This summer, Engineering sophomore Xiaoyu Shi laid in front of Old Faithful, looking up at the stars, thinking he could spend all night in that spot.
Then he remembered the bears.
This was a common pattern in Shi’s cross-country bike trip. Moments of bliss brought on by being alone on the road then a sharp turn back to the reality of pedaling more than 4,600 miles.
On May 16, Shi took his bike and some overnight gear and set off on an odyssey that would take him from Astoria, Ore. to Yorktown, Va. The saga would last 71 days, traverse 10 states and cover a total of over 4,600 miles.
Shi said he first got the idea in sixth grade.
“It was a pretty random thought,” Shi said. “I thought of it as a way to get healthier and meet new people.”
Shi had always focused on academics during high school, at times neglecting social activities and sports. When he got to college, Shi said he wanted that to change. And it did – a little.
“My roommate and I would get each other up early to go to the gym, and that helped,” he said.
But Shi was looking for something more. So when he decided to embark on the trip, he wanted to ensure that climbing the Rockies and enduring all sorts of weather would not be in vain.
“I wanted to have a charity sponsor my trip,” he said.
He chose the Arc of the United States, a charity devoted to providing support for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. He’s raising money for the charity at www.firstgiving.com/Xiaoyu. So far Shi has raised $1,927.
He rode on the TransAmerican Bike Trail, which was built in 1976 for the U.S. bicentennial celebration.
In Muddy Gap, Wyo., Shi tried to convince a gas station attendant to let him sleep in the store overnight. Instead, she gave him a sandwich and some potato chips and he slept on the metal bench outside.
But Shi said most people he encountered were more hospitable. In Sebree, Ky., Shi came across a Baptist church pastor and his wife, who let him sleep in the church. They hooked up a television, cooked him dinner and breakfast and even did his laundry.
He also encountered quite a bit of the unexpected. In eastern Kentucky, Shi said he was riding down a road when he felt a sharp pain in the back of his head near his ear.
“I actually lost my hearing for a little bit,” he said. “I walked up to this guy who was outside his house and asked him to take a look at it. He said someone had shot me with a BB gun.”
The man contacted a Catholic nun named Sister Marge, who rushed him to the emergency room, where a doctor extracted the BB from his head.
“The doctor even let me keep the BB and the X-ray,” Shi said. “And Sister Marge insisted on paying the bill for the emergency room. She whipped out a check right there.”
When he arrived in Yorktown on July 25, a local cycling club was there to greet him along with a national rep for The Arc. He got a free flight to Washington D.C. to meet his state’s senators, and then went back home to Oregon.
Shi chronicled the trip on his blog at http://www.wearestudents.net/xiaoyu/.