When Westport resident Alec Bernard left Compo Beach on May 17 to begin a sponsored cross-country bicycle trip to San Francisco, the Cornell University student was focused on seeing the continent and raising money for the impoverished of India, Nepal and Mexico.

He knew the trip would be difficult as he and his girlfriend, Allie Wills, dealt with myriad challenges -- an average of approximately 85 miles a day, mountainous areas, inclement weather -- but there was one huge factor they didn't anticipate.


"We've had lots of dogs chase us," Bernard, 20, told the Westport News on Friday morning via cell phone from Vandalia, Ill., where he and Wills, who is from Austin, Tex., had stopped the previous night.

None of the four-legged friends have been particularly vicious -- they're just interested in a closer look at the duo, who are raising money for Citta, a nonprofit organization that provides clean water and other necessities to poor people overseas.

"We think they are a very good cause because they give people the most basic needs to be able to do well on their own," said Bernard, a 2010 Staples High School graduate.

He and Wills began with a fundraising goal of $7,000, and according to the website devoted to their trip -- http://americabybicycle.wix.com/bikeforgood -- they have surpassed $6,000.

The trip is 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 is going to cost the two of them $3,000 to $4,000, not including airfare back from San Francisco.

The kindness of strangers is helping to keep the cost down, he said.

"I've just been pretty surprised by how kind everyone is," he said. "We'll be riding and we'll come into some café, and people always ask us everything about the trip and then they will either pay for our food, wish us well, or donate to our cause. Just be really open and happy, and offer us areas where we can camp on their lawn."

Bernard was the founder of the cycling club at Staples High School and has been riding long distances for a while. Wills had less experience with long distances, and both of them had to train before embarking on their trip.

"It was hard to find time to train and also to get decent grades," said Bernard, who is studying human biology, health and society, which teaches a holistic view towards human health. "So we did train, but not as much as we should have. I think that's always kind of true."

The pair typically rise before 6 a.m. and ride 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.

"We were not super happy just trying to get our distance in and not be able to explore other paths or cool areas or take more time at these certain sites," Bernard said. "We wanted to really be able to embrace the whole spirit of this trip, which is really to see things. So when we don't have a very concrete plan, it's easier to do more fun things."

Their bikes are 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.

Bernard said they're making good progress and need to reach San Francisco by July 5.

"We both have a class starting on July 8 at Cornell, so we need to be back for that," he said.