While most 18-year-olds’ focus on graduating high school and getting into college, Jan Gierlach is adding “cross-country bike ride” to his to-do list.
In fact, Gierlach graduated from Barrington High School in December, and in February, he left for a 3,300 mile ride from San Diego, Calif. to St. Augustine, Fla. He’s not totally forgetting about school though, as he plans to be back in time for graduation, and still attend college in the fall.
Although Gierlach’s ride is unaccompanied, his purpose is not solely for accomplishment; this adventure is a popular one created through the charity Ride for 3 Reasons, which helps raise funds and build awareness of three causes: ALS, cancer and hospice. Gierlach was introduced to the charity through founder Bob Lee, and because he feels a personal connection with each cause, he knew he had to do it one day.
“My grandfather passed of lung cancer, a dear family friend passed from ALS and my grandma received hospice treatment,” Gierlach said. “It’s much more meaningful to ride with a charitable connection, and Ride for 3 Reasons was directly in line with my values and passions.”
Planning for his journey began last year, much of which focused on fundraising. Gierlach raised over $600,000 for the three causes, and while many assume that part of the money goes towards his trip, he clarified 100 percent of the proceeds go towards the causes.
“None of it goes towards my ride, but it’s been nice because I have some corporate sponsors with gear and stuff, like my bike,” he explained. “A local shop in Crystal Lake split the cost with Salsa Cycles for my bike. It’s an awesome bike, perfect for what I’m doing.”
With contributions from other companies, Gierlach got pretty much everything he needed for his ride, which he is very grateful for. “The safety of the ride is hugely dependent on the quality of the gear,” he added.
Gierlach estimates the trip to take him about two and a half months; he plans on riding 300 miles a week, six days a week, equaling 50 miles a day.
“It’s not a race for me, it’s an experience,” Gierlach said. “I’ll see a part of the country I’ve never seen and I want to use every opportunity to see the local sites and talk to people. I’m in no hurry.”
Gierlach left on Feb. 7, and Chicago Athlete plans to follow up with him post-ride. Check our website to find out how the 18-year-old’s journey went.