While waiting in line at White Market on East William Street, Justin Leath could barely contain his excitement. In two days’ time, the third-year School of Dentistry student would begin a grueling seven-day, 458-mile bike ride from Windsor, Ontario to Toronto and back.

Brian Merlos
School of Dentistry student Justin Leath is currently biking through Canada to raise money for the Alliance to Save Energy. (CHANEL VON HABSBURG-LOTHRINGEN/Daily)

But Leath wasn’t getting worked up about the trip.

He pointed to a front-page story in The Ann Arbor News about the growing popularity of public transportation because of consistently rising gas prices. “This is what I’m talking about,” Leath said, placing the newspaper back on the shelf.

Finding a way to reduce gas prices and lower atmospheric pollution produced by car emissions concerns Leath, so much so that he dedicated his bike trip – one that started out as something for him to do during a short break he had between Dentistry classes and patient appointments – to raising awareness and money for the cause.

Leath had not been on a bike in over a year before he started training for this trip. But he hopes that his enthusiasm will inspire others to investigate alternatives to burning fossil fuels.

“I just want people to get out there, walk, cycle, ride, whatever you want to do, man,” Leath said. “Think about getting a car that cuts down on fuel consumption. That’s something I’m really passionate about.”

Two days after Leath planned the trip, he decided to link it with an organization. He settled with Alliance to Save Energy, a non-profit organization based in Washington, D.C. With donations pouring in from family, friends, fellow School of Dentistry students and ASE members, the Star to Sun Ride, named after the respective newspapers in Windsor and Toronto, was born.

“Once I started shopping around for a charity, I realized the sincerity of the guy I was talking to at Alliance to Save Energy, Chuck Wilson, who is like the head of the contribution department there,” Leath said. “He inspired me to keep riding and do it.”

To some contributors, Leath’s decision to ride in Canada is a perplexing one. Although the money raised by the Star to Sun Ride is going to an American organization, Leath decided to take his bike across national lines.

But he says that fact shouldn’t deter people from getting involved.

“Pollution has no governmentally indicated boundaries,” Leath said. “The course was just the right distance for me. I knew I could complete it with the limited time I’m given, because I’m going to have to go back to school two days after I finish riding, so hopefully that will give me time to rest up before I see patients again.”

Armed with a Gary Fisher bike (which can retail at more than $5,000) borrowed from a friend, the bare essentials and only the clothes on his back, Leath set out at 11 a.m. Friday. He is currently en route. The trip from Windsor to Toronto was originally scheduled to take three days, but Leath pushed well past his 10- to 12-hour guideline every day and kissed the CN Tower just 36 hours after he started pedaling.

Although he planned to be on the road for seven days, the St. Clair Shores native is likely to smash the original plan he had set.

Overall, Leath spent 24 of those 36 hours on a bike. In fact, only “torrential rains” stopped him on the first night of his voyage.

By rushing past the checkpoints he had for himself and biking until midnight on some days, Leath has resorted to “roughing it,” on the trip, saying that if it comes down to sleeping under the stars, he’ll have no reservations about that.

“Just keep going. I think that’s exactly what I’m going to do,” Leath said. “I’m just going to go. I know my starting point, and I know my ending point, and I’ll fill in the lines in between.

“I’m just an open spirit. Wherever it takes me, it takes me.”

Leath has even set up a blog about his ride (www.thestarttosunride.blogspot.com) that he is updating from his Blackberry during his trip. Information about donating can be found there.

Leath is barely even stopping to eat. Munching on bananas, granola bars and weight protein, he only stops for solid meals when necessary.

“The weight protein – I’m just going to throw a scoop in my mouth, drink some water and swallow while I’m in route,” Leath said.

With more than half of the Star to Sun Ride behind him, Leath isn’t worried about actually finishing, anymore. His most pressing concern has to do with the iPod he brought along.

“My concern is running out of music along the way,” Leath said.

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