Two cross-country bicyclists received a modest hero’s welcome when they were escorted down Main Street on the afternoon of June 30 by a Sag Harbor Village police car, its lights flashing and siren blaring.
Drew Harvey of Sag Harbor and Payton Dwight of Palo Alto, California, who are both 24, picked one of the hottest days of the year so far with temperatures in the high 80s to complete a 3,410-mile cross-country ride they started on June 1 in Seattle with the goal of raising $50,000 through their nonprofit, Dawgpatch Bandits, to build outdoor fitness stations at rehabilitation and recovery centers across the United States.
Along with family and friends, they were greeted on Long Wharf by the third member of their riding party, Jimmy Beh, 28, who had to drop out on the 10th day after taking a tumble in Montana that left him bruised and scraped and his bike too damaged to ride.
So far, the group has raised more than $46,000 of its goal, with more than 120 individual donations through a GoFundMe page and a major donation of $13,600 from PayPal’s Giving Fund, which came as a complete, but welcome, surprise. Dawgpatch Bandits plans to use money it has raised to build up to 10 outdoor fitness stations, at an approximate cost of $5,000 each, at sites across the country.
The June ride was modeled after a ride Harvey and Dwight completed in 2018 — shortly after graduating from the University of San Diego — to raise awareness of the opioid epidemic and support two local projects to build fitness stations in memory of friends who had died of drug overdoses.
Those fitness stations are at Pierson High School in Sag Harbor and Turning Point Men’s Home in Holtville, California. A third exercise station has been installed at the Long Island Center for Recovery in Hampton Bays.
Unlike the last cross-country trip that followed a southern route, this year’s ride followed a northern route covering Washington, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York.
The cross-country trip started with a momentous challenge. A 75-mile leg out of Seattle was followed by a 40-mile climb into the Cascade Range that left the three riders exhausted and camping beside the road after they had completed about 25 miles of the climb.
But there was never any thought of rethinking the effort. “Once the die is cast, there is no stopping,” Harvey said. “You have some pretty dark thoughts. You are yelling at yourself, barking at yourself, but you just have to put your head down and turn them.”
The riders passed through four mountain passes, with average climbs of 5,000 feet, in their first three days on the road.
“It’s not for the faint of heart,” said Harvey. “We were in shape coming into the trip, but we weren’t in bicycle shape. We were training into the trip.”
“We hadn’t cycled more than 5 miles between trips,” added Dwight.
That said, the trio was meeting its daily goal of riding at least 100 a day — Harvey and Dwight actually averaged 117 miles a day throughout the trip — when disaster struck.
“We were trying to outrun a lightning and hail storm,” said Dwight. Harvey had lagged behind to fix a flat, and Beh was in the lead about 5 miles outside of Jordan, Montana, when his chain jumped off the sprocket as he downshifted. “It locked the pedals and tore the front derailleur right off,” he said. “I got into a speed wobble and the handlebars turned into the frame and I went over them.”
Beh said a motorist who was following told him he skidded 35 to 40 feet along the pavement. The man, who just happened to be an EMT, took him to a “frontier hospital,” or emergency medical center, in Jordan, where the doors were locked, and an on-call staff had to be dispatched.
“I’m very fond of that place, but it would be generous to call it a hospital,” he said. “The PA who stitched me up was from Helena and he did two-week rotations.”
Beh said he would have considered pressing on, but his bicycle was too badly damaged to ride, so he hitchhiked to Billings, where he caught a plane home to Washington, D.C.
“It was the last leg of a big day, a 130-mile day,” said Harvey. He and Dwight stuck around the following morning to make sure Beh was okay before they continued into North Dakota, reeling off 150 miles for their longest ride of the trip.
The team packed light for their journey, carrying a few layers of cyclist clothing, a small tent, and sleeping bags and mats, camping in parks whenever possible and sometimes just pitching a tent by the side of the road.
For food, they largely relied on gas stations, where they would stock up on delectables like Spaghetti-Os or tuna, which they ate out of the can. If they were fortunate enough to encounter a diner on their route, they might stop in for a quick breakfast or dinner.
“It was all about efficiency,” Dwight said, adding that they did enjoy stopping at the occasional truck stop, where they could enjoy a hot shower.
“We weren’t going out of our way to enjoy any comforts,” Harvey said. “You don’t need a shower every night, but when it is there right in front of you, you take it.”
Once they got through North Dakota, the riders picked up the Mississippi River in Minnesota and followed it along the Wisconsin border to Iowa and over to Illinois, where they followed old canal routes and ducked under Chicago and across Indiana and Ohio. When they reached Pennsylvania, “we could smell it,” Harvey said. “We were back east again.”
After several hundred miles of mostly flat terrain, though, they had to deal with the Appalachian Mountains. “Pennsylvania is not flat,” Harvey said dryly, remembering an almost endless series of hills and valleys.
On June 29, they crossed the Hudson River, rode through New York City, and followed Route 25A across Long Island to Flanders, where they camped one more night, before making a short jaunt home.
For Dwight, the biggest takeaway was a simple one: “Meeting the challenge of doing it in 30 days,” he said.
More information about the organization can be found at dawgpatchbandits.com. Donations can be made by using the Ride for Recovery link.