Finding faith, fulfilling a dream
This summer, Jonathan Lee Sturgis, 33, of Allegan followed a dream of pedaling his bicycle in what turned out to be a 7,700-mile trip from Allegan to Key West, Fla., to Maine and back to Allegan again.
He returned with his mountain bike plastered with stickers of memorable places, a duck-taped seat, a hat from “Udderly Smooth” given to him from the manufacturer and riding on his seventh replacement tire—four back and three front.
Although he looked like he didn’t return with much, he was busting at the seams with a sense of accomplishment and restored faith.
That’s what pushed him on to top off his tour by bicycling to Chicago to visit his sister. And when the newspaper caught up with him at Hunter’s bicycle shop in Allegan, he was on his way to Hudsonville to visit another sister with a stop in Grand Rapids for ArtPrize.
After that, Sturgis admitted he’d have to go back to work restoring homes to be able to finish the rest of his dream—pedaling to the west coast next summer and visiting the 27 others states he missed.
Sturgis, who had not ridden a bicycle in 20 years, said he tested his bike worthiness on the Kal-Haven trail before setting off on his dream trip of total freedom.
The first lesson he learned was not to carry a wallet in his back pocket. It fell out somewhere on the trail.
Although he figured all his money was gone, he went back to look for the wallet in case someone discarded it with his friend’s memorial card stuffed inside.
“At that point all I wanted back was the memorial,” he said.
Carrying a cell phone that rarely worked, he was surprised when it started ringing the next morning.
“It was the (Wayland) State Police who said someone turned in my wallet,” he said. “Everything was still inside when I picked it up—the memorial, my ID and more than a thousand bucks.”
Sturgis said he had been having faith issues before he started his trip, but that act of kindness helped set his wheels in motion.
“I don’t even know who turned it in,” he said. “I rode 100 miles that day and took it as a test to go the extra mile.”
And go the extra mile he did, starting out on May 4.
Although someone threw a full can of Coke at him in a bad part of Atlanta and purposely ran into him with a vehicle in a bad part of South Carolina, he said other people he met along the way made up for it.
“When people found out what I was doing, they offered me money—which I refused to take until towards the end,” he said.
Sturgis lived off $6 a day, cooked his own food, slept in parks and got lots of help from warmshowers.org, a website where touring cyclists can find hospitality hosts who offer a place to camp, eat or shower.
“I stayed in mansions, co-ops, on sailboats, went to a Broadway show and was offered to sail the Caribbean—but wanted to keep on riding,” he said.
All of this from the generosity of people.
“One old guy I met said he admired what I was doing,” Sturgis said. “That was huge to me.”
Once he made it to Key West, Fla., he turned around and came back up the Eastcoast Greenway, a 2,900-mile trail system that links Florida with Maine. He also took several detours to meet people and other sites along the way, including the Adirondack Mountains.
After pedaling from the southernmost point of the continental United States, to the easternmost point at West Quoddy Head, Maine, he got a temporary job siding a solar-powered house that was off the grid in a wildlife management area.
Another stop was Salem, Ohio, where Udderly Smooth cream was invented for use on dairy cows and is now used for dry and chapped skin.
“It really saved my butt,” said Sturgis who suffered from chaffing by the time he pedaled to Miami.
But again, it was the people who saved his faith.
After learning of the product at a bike shop, he wrote on the web about it and was given an invitation by the family-owned company to stop by for a tour, which he did, and became a rolling advertisement for Udderly Smooth with a new hat.
Wearing no professional bicycle gear and riding no tour bike made for some rough riding; however, he wouldn’t have had it any other way.
“I think it made me more approachable to people,” he said. “People who I met on the trip don’t know that they are what it was all about.”
That and having a dream and taking it.
Sturgis said when he returned to Allegan, he did not realize how beautiful it was.
“I met people across America who didn’t realize they had such beautiful spots in their own back yards,” he said.