Aug 02, 2012
By Ryan Lavis
From traveling down bike lanes on the busy streets of Los Angeles, to riding on the heels of a sunrise over the Arizonan desert and lugging through the rising twists and turns of the Rocky Mountains, North Woodmere’s Aaron Neufeld has seen half the country from the vantage point of his bicycle seat.
He even got to hang out with a farmer in Iowa and his hog.
The 22-year-old Neufeld began his 3,279-mile trip from Los Angeles on July 1. He and eight others set out to ride their bikes across the United States to help benefit special needs children.
He is working with The Friendship Circle, a program of the Jean Fischman Chabad Center of The Five Towns that helps families of children with special needs. Currently, he is less than $300 shy of raising the $5,000 he previously pledged for the organization.
Now some 2,000 miles into his journey, Neufeld said he could hardly keep track of the constant change in towns, people and scenery.
“We’re in Iowa right now, but I couldn’t tell you exactly where,” he said during an interview Wednesday evening. “Hold on,” he said as he asked a fellow biker.
“Wellman. We’re in Wellman, Iowa right now,” he said. “It gets confusing. I can keep track of where I am week to week, but not night to night.”
Neufeld and the other bikers – now down to seven after one succumbed to exhaustion – were spending the night in the auditorium of a local high school. Most nights they usually found themselves sleeping in community centers or schools, Neufeld said. “Sometimes we get a motel, but not often.”
It’s during this down time when the group – all strangers prior to trip – got to know one another better. Ranging in ages from 17 to 66, they normally eat dinner together and perform maintenance on their bikes before getting a good night’s sleep to prepare for the next morning’s ride. Neufeld said he plans on reaching New York City by August 19.
While helping special needs children is something Neufeld said he cares deeply about, he’s also riding to test his own limits, and to help prove that people can accomplish difficult goals despite facing obstacles.
“I was obese for ten years of my life, so I hope this will inspire people to try and get healthier,” he said. “I never thought I could do this, and I’m doing it.”
But this coast-to-coast caravan has met some challenges along the way.
Neufeld said the most unnerving part of the trip came while riding in the rain down the steep shoulder of a pitch-black highway in Arizona.
Traveling at about 40 miles-per-hour, the group of bikers formed a paceline – a close-knit, straight-line formation where one person rides at the front and warns of any obstacles while maintaining a constant speed.
“I was clenching my handlebars, and just telling myself, ‘please, please don’t hit anything,” Neufeld said, noting the tenseness and anxiety he felt while riding in the dark. “It’s scary and I didn’t feel comfortable. You just have to put your faith in the people in front of you, and work like a team.”
And for this Five Towns resident, who grew up in Brooklyn and still considers himself a city-boy, some of the trips best moments came from meeting different types of people across the states.
“I never met anyone who actually saw a tornado before. Or someone who has to drive 50 miles to shop at the nearest Wall-Mart,” he said. “I was surprised by the different lifestyles.”
With Thursday’s upcoming jaunt expected to take them some 118 miles into Sheffield, Iowa, Neufeld said they should arrive in Chicago by Friday. “We’re on schedule.”
Earlier on Wednesday, Neufeld said he and some of his bikers decided to take a break and cool down after one of their crew blew out a tire. They rested under the shade of a tree, not realizing they were on someone’s farmland.
“This farmer walked over to us with his hog, and he was really nice and friendly,” Neufeld said. As a parting gift, the stranger gave them a pound of meat, yellow and red tomatoes and eggs that were only two days old.
“Everywhere you go you run into locals and learn new things. Today was the first time I met an actual farmer. You never know who or what you’ll see.“
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