you been into cycling? SJ: I borrowed a friend’s bike and competed in my first triathlon this past summer and after that I was hooked. In August I moved to Charleston, SC and bought my road bike and have been cycling ever since.
Terradrift: What do you enjoy most about it?
SJ: I love endurance sports and the physical challenge of it. I cycle everywhere for transportation and typically do group rides on the weekends. Riding with others is my favorite for the social aspect, because they push me physically, as a way to explore a new area and for safety.
Terradrift: Would you say it’s a good way to travel?
SJ: Biking is the best way to see the country. There is so much more fulfillment having traveled someplace on your own power and you meet more people and see more things.
Terradrift: Do you enjoy travel?
SJ: I love traveling, meeting new people and seeing new places and customs. I am currently an Environmental Studies Master’s Student at the College of Charleston in a program called Peace Corps Master’s International, where I complete one year of academic coursework on campus and then two years abroad as a Peace Corps volunteer, where I finish the thesis portion of my degree. On January 2nd, I received news of my Peace Corps placement…the PHILIPPINES!!! I am so excited to move there and work as a Coastal Resource Management Agent. This placement added so much additional meaning to my recent bike trip because come July 2014, I will be living in the communities I have worked to support.

Terradrift: That’s awesome! What was it like riding all that way by yourself? Did you ever get lonely?
SJ: Typically, I would listen to music from my phone as I rode, but as a result I was constantly battling to keep my phone charged. I stopped at several gas stations along the way just to refill water and plug in my phone. My favorites stops were small cafes or shops when I could talk with the owners. I met individuals with relatives in the Philippines and others who had children in the Peace Corps.
Terradrift: That’s always cool. What was the best part of your ride?
SJ: Every new day was an adventure. I got to watch both the environment change from live oaks and Spanish moss to sand dunes and mangroves as well as the cultural change from biscuits and gravy to fish tacos.
Terradrift: Mmm, fish tacos. What was the hardest thing about it?
SJ: Navigating a bike friendly route was by far the most difficult and scariest part of the trip. Everyday I would have at least one close call with a car and was extremely lucky to make it with no accidents.
Terradrift: Motorists can be so annoying…. If you could do it again, what would you do differently?
SJ: I would advertise my cause a bit better from the start. I recommend that anyone else doing a charity ride take some sort of business card or flier with them to hand out along the way. This was difficult for me because my trip was extremely spontaneous in response to such a recent disaster, but it is something I can improve in the future.
Terradrift:  How much did you raise?
SJ: Nearly $1,500. I collected donations through my website on entitled “Recovery in the Philippines.” I also collected donations personally and encouraged others to donate directly to the American Red Cross.
Terradrift: That was quite a trek. How did it feel to do it? To finish?
SJ: My last day of biking into Key Largo was against strong winds, thus crossing the bridge into Key Largo was the best!!! The first two days my body was extremely sore. I did not bring any saddlebags and carried all of my things in a small backpack, which required more effort. After those first two days my body grew accustomed to it and the soreness faded. Since returning to my Coastal Cyclists riding group here in Charleston, I have definitely noticed that I am a stronger rider. The first time I rode with them I felt so light, like I was missing something, and realized it was the freedom of riding without my backpack.
Terradrift: I think that’s what accomplishment feels like! What does it take to put a ride like this together?
SJ: I would recommend emailing all of the cycling clubs along the way to ask for advice on routes and possibly gain companions for some legs of the trip. Next mapping out places to stay along the way means you won’t have to carry a sleeping bag and tent. Couchsurfing is an amazing resource and I met so many really cool, generous people along my way as a result. Finally, you just need the will power to go! I had no idea how I was going to get back when I left, but was lucky enough to find a ride otherwise I was not opposed to biking back as well.
Terradrift: Do you think you’ll do a ride like this again?
SJ: I would love to do a cross country bike trip in the future, but hopefully I will undertake that one with a buddy or two. I really enjoyed traveling by myself but safety in numbers is a compelling argument after battling traffic in Miami and Ft. Lauderdale.
SJ, we’d be more than happy to accompany you on that cross-country trip! But in the meantime, may your bike shorts never chafe, may passing motorists always give you 3 feet of clearance, and may the wind always be at your back!

Alisha McDarris / Author & Editor

Alisha is a freelance writer and photographer based in Austin, TX. She loves her tiny house, vegan food and experiencing the community of travel in far away places. She’s also pretty sure she’s addicted to coffee. [Portfolio]


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