From the September 2016 Desktop News | After 76 days and 4,505 miles, recent New College graduate Julie Gyurgyik finally arrived in Astoria, Oregon—completing one of the longest coast-to-coast trails in the United States.
Her trek across the TransAmerica trail was planned as a part of her holistic health and wellness senior project, with the intent to raise money for Tuscaloosa’s Good Samaritan Clinic, which gives free primary health and dental care to those who do not have health insurance. Together with her peer Kyle Robinson, she raised more than $3,500 for the clinic, but in the end she said it was the trip itself that renewed her confidence in the generosity of people and led her to “good Samaritans” across the country.
“This trip renewed my faith in humanity,” Gyurgyik said. “I couldn’t believe the kindness and sincerity I found in people every day.”
It wasn’t always easy, however. When she got on her bike for the first time in Yorktown, Virginia, it was 54 degrees and raining, with no sign of letting up. In fact, for the first four weeks of her two-and-a-half month trip, Gyurgyik was more often soaked and cold than hot and sweaty.
“It was cold, disheartening, and it slowed down the pace a lot,” Gyurgyik said. “I couldn’t even take advantage of downhills in the Appalachians for fear of slipping out and wrecking.”
At night, she tried to find places to sleep where she could dry out her clothes and gear. She stayed at a church, an assisted living home, a city hall, and even the floor of a public bathroom—but most often she said strangers would open their homes and let her stay the night.
“I will never deny that I had incredible good luck on this trip,” Gyurgyik said. “But I also believe and found affirmation in the fact that there are many, many good people out there.”
In a letter to her former associates in New College, she told story after story of the kindness of strangers she met: One woman, selling strawberries on the side of the road, gave Gyurgyik a whole bucketful of berries and wouldn’t accept any payment. In a small town in Kentucky, the mayor let her sleep in the city hall where he brought her a bag full of chocolates, and a local pastor brought her a sandwich from Subway. In another town a man brought her strawberries, homemade cookies, and drinks while she waited out the rain in his garage. He then invited her to dinner with his family and offered to have her stay the night in an empty house on their lot.
All along the way, Gyurgyik said people stopped along the road to make sure she was all right, to offer advice, and to share their own stories or listen to hers. She even met other bikers with whom she forged life-long friendships.
“I left alone,” Gyurgyik said, “but early on the journey, I met a phenomenal couple from the Netherlands who were also doing the route, and, after seeing each other a few times throughout Virginia, we ended up sticking together. We biked most of the trail and even finished in Astoria together at the end.”
In total, Gyurgyik trekked through ten states—eight of which she’d never seen before—and she said that New College helped her develop the skills she needed to succeed.
“I didn’t know who I’d become or how much I would change when I first entered New College,” Gyurgyik said. “But I don’t think I would have believed you if you’d told me freshman year that I’d take a bike across the country someday. New College helped me build the confidence I needed to trust myself and to be self-reliant and creative when problems arose, and that helped me figure out where to sleep; how to stay warm; and how to fix, at least temporarily, bike problems.
“Sure, some days were a struggle, but it was a lot of fun, and I’d recommend bike touring to anyone who has the slightest interest.”
Following the end of her trip in July, Gyurgyik traveled to Auvergne, France, where she lived with her grandmother to help with house and garden work. For the next three months she will live in Japan as part of a work-stay organized through workaway.com. There, she will continue studying Japanese and will learn to surf.