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Home arrow Features arrow Outdoors arrow Riding coast to coast without coasting

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Riding coast to coast without coasting

Adam Driscoll, who has type 1 diabetes, is pedaling his single-speed, fixed-gear bicycle 6,000 miles from Bellingham, Wash., to Ocean City, Md. Driscoll, 24, who lives in Maryland, is raising money for diabetes research and to build a school for poor kids in Kenya. He is riding with two friends. Their fixed-gear bikes aren't capable of coasting — they have to pedal all the time, even when descending. The trio spent Monday and Tuesday nights in Baker City, and rode on to Halfway on Wednesday. (Baker City Herald/S. John Collins).
Adam Driscoll, who has type 1 diabetes, is pedaling his single-speed, fixed-gear bicycle 6,000 miles from Bellingham, Wash., to Ocean City, Md. Driscoll, 24, who lives in Maryland, is raising money for diabetes research and to build a school for poor kids in Kenya. He is riding with two friends. Their fixed-gear bikes aren't capable of coasting — they have to pedal all the time, even when descending. The trio spent Monday and Tuesday nights in Baker City, and rode on to Halfway on Wednesday. (Baker City Herald/S. John Collins).

By JAYSON JACOBY

Adam Driscoll is pedaling his bicycle , and gravity is not his friend.

Not even when he's rolling down hills.

And he's already rolled down some pretty steep ones — the sort of slope where they post big eye-scalding yellow warning signs at the top, urging truck drivers to test their brakes before plummeting down the grade.

The sort of slope that spreads smiles across most cross-country bicyclists' faces because they know, as they crest the summit, that for the coming downhill miles gravity will whisk them along at a brisk pace even as they rest their weary legs and wheezy lungs.

Driscoll is not like most bicyclists.

But he's used to fighting forces he can't control, so he figured why not spar with one of Newton's laws all the way across America, as well.

Driscoll, a 24-year-old from Maryland who spent Monday and Tuesday nights in Baker City and then rode on to Halfway on Wednesday, has type 1 diabetes.

That's the least common, but often the most severe, form of the disease.

Driscoll's pancreas doesn't produce insulin, a hormone that helps the body transform blood sugar into energy.

He wears a device that pumps insulin into his bloodstream every day to control his blood sugar level. Excessive blood sugar can cause all sorts of problems, among them blindness and heart disease.

But Driscoll, who was diagnosed with diabetes at age 11, doesn't dwell on the bad things that can happen to people who suffer from the disease.

He focuses instead on the good things they can accomplish as they defy diabetes' potentially debilitating effects.

Things like bicycling across America to raise $20,000 to build a school for 40 poor kids in Kenya, for instance.

Constructing that school, and inspiring diabetes patients, are the overriding goals for Driscoll and for his two friends who plan to pedal every mile with him:

Neither Blair nor Stump has diabetes.

Stump has had to endure his own medical travails recently, though.

On May 8, less than a month before the bicyclists started riding, surgeons removed Stump's thyroid gland, fearing it might be cancerous.

Stump is still adjusting to his post-operation medication, but he has pedaled every mile beside his buddies.

"It is amazing how quickly he has recovered from such a tremendous shock to his system!!" Blair wrote on the Internet blog he updates daily. "Jesse Stump is tough as nails!!"

Actually all three friends look pretty stout.

Driscoll and Stump ran track and cross-country in college, and Blair competes in triathlons. Each has the lean build and sinewy muscles of the dedicated athlete.

Although the trio, who met while they were students at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County, intend to ride from the Pacific Coast to the Atlantic Coast, they won't do any real coasting in between the two oceans.

Actually they can't coast even if they want to.

That's because all three are riding fixed-gear bicycles.

Which means, to put it in the simplest terms, that Driscoll, Blair and Stump have to pedal all the time. Unlike most bicycles, their rear wheels don't spin independently of the pedals. When they descend a hill they can't put their feet on the pedals and let their lungs and their muscles rest while gravity pulls them along.

"No coasting," Stump said.

No shifting to a low gear to make for easy pedaling, either.

The bikes have only one gear, not 21 or 24.

And that one gear is a high one, Driscoll said — equivalent, on a conventional bike, to riding with your chain on the biggest front ring, he said.

He said he picked fixed-gear bikes for the trip in part because he wants to prove to fellow diabetes sufferers that not only can they complete such a journey despite the disease, but that they can do so under the most arduous conditions.

Plus, he thought fixed-gear bikes would attract more attention.

"We wanted to be unique in some way," Driscoll said. "Everyone knows a biker who has biked across the country. But no one knows a biker who has biked across the country on a fixed-gear bike."

"We haven't met one yet," Blair said.

Neither have the three friends encountered a cyclist who is tracing their considerably-less-than-direct route across America.

They started riding on May 30 in Bellingham, Wash., and rather than bearing due east — the shortest, easiest way — they first went south for about 500 miles. They veered east at Eugene, and when the trio rolled into Baker City Monday afternoon — pedaling, of course, not coasting — they had covered 996 miles.

Monday's 65-mile from near Prairie City was almost their shortest one-day ride — they've pedaled as far as 130 miles, and this weekend's slate includes a 150-mile day in Idaho.

"But we're still on schedule, which is great," Stump said.

That schedule has them finishing their estimated 6,000-mile trek on Sept. 3 at Ocean City, Md.

The cross-country ride isn't the friends' first foray into fund-raising.

Last summer Driscoll and Blair rode 320 miles in Maryland and raised $7,000 for the American Diabetes Association.

"We wanted to do something bigger," Driscoll said.

Pedaling from coast-to-coast on fixed-gear bikes, for instance.

"But we also were looking for another good cause besides diabetes," Driscoll said.

Then, during a church retreat, he and Blair watched a video that showed the plight of Kenyan kids who had no school.

"That inspired us," Driscoll said.

That inspiration prompted him and Blair to travel to Kenya in January. There they visited the village where the school will be built if they reach their $20,000 goal.

"It was a life-changing experience," Driscoll said of the trip to Kenya.

He collected about $8,000 in donations for an African childrens' aid group, Kupenda for the Children, before the trio departed Bellingham. Driscoll estimates they've brought in another $1,000 since.

Although both Driscoll and Blair have full-time jobs (Stump is graduating this year), Driscoll said the group wants to take extended vacations every year to embark on some sort of fund-raising campaign.

Perhaps next year they'll run rather than ride — all three competed in cross-country and track during college.

Regardless, all three said they hope they can continue to travel as a trio.

(As a quintet, actually — two brothers drive the 1992 Nissan Sentra that serves as the bicyclists' support car.)

Blair said they've met several individual cyclists who also are trying to pedal from one coast to the other.

"I feel sorry for those guys, riding all alone. This is better," Blair said, glancing at Driscoll and Stump.

"We're just hanging out."

And pedaling.

Always pedaling.

More information about the trip is available online at .

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