GRAND FORKS — A 2,600-mile bicycle trip that started Jan. 17 on the Pacific Ocean shoreline in San Diego ended March 1 at the Atlantic Ocean in Key West, Fla.
In the process, Mike DeVries of Grand Rapids, Mich., raised about $8,000 for a Game Management Endowment at the University of North Dakota.
“Our goal was $6,000 so we’re pretty pleased that we were able to get above and beyond that,” DeVries said this week. “We’re happy to see that as an outcome.”
Biking across the country had been a longtime dream, DeVries says, but the idea of making the trek a fundraiser came about through his connections with a North Dakota hunting camp where he’s been hunting waterfowl for years.
Erik Fritzell of Grand Forks, a UND alumnus who established the Game Management Endowment in 2016, also is a member of the hunting camp, and the two are friends. When DeVries announced plans for the bicycle trip, he ultimately decided the trek would be a fundraiser for the UND scholarship.
Another member of the hunting camp sent a group text saying he would pledge 10 cents a mile, and others quickly got on board.
About a dozen people contributed to the cross-country journey, Fritzell said, including a handful of Grand Forks residents who read a story about the trip in the Grand Forks Herald.
At that point in the journey, DeVries and his wife, Michelle, were in Austin, Texas, taking a couple of days off from the ride. Michelle DeVries accompanied her husband on the trip, driving a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van as a support vehicle.
The bike trip took an abrupt turn in Texas when an epic winter storm blasted the state and other parts of the southern U.S. DeVries and his wife avoided the wintry mess by loading his bike in the Sprinter van and driving to Slidell, La., a community of 28,000 people about 30 miles northeast of New Orleans.
In hindsight, DeVries said he wouldn't make the trip in the winter.
“Leaving in mid-January and trying to do it in the winter was not a wise decision, no doubt,” he said. “Although, who would have expected the storms of a generation to hit us in two different places.”
DeVries made up the miles he lost in Texas by extending the trip to Key West instead of St. Augustine, Fla., where he originally had planned to end the journey, dipping his feet into the Atlantic Ocean in both locations.
Scary moment in Miami
DeVries was hit by a car in Miami while crossing the entrance to a pharmacy with only 3 miles to go in an 85-mile day.
“This lady just never saw me and ran right into me,” he said. “It knocked me up the driveway, a ways.”
In the journal he kept throughout the trip, DeVries described the encounter in these words:
“I started to cross a drive leading to a pharmacy and peripherally picked up a car that began to turn. Everything went into slow motion at that point, I started yelling ‘NO NO NO’ and hit the brakes while turning up the drive to try to avoid a collision. That turned out to be unsuccessful, a collision did indeed occur, she never saw me. Clean hit, I went flying, the bike still attached to my cleats, and I hit on my left shoulder, which is a bit banged up. Most scary is that my head came down hard on the pavement, thank God for the helmet.”
The police officer who responded didn’t cite the driver. Long story short, the officer sided with her account of the incident that DeVries had driven into her car, and threatened him with a ticket if he didn’t apologize to her.
The encounter was “incredibly frustrating,” DeVries said, and one of only a couple of low points he experienced during the trip. While shaken up by the encounter, DeVries said he wasn’t hurt. The bicycle was damaged, but he had a backup bike he used to complete the trip.
“We loaded the bike up and drove to the hotel we were going to stay at and then bypassed a lot of that Miami nonsense the next day so I didn’t have to drive in traffic again,” he said. “Because frankly, I didn’t know if emotionally I could.”
Beyond Miami, DeVries was able to travel safer routes for the remainder of the ride to Key West.
“The (Florida) Keys had just great paths and bike lanes along the ride, so I just had a great ride all the way to Key West,” he said.
Looking back on the trip, DeVries says the ride was probably 10% physical and 90% mental.
“There were days when, even though I physically felt like I could just keep riding, mentally, I was just drained and exhausted,” he said. “And then I had to find a place to stay and a place to eat and all of that, so it was just a real mental game.”
Besides the people he met and the places he experienced, DeVries says he is pleased that the trek will help UND biology students; the Game Management Endowment now exceeds $300,000.
“I am thankful to the people who supported me the whole way along, especially those guys who wrote the checks for the endowment,” DeVries said. “It's not just the checks that really spoke loudly, it was the frequent interactions I had with them, where they read something and emailed me saying, ‘Hey, hang in there, I’ll still write the check, even if you don't finish, but we're with you all the way, if you can just hang in there and get it done.’
“I had a ton of people supporting me that way, and that just made a huge difference.”
On the Web
Mike DeVries’ journal, which includes daily updates and photos from the trip, is available at www.crazyguyonabike.com/doc/mikeandmichelle2021.