Q/A with Wheels of Change

Waterbury — They have biked 1,000 miles down the eastern seaboard, but Jim Dang and Dylan Peterson are still in high spirits.

The two friends met at college at Springfield State in Springfield, Mass. Halfway through their college education, the two made a cross-country bike trip in 2011, traveling 3,600 miles in 75 days to raise awareness for the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation.

“We’re pedaling with the notion of how easy and rewarding it is to help those in need of support,” the pair write on their blog, www.jdwheelsofchange.com. Along the way, they’ve volunteered with missions and local food shelves. They plan on volunteering as much as possible throughout their trip, which will lead them in a figure eight shaped route around the United States. After starting in Waterbury on Sept. 18, the two remain in high spirits. They anticipate being on the road for 14 months.

The two spoke with Vermont Sports about the ride so far from Wayneboro, Va. where they were resting before hitting the road for a 400-mile ride to Ashville, N.C., where they plan to volunteer with the local YMCA.

Vermont Sports: Describe where you are now and how far you’ve traveled so far. How are you guys feeling?

Jim Dang: We just got off Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park. We’ve gone about 1,000 miles so far and tomorrow we hit the Blue Ridge Parkway to Ashville, N.C. We’re feeling great. We’re feeling really strong. The Shenandoah National Park was a really good training route; there was a lot of climbing and a lot of descending. We’re feeling great and looking forward to the Parkway to make us even stronger.

VS: The two of you did a similar trip in 2011. What was it about that ride that made you want to have a similar cross-country ride again?

JD: We were only 20 years old at the time and we got to thinking, “Wow, we’re only 20 and very fresh to the world. This was really our only worldly experience and we got to thinking about the likelihood of another trip and what would it be like if that one was even longer and made it even a little bigger by using our college degrees to become more well rounded. Once we ended that trip, we thought we knew a lot about ourselves, but it was only the tip of the iceberg. We wanted to keep testing ourselves.

VS: How long ago did you start preparing for the trip that you’re on now and what kind of preparations in logistics and training did you have to make?

JD: We’d been juggling the idea and we always thought the timing would be best when we finished college. In the summer of 2013, we decided that when we were done with our summer commitments [after graduating], we would depart. Dylan had an internship at a local TV station in Springfield and I was working at a summer camp as well as with individuals with disabilities. Once all that freed up, we decided it was time to hit the road.

But as far as training? No training. After the last ride, we did a mini tour for a week from Vermont, through New Hampshire and all the way across Maine to see Dylan’s dad who retired out there. But we didn’t own our own bikes then. I was borrowing a friend’s and Dylan was using an extremely rickety bike that actually fell apart at the end of the trip. We only bought bikes for this trip right before we left. I got the bike I’m riding on now a week before the trip. I went on a 30-mile bike ride with two friends and they really gave me a nice reality check.

We’re pretty flexible. We did a general outline of the places we want to go to based on really close friends that we wanted to see and were in areas that we had never been to. We thought the idea of doing a figure eight was really enticing. A lot of people that go cross country go either north or south and we thought we’d take all four corners of the country and then, at the same time while we’re seeing so many towns and communities, why not volunteer and apply what we can to connect to people. We really try and take it one state at a time and pick up a map and look at the landmarks we want to get to. There’s a website called adventurecycling.com that gives you maps and places to go to. We know where we’re going but we’re letting the experience unfold day-by-day and hour by hour.

VS: Describe your equipment. How much are you guys carrying? How about food?

JD: I’d say we both have about 35 to 40 pounds depending on what we’re trying to do. We recently stopped at a grocery store to stock up on food for the next part of our trip so we’re carrying the most weight right now. Both both ride a Specialized TriCross that we purchased from Ski Rack in Burlington, Vt. and we have saddlebags on the back, no front bags. We have our small tent from TC Outdoors Store, two sleeping pads, pillows and sleeping bags. We have very minimal clothes that are pretty universal. We each have two shirts with socks for riding that Darn Tough supplied us with. We’ve got some zip of pants and wind pants, biking shorts, a long-sleeved shirt to hang-out in, a long-sleeved shirt to bike in, rain jackets, insulating jackets, a hat and sunglasses. We’re pretty minimal. We recently picked up a computer, so we have an ongoing blog and we’re shooting videos with a GoPro camera. We do our cooking on a Jetboil Helios stove and we also carry fuel bottles. We usually carry breakfast with us and pick up dinner at night. Lately we’ve been experimenting with pasta dishes. They haven’t been delishous but at the end of a long day anything will taste good. Most recently, we made pasta with a can of queso, meat sauce, and beans. We’re looking at food in terms of what has the most calories

VS: You’ve said a major part of the trip has been volunteer work. Where are some of the places you guys have volunteered and what did you do there?

