Ronnie Cuartero and several deaf friends planned to bike from New York to California together. But as the end of the quarter drew near, the Rochester Institute of Technology students began to back out one by one.
Not Ronnie. He was determined to ride across America, but he would have to do it solo. For fourteen days, he churned the pedals over and over, averaging 80 to 100 miles per day. Along the way, strangers reached out, offering him drinks and food. When his bike broke down along a field in Ohio, a friendly farmer delivered him to town and the local bike shop put his 1970's bike back together again.
Ronnie is deaf and communicates using American Sign Language. He can't whittle away the time listening to music or the radio, so he immerses himself in the landscape as each mile passes by. It's a test of patience, determination and will, especially when the previous mile looks the same as the next one coming up.
Ronnie stopped at my house to take a break and hang with my oldest son, Dave for a few days. Dave and Ronnie met at Rochester Institute of Technology, where they are students and brothers from Sigma Nu. I asked Ronnie why he was biking across America solo. He has no sponsors, no publicity and is not biking for a cause.
"I'm doing it for me," he said. "I want to see America up close. This is something I want to be able to look back on and say, 'I did it!'"
The trip is a challenging one, he admits. When he arrived at my house, he had biked over 600 miles and still faced 2,400 more to go. He has just two shirts, two bike shorts and pajamas in his bike pack-- but he inadvertently left the pajamas behind at his last stop. "I've learned I can do without many of the things we think are necessary in life," Ronnie signed. "We are so used to being comfortable. This trip has taught me to survive with very little."
Here and there, Ronnie has managed to stay with friends for the night or check into a hotel. People have been more than friendly-- offering discounts or free food and drinks. Ronnie writes back and forth using paper and pen and has met some diverse folks along the way, including some from the Amish community. "I didn't know anything about the Amish way of life when I started this trip," he said. "I was fascinated to learn they live without electric and many things that we take for granted."
Ronnie acknowledged the challenge he has ahead of him, especially riding through the higher elevations in the heat and the sun. I told him about Chad Hymas, who wheeled himself from Utah to Las Vegas. During a particularly challenging aspect of his trip, Chad found himself struggling to continue. He wanted to give up. His father suggested he count the yellow stripes on the road instead of the mile markers. "If you ever want to give up, think of Chad," I told Ronnie.
Ronnie took off for Iowa yesterday. I'll be following his progress every step of the way and cheering for him to accomplish his goal.