HENRICO COUNTY, Va. — Dan Schmitt cannot contain his childlike excitement on two wheels, but the cyclist’s current bike trip is not child’s play.
“I’m happy to get on my bike each and every morning,” Schmitt said. “I’ve never done anything like this before and it is quite a challenge. Every day is a test of endurance and perseverance.”
The Henrico man is riding on an adventure that would impress Lewis and Clark: pedaling about 4,500 miles from Washington state to Maine.
“It is a lot of problem solving and navigation and weather and mechanical issues on my bike,” Schmitt said.
He acknowledged the ride has been "tough on" his body as the first week was in the Washington mountains.
"Four big mountain passes,” Schmitt said. “That was quite challenging. Lots of snow at the top. Very cold."
The three-month trek is pulling Schmitt through states where Mother Nature’s beauty is on full display.
“I just feel so happy every single day on my bike. Seeing so much beauty," Schmitt said. "Yesterday we rode along a lake for 45 miles and we saw more bears than cars. It gives you an idea of the great wilderness that we’re in."
For much of the journey he is biking solo and unsupported with no hotels on his itinerary. Schmitt camps at night wherever he can pitch a tent.
“We’ve had a lot of rain and wind in our face at times. You just have to keep going and pedaling forward,” Schmitt explained.
The arduous trip for the recent retiree is made easier by the kindness of strangers.
“It is full of adventure and interesting and kind people," Schmitt said. "And full of great scenery.”
The journey, which kicked off two weeks ago, is something Schmitt dreamed about for decades. In fact, he was inspired after reading the book Kon-Tiki, which told the story of six men who sailed thousands of mile from South America to Polynesia.
“It is really actually so rewarding to go on this journey," Schmitt said. "Been thinking about it for more than 30 years. It is really great to hold onto a dream that long. And begin the journey.”
The trek isn’t just one man crossing something off of his bucket list. The cyclist is fueled by a determination to help others facing physical challenges.
The 62-year-old recent retiree is pedaling for Sportable, the nonprofit that provides athletes with disabilities a chance to compete. He hopes to raise $100,000.
“Sportable is such an incredible organization. Riding for this cause makes it so much more rewarding and easier to be honest,” Schmitt said.
Sportable Development Director Cindy Schmitt said the cyclist’s willingness to go the distance for others shows his true character.
“If you know Dan, it doesn’t seem like out of character for him. He thinks big,” Cindy Schmitt said. “The mission of Sportable is very important to Dan. He volunteers with our cycling program.”
She has good reason for keeping a close eye on the rider’s progress: He is her husband.
“Oh my gosh. I’m incredibly proud of him,” Cindy Schmitt said. “He wants to inspire people and show them that anything is possible as long as you put your mind to it.”
The determined cyclist is averaging about 50 to 75 miles a day and has conquered about 800 miles so far.
“Long days in the saddle are not easy," Schmitt said. "But I think my body will start to acclimate and it will get easy as I go.”
Each mile conquered brings him closer to his final destination, but he is savoring every crank along the cross-country trek.
“It tests your patience and your resolve," Schmitt explained. "You just have to find a way to keep going.”
Schmitt's inner drive to help others is propelling him forward all while realizing a 30-year old dream.
“I keep saying during the day that as long as the front wheel is moving forward, I’m winning. So I just try to win as much as possible,” Schmitt said. “It has been phenomenal. I can’t wait to keep going and see what else unfolds.”
Schmitt should reach Bar Harbor, Maine, by mid-August.
Click here to donate to the cause and follow Schmitt's journey.
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