How St. Olaf's cyclist made his 640-mile trip


I've caught up with Sam Williams, the St. Olaf freshman from Indiana who cycled with his brother for nine days and 640 miles to reach the the college's campus in Northfield.

It was the first time he'd made such a trip, though the cycling enthusiast has ridden twice with a group across the state of Indiana -- 160 miles in one day.

Here are a few notes from my talk with him and his older brother, Nathan:

Who thought of the ride: Sam's brother and father. "I thought it was a joke. But the next day we thought, 'Let's plan it out.'"

What they ate: They packed a half-dozen bagels and a tub of peanut butter for their breakfasts, bought Subway sandwiches for lunch and dinner, and splurged on occasional restaurant stops along the way. They also packed power bars and military Meals Ready-to-Eat from a military surplus store.

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Where they slept: In sleeping bags and a tent in parks and private campgrounds.

How much the trip cost: About $375 for both of them.

Any breakdowns? The first day the trailer almost broke, which would have ruined the trip. The last day Nathan broke a derailleur and had to get a quick fix at a bike shop in Red Wing.

Hardest part: For Sam, it was the weather -- a strong headwind on the first day, and a torrential downpour on the last. For Nathan, it was maintaining mental perseverance. Putting in mile after mile when you're tired "becomes a mental game with yourself."

What was rewarding: The feeling of being disconnected from the Internet and cell phones. A feeling of slowness -- odd for a generation used to speed and instant gratification. Sam found going through downtown Chicago "so motivating. Riding along looking at the great skyline -- it was fantastic."

What Sam will major in at St. Olaf: Uncertain -- though he's interested in the sciences, especially physics.

Has he had enough of cycling for now? No way. He's already eyeing the school's cycling club.