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Tagliaferre’s trek: Cruising cross country for a cause

September 17, 2012

Reynoldsville native Jeremy Tagliaferre pauses in front of the Pacific Ocean for a photo opportunity before setting out June 26 on a cross country bike ride to raise funds and awareness for World Bicycle Relief — an organization that provides bicycles to children across the world whose families can’t afford them. (Photo submitted)

Tuesday, June 26, Jeremy Tagliaferre — a Reynoldsville native who currently resides in Falmouth, Massachusetts — set out on a journey that many would never dream of completing: a cross country trek.

A cross country trip by any means of transportation is intimidating enough, as a trip in even the most comfortable car would certainly leave any individual with some aches and pains, but Tagliaferre’s journey followed a less traditional mode: bicycle.

Tagliaferre said the idea for this particular trip was inspired by another he took in 2007 when he hiked the Appalachian Trail.

“After I hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2007, and I really enjoyed it, I wanted to do something similar, but not exactly the same,” he said. “So, I figured my next big thing would have to be a bike trip. If I’m going to do a big bike trip, it has to be biking across the country.”

A common encounter he had on his original trip in 2007 inspired him to change one element of his new plan, though. He decided that after many people had asked him how they could help on his hiking expedition, he would set out to raise money for a charity this time around.

“I chose to ride for a charity because lots of people ask you along the way why you’re doing what you’re doing, and lots of them want to help you out,” Tagliaferre said. “I have enough money; I didn’t really need a ride or a place to stay. So, I figured if they really wanted to help out, I could ask them to give some money to the charity. It just seems like these kinds of things inspire people to want to help.”

Tagliaferre didn’t have to look far from his passion of riding to find a worthy cause to ask folks to stand behind, as he chose to work for World Bicycle Relief — an organization dedicated to “providing access to independence and livelihood through the power of bicycles,” according to its website.

“World Bicycle Relief makes bikes and gives them to kids who really need them,” Tagliaferre said. “One program gives them to kids in rural Africa. Lots of the girls don’t get bikes, and they have to walk miles to get to school. You put them on a bike, and they can go to school. I commute a lot on my bike, and it seemed like such a simple solution and a great organization. That’s why I chose to ride for them. I also have worked in education and with kids off and on, so it kind of made sense to choose that organization.”

Tagliaferre’s line of work often finds him in another medium — in water, working with outdoor education on sailboats.

“I teach kids about the ocean, science, sailing and maritime history,” he said. “More recently, I’ve also worked in the special education department at a middle school. Lots of the kids I have worked with come from situations where just coming to school and getting there can really be an issue. I can definitely appreciate the value of having a student show up to school every day. When I read about WBR’s program, I thought, ‘That just makes so much sense. How can you teach kids anything if they only show up twice a week?’ If kids only show up once a week, they’re constantly playing catch-up. By the time you get them caught up, they miss another day and it’s so hard. There’s no real attitude problem. They want to succeed. They just can’t get there. So this organization really hit home with me.”

June 26 was the official start date of Tagliaferre’s trip, as that’s the day he dipped his tires in the Pacific Ocean to officially mark the trek’s beginning. But planning for the process started earlier with research into the best way to cross the country on a bike.

“I looked online at how others have crossed the country,” Tagliaferre said. “I used some maps from an organization called Adventure Cycling Organization. They started in 1967 mapping a route across the country for 4,000 people to make the trip. I basically took the same route, called the Trans-America Trail. As far as planning goes, just buying their map — which they actually donated to my cause — was the super easy end of it. I didn’t have to call around to departments of transportation or figure out which ones are the best roads to bike on. The biggest part of the planning was figuring out how far I wanted to ride and how long I wanted to say in each particular town. Everything fell into place pretty quickly, though, once I decided on a route.”

But it was on that June morning, as Tagliaferre dipped the tires of his bike, which he calls Gladiator, into the Pacific that the most difficult part of the journey began.

His friends, family and other followers were invited to share in his endeavor, as he blogged his way across the country, too.

Despite excitement in his voice at announcing Gladiator’s tires had been dipped and the journey was under way, he also lightheartedly shared a list of his items that were filled with sand on his first day’s blog: gloves, shoes, shoe covers, yellow bag, frontpack, drivetrain, both wheels, frame, handle bars, socks, jacket and shorts — not leaving much else to the imagination.

But looking back on his trip, Tagliaferre had plenty of highlights to speak of.

“One of the main highlights was kind of the vastness of some of the states out west, like Montana and Wyoming,” he said. “You get into some spots, and there’s just nothing around you. You might have a section where you’re riding for three hours, and there’s just nothingness surrounding you. That was very cool.”