JD: The first was in Manhattan and we volunteered for the Bowery Mission. It’s a homeless mission that feeds individuals in that area dinner Monday through Friday. We did a lot of dishes in the beginning and then served about served about 200 people food. The most recent one was in Leonardtown, Md. And it was at a church called the First Saints Church. We fed about 100 people there in conjunction with the people that worked there and handed out provisions. Today we’ve been playing phone tag with man in Ashville, NC who works with the YMCA. We’ll be working in their food pantry when we get down to there.

It’s really beautiful when we’re riding on our bikes, seeing the landscape and such. But at the same time, as cool as the land is we want to know what the people who live there. Volunteering really brings us as much pleasure as cycling through new place or conquering tough new terrain. In a car you can drive through a place and it’s a good feeling but the windshield is such a barrier, you’re not able to get out and meet people. And we’re on the road a long time. What do we have to lose by spending a few hours or a day meeting people that we wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to?

VS: When you meet people and tell them what you’re doing, how do they respond?

JD: Well, first they assume we’re on motorcycles, then they ask us like, “Why are you doing this?” or “Are you crazy?” They’re really inviting. They love hearing about what we’re doing, it’s especially surprising to them when we say that we consciously try to stop and volunteer. They understand that the places we stopped at, we were there for a good reason.

VS: You’ve written on your blog that a few times you’ve had to rely on the good will and generosity of strangers. Was this intentionally planned and does it concern you at all?

JD: As this trip has gone on, we’ve really had our faith reaffirmed. We both come from different backgrounds and have different ideas of faith or religion, but on this trip we can’t say anything other than we’ve been blessed by the company of the people who we just end up meeting at the right time and place. We’ve had to ask people, “Excuse me sir, but would you mind if we set up our tent in your backyard?” A man in Colpepper, Va, thought about it for literally two seconds and then said, “Yeah, that’s fine.” He showed us his back yard and we thanked him. Eventually, he ended up inviting us inside, letting us sleep in his basement in two guest bed. He let us shower and asked if we wanted pizza. He gave us a ton of snacks and gave us a hot breakfast the next morning. The little things that people are doing for us mean the world to us. We’ve also recently found out about this website called warmshowers.org, which is an organization for bicycle tours and once we became members, there’s 50,000 people either on a tour or are available to host. We’ve had to use it two or three times and the people we’ve met have just been great. We do our best to take care of ourselves, but if we get in a tight spot, people have been willing to help. We’re just two kids and I don’t think we look very threatening. They just feel like helping and building karma.

VS: Your page on gofundme.com is still active and you’re still accepting donations. Where does the money go and why should people donate to you?

[Jim hands phone to Dylan Peterson]

DP: The money goes directly to our bank accounts and helps us with things like food and bike maintenance. It basically fuels our fire and if people are interested in philanthropy, we’re the epitome of that right now because we’re on a mission to promote active lifestyles on our bicycles and to show people that realizing their dreams is cool and also to lend a hand where we’re able to. And that’s something that most people can do every day. Doing the work we’ve done is something that fills you with joy, there’s nothing that can replace that feeling.

VS: If someone were considering a long distance ride like yours – maybe not quite as long – what would be some words of advice that you’d give them?

DP: Don’t be afraid, commit, trust yourself, be honest with everyone, be open, get out of your comfort zone. Prayer can help too.

Evan Johnson

Evan Johnson is the staff writer for Vermont Sports Magazine. The native Vermonter enjoys steep and deep skiing and wandering all over the state by Subaru. Find him on Twitter at @evanisathome.