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Biking Across America: A Tale Of Loss And Life Regained

On a sunny day in Sunset Beach, North Carolina, Wyatt Akin and Stephen Prince return from their usual morning bike ride. It is bright and sunny, the kind of day that makes everyone feel invincible. But for these boys, life doesn’t look as bright on the inside as it does on the outside. Prince finds himself unable to think about anything other than the fact that his brother, Andrew, has only a limited time left to live, as a disease known as Neurofibromatosis has taken over his body. Wyatt, too, can’t seem to shake the feeling that things are changing fast, and not for the better. “While in our despondent state we started talking about what sort of things that we might want to do [to help Andrew’s cause]. A sort of bucket list of ideas was proposed and one of those ideas was riding our bikes cross country,” tells Akin. “We had no clue how we were going to do it, but we did know that it was just the sort of thing that was right up our ally.” A plan began to take shape that would take the boys on the cycling journey of a lifetime; a tour across America that would consist of 48 cycling days and seven rest days beginning in Lubek, Maine, and ending in Imperial Beach, California. Other states on the itinerary included New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona. From the very start, the road ahead, literally, was not easy. Day one greeted Akin and Prince with an overcast sky, 45 degree Fahrenheit chills and a busted tire. And later on that day, when the sky opened up into a shower of freezing rain drops, the boys were not shocked. They knew being out on the road would be a challenge, and were prepared to face it. One difficulty Prince and Akin encountered on their journey across America was homelessness. Prince remembers one night when the pair attempted to camp out on a baseball field in Walsenburg, Colorado. He says, “We get there and are just about to set up the hammock and tent when three cops come by and flash their lights at us. Apparently camping [was] not allowed.” While the boys spent much time sleeping on the ground, pitching hammocks in the woods and asking strangers if they could camp out in their yards, there were times when their sleeping situation was more than just a hassle, but downright scary. “We wake up to what sounds and feels like the biggest earthquake known to man. The ground is shaking and Wyatt and I our screaming when we realize a train is coming by,” exclaims Prince. “It lasts for about ten minutes and it feels like our world has gone upside down. We eventually fall back asleep, when a few hours later two trains come by in opposite directions and the earthquake has become a 9.0 on the Richter scale. Wyatt and I again wake up screaming and then, in all the commotion, we head butt each other…So now, not only are we in the worst earthquake in history in the state of Missouri, but we now have throbbing headaches. Word of advice, never sleep near train tracks.” Fortunately for Akin and Prince, there were many people who wanted to lend them a helping hand. For example, in a diner in Blythe, California, one waitress went above and beyond her call of duty to help the boys out, as the heat was getting unbearable for them to be outside during the daylight hours. Their waitress was a sweet, young blonde local, who was incredibly friendly. After eating their breakfast, the exhausted Akin and Prince couldn’t help but fall asleep at their table. Patrons began complaining about the dirty, young men using the restaurant as a hotel, asking that they be kicked out, but the waitress simply replied, “Where would they go?” At 2:00 PM, Akin and Prince awoke to find that the diner was closing for the afternoon. Visibly upset by this news and unsure of what to do next, the boys began chatting with the waitress about their encounters with locals, and how sometimes they would be invited over to peoples’ houses to sleep or relax. Not only did the young server invite the boys over for a dip in her pool, but she had her mom cook them dinner and let them camp in the yard. “I saw so many people on this trip that had nothing,” explains Prince, notably affected by the kindness of these strangers. “They were poor, their parents were drunks or ignored them. I saw such poverty in this country that it shocked me. The amazing thing was that these people were still so nice and generous when I talked to them. They would buy me lunch, stop on the side of the road and give me water or let us sleep in their house or yard. It was just amazing to me. These are people that deserve a chance to succeed and I want to do anything I can to help them.” Over the course of the boys’ 2-month journey, they also learned a lot about themselves and exactly what they were capable of. “We had our longest bike ride, where we went 84 miles,” recounts Prince. “We also went over these hills known as the Pompey Hills which apparently are harder than the Rocky Mountains. Traveling over these hills was very difficult…You’d go uphill for a mile and a half then go downhill for a mile and a half. We reached speeds of over 43 mph, which was intense.” While Akin and Prince worked hard, they were often rewarded with mountainous backgrounds, sparkling nearby waters, deep-colored deserts, lush forest views and famous natural wonders, for example, the Grand Canyon. “It was breathtaking!” declares Prince. “This is a spot that all people should go to. We spent the next morning fixing our bike tires, which was tedious work, but eventually we finished. We biked 77.7 miles to Flagstaff to get back on track.” At 1:03PM Pacific Standard Time on the 54th day of their bike ride across America, Wyatt Akin and Stephen Prince reached Imperial Beach, California, the finish line of their journey. Although the trip contained both highs and lows, extreme weather conditions, uneven terrain and questionable sleeping conditions, the boys didn’t regret a moment of their journey.

“The way I felt as the end approached is almost indescribable,”explains Prince. “We had gone so far over so long a time that it was just weird to be almost done. When we were two miles away we finally saw the ocean on the horizon, we started yelling and letting out war cries.” Akin adds, “Now I am never bored and I find people as fascinatingly diverse. From a physical stand point I was as fit as I will have been in my entire life. After working out everyday all day, it does wonders for destroying any sort of body fat that wants to occur.” The boys also feel that the journey itself has been a source of inspiration for both themselves and for others. “We have inspired two other groups to ride their bikes cross country from our home town. This creates a lot of pride for us because the greatest form of flattering is replication, and the fact is that we succeeded in our ambitions and creating a business plan that generates tremendous in earning potentials,” tells Akin. “The most important thing is it gave the two of us the determination to be able to accomplish whatever goals we set our minds to. Stephen now teaches English in Korea after finishing is first year of law school at The University of Miami, and I am now finishing my Bachelor’s degree at Burapha International College in Thailand. Who knows what the two of us might do next.” To read Stephen and Wyatt’s original blog of the journey, click here.

About Jessie Festa

Jessie Festa is an New York-based travel content creator who is passionate about empowering her audience to experience new places and live a life of adventure. She is the founder of the solo female travel blog, Jessie on a Journey, and is editor-in-chief of Epicure & Culture, an online conscious tourism magazine. Along with writing, Jessie is a professional photographer and is the owner of NYC Photo Journeys, which offers New York photo tours, photo shoots, and wedding photography. Her work has appeared in publications like USA Today, CNN, Business Insider, Thrillist, and WestJet Magazine.

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