Sunday, August 5, 2012

Cross-country encounter on a small-town ride

For cycling-obsessed people like myself, the only thing better than a good bike ride is a good bike ride with company.

The social context of a group ride is one that almost always lends itself to good conversation. Even if it's a group of complete strangers, the common ground of biking and the shared appreciation for exercise helps immensely in breaking down the social walls that may have existed otherwise.

I've always enjoyed the conversations I have with other cyclists on the road. Some were casual riders just looking to get out of the house for awhile; others were serious racers working on a specific training ride. Whatever the case, all of them were interesting in their own way.

Or, in the case of Delicia Jernigan, they were just plain interesting.

Delicia Jernigan biked all the way from
Portland, Or. to ride in the Tour de Nick
Saturday in Northfield.
I came across Jernigan yesterday at the Tour de Nick ride in Northfield. The Hawthorne, Nev. native was passing through Southern Minnesota in the midst of cross-country bike trip from Portland, Or. to Portland, MA to raise money for Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (SAVE), a nonprofit organization based in Minneapolis that the Tour de Nick raises money for as well.

Both Jernigan and the Tour de Nick's philanthropic efforts come as a result of personal tragedy. The annual Northfield ride started in 2003 to honor Nick Sansome, a local cyclist who took his own life earlier that year. Jernigan likewise lost her younger brother Anthony to a similar fate in 2010.

Ride organizer Bill Metz pointed Jernigan out to me early on, but I didn't really get a chance to talk with her before the ride, mostly due to the photos and video I attempted to take of the event for the Northfield News. However, I caught up with her on the road and spent the last several miles of the ride conversing with "D" -- as she likes to be called -- about her trip.

Admittedly, it was a pretty cool experience for me. Given the troubles I've had with simple day trips on a bike, the people who are brave enough to try cross-country travel have my respect and admiration. It takes a lot of ambition to do something like that. With Jernigan, the loss of her brother helped spark that ambition.

"I always wanted to bike across the U.S., but I never really thought I could do it," Jernigan said. "After my brother died though, everything changed for me. I started asking myself, 'Why am I not doing this?'"

Eventually, Jernigan resolved to make the bike trip a ride of remembrance, both for her brother and the lives of others that have been lost to suicide. In addition to taking donations and writing about her trip, Jernigan's ride website includes a memorial wall where people can submit the name of a loved one who has taken their own life.

"I'm not just doing this for me," Jernigan said. "I'm doing this for everyone who's ever had their life affected by suicide. It's about raising awareness of the problem and understanding what we can do to help."

Jernigan heard about the Tour de Nick through the SAVE organization and though the rest of her trip has followed a relatively relaxed schedule, the Northfield group ride was always at the top of her list of priorities.

"I had this date circled on my calendar from the very beginning," Jernigan said of Tour de Nick. "It's going toward a great cause and it seemed like it'd be a cool event to be a part of."

The trip for Jernigan hasn't been without the occasional struggles. She estimates having encountered roughly 20 flat tires on the road and since this is her first time doing multi-day bike traveling of any kind, the contents of her gear has been a work in progress.

"I started off with way too much stuff on my bike," Jernigan said. "It's a constant process to figure out what you need and what you can do without. I've gotten rid of a lot of stuff since the start of the trip."

Still, Jernigan is more than happy with how her trip has gone thus far, particularly with the interactions she's had with others.

"I've yet to have a bad encounter with anyone," Jernigan said. "Everyone has been so supportive and helpful on the road. Some of the people have been absolutely amazing to talk to."

After spending spent Saturday night with the Metz family following the Tour de Nick, Jernigan departed from Northfield earlier today and is hoping to get to Portland, Ma. by mid-to-late September. Although she is looking forward to reaching her destination, Jernigan is equally excited for the journey it will take to get there.

"It's been awesome so far, so we'll just see where it goes from here," Jernigan said.

And though I won't be joining Jernigan for the rest of her trip -- pretty sure I don't have enough vacation time built up for that -- it was fun getting to know her for that brief stretch of road and I look forward to reading more about her journey in the future.

Godspeed D, and ride safe.

1 comment:

  1. WOW ! That must have been exciting. Even I love biking so I really enjoyed reading this post. I was in Switzerland a couple of months back when I had this chance to rent a bike and go biking around the country side. It was a really short 40 km trip but I enjoyed it fully.

    Jernigan indeed is doing a great thing. All the best to her.