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Westporter cycles coast to coast, with a few bumps along the way

Published 5:44 pm, Tuesday, July 9, 2013

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  • Allie Wills and Alec Bernard reach the Pacific Ocean after a crosscountry bike trip that began in Westport. Photo: Contributed Photo / Westport News
    Allie Wills and Alec Bernard reach the Pacific Ocean after a crosscountry bike trip that began in Westport. Photo: Contributed Photo

 

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If you're attempting to ride a bicycle cross country, your odds of making it drop precipitously when a fellow rider runs you over and you end up in the hospital.

But that's what happened to Westport resident and 2010 Staples High School graduate Alec Bernard, who was riding through Colorado with girlfriend Allie Wills in June -- more than halfway to their San Francisco destination --when he crashed at a high rate of speed.

Adding insult to injury, Wills ran him over.

"We were going pretty fast downhill and something got caught in his brake and his bike just completely stopped and he went over his handle bars and his helmet actually broke," Wills said. "He had some road rash on the side of his face, and his ear, and his shoulder, and his back, and all down his side. I actually ran him over."

The duo, who on July 1 completed a 3,297-mile trip raising money for charity that started May 17 in Westport, can laugh about the incident now. But the dilemma at the time -- they had to flag down a passing car to take them to an area that had cell service, and then wait an hour and a half for an ambulance to arrive -- underscored the inherent danger of their odyssey.

"He fell pretty hard," Wills said. "We were worried about a head injury or a neck injury."

Despite numerous bruises, Bernard, 20, was OK. He was back on his bicycle the next day as he and Wills, both students at Cornell University, continued their westward trek, which Westport News first reported on in early June (http://bit.ly/18NdXHu).

The pair typically rose before 6 a.m. and rode until approximately 6 p.m. They began with a detailed plan of which routes to take and where they stay each night, but quickly cast it aside. Their bikes were loaded front and back with bags full of equipment, including tents, poles, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, food, extra water, an extra pair of riding clothes, off-bike outfits, a gas stove, pots, utensils, a bike repair kit, and a first-aid kit.

During their adventure, the pair encountered extreme temperatures, brisk winds, steep hills, aggressive dogs and wildfires. Each state left its own indelible impression.

"Kansas was really hard, really windy, and really boring," Bernard said. "Utah, it was really surprisingly pretty. It was really hilly and hot, but just gorgeous."

The trip was made easier by their companionship and the kindness of strangers.

Their trip raised money for Citta, a nonprofit organization that provides clean water and other necessities to poor people overseas. Bernard and Wills began with a fundraising goal of $7,000, and according to the website devoted to their trip -- http://bit.ly/1blRtgo -- they surpassed more than $9,100. More than $800 of that came from donations they received from strangers along the way.

The trip was sponsored by Cornell Outdoor Education, the Bike Rack in Ithaca, N.Y., and Freestyle Fitness, a health and fitness center in Westport. These businesses donated bicycles and other gear.

Even with sponsorship, Bernard said the trip was expected to cost the two of them $3,000 to $4,000, not including air fare back from San Francisco.

But it was worth it, they said. The sense of accomplishment, capped when the pair dipped their bicycle wheels in the Pacific Ocean at Baker Beach near the Golden Gate Bridge, is something they'll always cherish.

"Amazing," Wills said. "For our last 40 miles we could either see the bay, or see the Bay Bridge, or see San Francisco, so our last 40 miles we were just like singing and taking pictures. It was probably 40 of our slowest miles because we were just hanging out and happy to finally be at the end."