Tagliaferre did admit that the vastness and emptiness took a bit of getting used to, though.

“It was definitely lonely at first, but eventually, I not only got used to it, but I craved it,” he said. “I’d go into a town to buy some food, and I just wanted to get back out in the open spaces. It was a huge highlight to be in such grand space. You don’t get that much on the East Coast. You get lots of forests and mountains, but to be out there was very, very neat.”

While Tagliaferre’s trek didn’t touch every state in the country, it did give him an up-close look at several of the states from the perspective of a pedaler. He added that his favorite state was one not too far from the state he used to call home.

“My favorite state was definitely Kentucky,” he said. “It had some beautiful views and some awesome terrain with its rolling hills. It was just a beautiful ride. It wasn’t too flat, wasn’t too steep and wasn’t too hilly. It was just right.”

Surprisingly, Tagliaferre pointed out that the states that were the most difficult to ride across were the flat ones, and one state in particular stood out to him as a royal pain.

“Pretty much every day in Kansas made me question how much I enjoy bicycling,” he said. “It’s just so flat, and there’s nothing around you going on. A lot of people say that you’ll really like that state because it’s so flat. But on a bicycle, flat’s not always a good thing. You have to pedal constantly, and there’s no break.”

Another element that made the ride tougher than anticipated was an element Mother Nature threw in: the wind.

“Wind doesn’t show up on a map,” Tagliaferre said. “Your last 20 miles every day can be tough with the wind blowing directly in your face.”
While Kansas’ flat terrain and windy demeanor were a bit of a turnoff, Tagliaferre did find one comforting element to the state: the people.
“The great part of Kansas is that the people were just fantastic,” he said. “They were diamonds amongst the rough among the flat doldrums of that state.”

On his 26th birthday, Aug. 20 — marked Day 56 on his blog — Tagliaferre had the end in sight, and he was joined by some familiar faces in his cousin and cousin-in-law, Brandon and Ashley Reiter.

“I woke up this morning to a steady rain pitter-pattering on my tent,” he said on his blog. “It looked like I was going to have to earn my last 70ish miles. I threw my stuff into my bag and hit the road at first light. The rain felt good. It was a perfect way to end my trip. Any other day, I would have been miserable in it. Not today.”

Tagliaferre went on to explain his meeting place with the Reiters, and Brandon hopped on a bike to ride out the rest of the trip with him.
“We rode a paved bike path through First Landing State Park that eventually turned into a dirt path. Today, it was a mud path,” he said. “By this time, the sun came out, and we rode down the beach to meet Ashley near the big statue of King Neptune. That is where we had our tire dipping ceremony.”

Even in his blog, though, Tagliaferre was unable to fully express the moment. He said it took some more processing, as he simply added after the tire dipping comment that he had dropped off Gladiator at a bike shop to be sent home, and the three of them went out for his birthday dinner.

“It was very cool dipping the tires, but it was hard to process right at that moment,” he said. “I actually think I probably thought more about it the night before. I kind of felt like, ‘OK, I’ve done it. There’s nothing that can happen between here and there that would make me want to stop. I have one more day of riding, and then, I’m done.’

“It was almost business-like by the time I got there. I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to dip my tires, get my picture taken, go to the bike shop, get the bike sent home, throw away my bike shorts and get a shower.”

While many would assume exhaustion led to this business-like attitude, Tagliaferre said it was something different.

“I wasn’t exhausted and ready to be finished,” he said. “I just knew in my mind what I wanted. I knew I could take care of those things and then relax a bit. I dipped the tires, took the picture, and then we went out for frozen yogurt. It was while I was eating that frozen yogurt with Brandon and Ashley that I processed it a bit more. I was like, ‘I did it; this was pretty cool.’ And it wasn’t just that I’d done it. We had done it. There was a whole group of people that were a part of it.”

Just a few weeks after Tagliaferre completed this particular milestone, he admitted he’s already put some thought into what’s next for him.
“I’m always thinking about what’s next,” he said. “Within the last week or so, I’m thinking about it, and I think it’ll be a canoe trip. I did the hiking thing; I did the biking thing, now it’s time to get wet a bit on some kind of long canoe trip.”

While Tagliaferre’s trek has come to an end, the foundation he rode for — World Bicycle Relief — and its mission are ongoing. Anyone interested in contributing or just learning more about the foundation can visit its website at www.worldbicyclerelief.org.

Pictured here are members of the Catholic Daughters of America — a group celebrating its 95th anniversary this year.
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