Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

February 20, 2014

A 6,800-mile lesson in life

Cyclist's soul-searching adventure takes him coast to coast

By Dustin Luca
dluca@andovertownsman.com

---- — For one Andover man admittedly lost in life, finding direction meant going on a bike ride — one that covered 6,800 miles across 24 states in 121 days.

Dave “Davey” Brian, a 22-year-old North Main Street resident, embarked on an adventure that has left him with a new attitude on life.

The decision to pedal from Boston to Seattle and then back east to Florida came at a time of uncertainty in Brian’s life.

“I wasn’t really doing stuff after high school. I was confused,” he said. “All my friends were going to college, and I had no idea what I wanted to do.”

Brian decided to realign his life, putting his studies in psychology and marketing at Bunker Hill Community College in Charlestown on hold for the chance to do something memorable while he was still young and had both the ability and energy, he said.

He started working seven days a week at two Dunkin’ Donuts locations to save up for the trip. Come last June, he had put away $5,000. He sunk $800 into a bike; grabbed a sleeping bag, tent and other supplies; and then set off from Boston on June 4.

Early on, he encountered some issues with his knees. But by the time he reached Chicago, they were gone. From there, he headed to Des Moines, took in the sights at Mt. Rushmore and Yellowstone National Park, and then continued on to Seattle, almost entirely on pedal power.

Brian would cycle by day, then find shelter at night. He relied heavily on two social media websites he discovered on his travels — WarmShowers.org, described as “a site for reciprocal hospitality for touring bicyclists,” and CouchSurfing.org, with the motto, “Travel the world, explore your city and host new friends.”

“When I first started my trip, ... I was skeptical about it,” Brian said. “But it worked out great. I met so many people I still keep in contact with.”

After taking a month off to rest and explore, Brian made a one-day beeline from Portland to San Francisco, covering 200 miles in 16 hours, his longest one-day trek of the entire trip. By the end of it, he was shaking and had a pounding headache to show for the mistreatment. And his knee troubles returned.

The knee issues prompted him to forego a rougher part of the ride, opting instead for a 23-hour bus trip from San Francisco to Texas in early-September.

From there, he got back on the bike and spent the next almost two months cycling east through New Orleans and into Florida. He arrived in St. Augustine, dipping his front tire in the Atlantic Ocean on Oct. 30.

There were rough patches along the way, he said. Warm showers and couches to crash on weren’t always easy to come by. At times, he’d set up his tent and spend the night at a campsite or, on some instances, rough it entirely, he said. Nutrition also became a challenge.

“By the end of my trip, I really lowered my health standards because I was low on money,” he said, explaining how he would stop at dollar stores in Louisiana and Florida and buy boxes of Pop-Tarts for $2 to keep himself going.

“It was so bad,” he said, laughing.

Brian returned east in late fall with no money, but filled with a sense of accomplishment. He has settled in Andover, where he works at the front desk at Planet Fitness in Shawsheen Plaza. He plans on going back to school at some point, but for now, he said he enjoys working at the gym surrounded by people like himself who are interested in fitness.

His main takeaway from the trip is the hospitality he experienced from coast to coast.

“You hear so much on the news, how corrupt people are. ... I did this bike trip, thought I’d have knives put up to me, crazy things. But I didn’t have any bad experiences,” he said. “I met so many people along the way that helped me out, gave me stuff along the way. Everything fell into place.”

In the end, the bus trip from San Francisco to Texas still bothers him, almost like it invalidates the rest of the journey. He intends to some day return to the south to complete that leg and make the trip whole.

Despite that one minor regret, he said he learned something valuable about life — the power of a simple smile.

“I had days where I put a frown on my face and would curse and have a negative attitude, and nothing good would happen from there. It just got worse,” he said. “I’d take a deep breath, realize tomorrow is a new day.

“If you keep a positive attitude, a smile on your face and be good to others, good will come back.”