When Rishi Bommannan told family and friends he planned to bike home to Los Altos Hills from college in Maine, they had their doubts.
His family laughed and asked, “So when should we buy your plane ticket home?”
His friends told the 20-year-old, “There is no way you should be doing this – you are not prepared.”
But Bommannan, who just finished his sophomore year at Bates College, was determined to achieve his dream of biking solo across the country while raising money to support cancer patients.
“They told me I couldn’t do it,” he said, “so I did.”
After nine weeks of biking an average of 110 miles per day, Bommannan completed his journey July 11. In the process, he raised $12,700 for the Livestrong Foundation, shattering his initial goal of $2,000.
“It’s crazy how willing people were to donate,” he said.
Established by cancer survivor and Tour de France legend Lance Armstrong, the Livestrong Foundation provides support for those affected by cancer.
“I chose the Livestrong Foundation because I’ve always been fascinated with cancer, and as a biker I can relate to Armstrong,” Bommannan said. “With the timing of my ride lining up with the Tour de France, picking Livestrong felt natural.”
He raised a majority of funds through phone calls and emails to family and friends. Bommannan also collected $700 from people he met along his 4,000-mile trek.
“I had a complete stranger come up and talk to me, donating $100 after hearing about the cause,” said Bommannan, who traveled through Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana, Washington, Oregon and California.
The generosity he experienced went beyond monetary donations. Bommannan received a box of granola bars from a man in North Dakota and a bicycle tube from a cyclist who spotted him pulled over with a flat tire. He was also invited to camp with cyclists he met along the way.
After receiving such kindness, Bommannan hoped he’d get the opportunity to pay it forward – and he did. Biking in 117-degree heat in Idaho, Bommannan witnessed a man fall off his bike, weak with heat exhaustion. He immediately turned around to help.
“I leaned his bike on something and laid his jacket on top to create shade, which I put the man in,” the St. Francis High graduate said.
Bommannan gave the man rehydration pills and stayed with him until he regained his strength.
It was a learning experience for Bommannan, who hopes to attend medical school and eventually work in the emergency room.
The extreme heat was just one of many challenges the cyclist faced. Admittedly underprepared and under the direction of a questionably reliable GPS, Bommannan found himself in many unexpected situations. He recounted stories of fighting off leeches, sleeping in hailstorms, marching through swamps in 100-degree weather and even cracking a helmet.
“I didn’t realize how dangerous my journey would be,” he said. “The only thing I could do was trust myself and keep going.”
Not only was Bommannan able to handle these situations calmly, but also he genuinely enjoyed the challenge and adventure they brought.
“If you plan things, you lose some of the excitement,” he said, “I like to improvise and live within myself.”
While parts of the journey were chaotic and unexpected, Bommannan said much of the ride was calm and uneventful. Biking through flat parts of the country was monotonous at times. Bommannan described his voyage through Idaho as “just wheat and nothingness.”
Contrasting the flat barrenness of Idaho, Montana provided him with beautiful views and mountainous roads. After climbing through the mountains, Bommannan passed through Lolo National Forest – what the cyclist acknowledged as being a scenic and memorable part of his journey.
“It was my favorite place I biked through,” he said. “I didn’t have to pedal at all because there was a perfect grade down along the river.”
Bommannan described the final days of his trip biking through California as “enjoyable.” He admired the coastal views and was aided by strong tailwinds.
After 63 days on the road, he was relieved to arrive home.
“I feel super happy about the trip,” Bommannan said. “I feel like I learned a lot about myself, especially due to the fact that I was alone and had to figure everything out for myself.”
Bommannan plans to keep on cycling and return to school early this fall to lead freshmen on a biking trip as part of orientation.
For more information on the Livestrong Foundation, visit livestrong.org.