Tour de’America

The story behind Blind Brook Class of ’21 graduate Nick Chien’s charitable ride across the nation

By John Donegan

This story originally appeared in the 7/23/21 edition of the Westmore News. For the original article, follow the link.

Blind Brook High School graduate Nick Chien’s story began on Mar. 5, 2020, on Anderson Hill Road.

He was biking when an SUV, attempting to pass him, swerved to avoid an oncoming car. He collided with Chien, who was hurled over his handlebars and into the ditch that ran along the road. His handlebar was cracked, his collar bone was broken. He separated his right shoulder, fractured his wrist and suffered a concussion. His bike was wrecked.

Doctors warned Chien that it would take six to eight months until he could bike again. But he was back, riding his parents’ indoor elliptical bike, in six weeks. Five months later, he entered a triathlon. He ended up placing 54th among 200 in the race and first in his age group.

Currently, Nick Chien is biking across the United States. The 17-year-old is making the transcontinental ride to raise money for the International Medical Corps, a global nonprofit that offers medical services and healthcare training to areas affected by disaster or conflict.

“It was just kind of out of the blue,” Chien said. “Six months after my crash, I ended up doing an Ironman and after that, I was just thinking, what am I going to do next?”

His journey echoes the idealistic travelers across generations, from Lewis and Clark to Forrest Gump, who made the literal or theatrical act of traversing the United States—on bike, by foot, or on screen—one of the all-American sacraments of the American psyche.

Chien first spoke to the Westmore News about his endeavors on Tuesday, July 20. He had just stopped for the day in Gallup, N.M., once known as the “Indian Capital of the World,” but now just a small border town divided down the middle by the historic but bygone Route 66.

Over the phone, Chien was poised in his reflection of the past few weeks and year. Chien hopes to cross the country in five weeks. He started his pilgrimage in Washington Square Park in New York City on Tuesday, June 29—a sentimental choice as he will be attending New York University in the fall, where he said he’ll study business and compete for the school’s cycling team.

Aside from the coach, Chien said he didn’t tell any of his future teammates about his decision. When he graduated from Blind Brook High School in June, he said most of his classmates aside from a select few didn’t know he was leaving.

“I didn’t really tell anyone,” Chien said. “I posted the charity on my Facebook and in the Rye Brook Residents Facebook group and it started to catch traction. Parents started to know about it and then all my friends started to find out.”

He’s able to talk about the accident with surprisingly good humor, but admits it still nags at him like an itch on his neck he cannot scratch. 

“It’s pretty terrifying, still,” Chien said. “If I get onto a road with no shoulder and the speed limit is above 50, I’ll stop biking and get my dad to drive me. I won’t say it’s necessarily PTSD, but if I hear a car whizzing past my head and then see a massive semi-trailer right next to me, it’s pretty terrifying. But I feel that whether you have been in an accident or not, you’d still be pretty scared of that.”

The fresh Blind Brook graduate had just finished 75 miles that day, an achievement for some but a disheartening day for him. He said after two weeks he’s decreased his weekly mileage from his planned average of 700 miles to 400-500 miles. In order to finish in the month he allotted for himself, Chien needs to ride 97 miles a day, but at the mercy of fatigue and the region he’s riding through.

“In Oklahoma, one day, it became super windy, it was like a 35-mph wind gust, so I couldn’t bike in that,” Chien said. “And then some of the roads disappear or turn into interstate highways and I can’t bike on those.”

He acknowledged that after biking 100 miles each day for 15 days, he was tired. But other than a sore back or boredom, he hadn’t incurred any injuries or illness. His bike, purchased a week and a half before he left, has only needed an occasional tire change.

To clarify, Chien is no novice on a bike or long-distance treks. Yes, this is the farthest he’s traveled by bike, but the high school graduate completed his first marathon by age 13. Two years later, he finished a duathlon. In both, as in the following three events he participated in, Chien ranked at the top in his age group.

Before getting into cycling, Chien set the Blind Brook High School records for the mile and three-mile races; he missed the five-kilometer score by a couple seconds. He segued into cycling after he began getting recurring hip and ankle injuries. It didn’t take long for Chien to favor biking more.

“You’re able to cover more distance, which lets you see more things,” Chien said. “Versus running, which has more impact and you only run 15 miles max.”

Since the start of his journey, his day usually begins at 7 a.m. He has a small breakfast, fruit or simple carbs he and his dad might find in the hotel lobby. From there, he hits the road. Chien bikes 5-7 hours a day, with intermittent breaks every 90 minutes or so. For lunch, his intake generally consists of Skratch Labs sports drink mix, watermelon, soda—Sprite or Fanta—saltine crackers and a couple of Red Bulls.

For dinner, he and his dad, who follows behind in the family Tesla, like to go out to local restaurants and try the flavor of the town. “So like today, we had Mexican food,” Chien said. “Yesterday we had pizza and burgers. We just go to small, local restaurants.”

Being it’s electric, the car was one of the major determining factors of the bike route, Chien said.

“My original route was going through the Colorado Rockies, but because there’s no chargers along there, we weren’t able to go there,” he said. “We had to instead go down South, through Oklahoma and out west through Texas and now New Mexico.”

Through some online research, Chien discovered testimonies of other bikers who trekked across the country. He found Race Across America, in which documentarian Stephen Auerbach biked across the States in 10 days.

“I’m going to bike 300 miles a day and sleep two hours a day,” Chien laughed. “But I could do it over a month. So I set a goal: 100 miles a day for 30 days straight.”

To train for the ride, he cycled 150 to 200 miles per week until he finished his high school classes in late April. He then ramped up his training to 300 miles per week, sometimes up to six to seven hours at a time. Though he trained as a group with the Westchester Cycle club, he usually rode alone.

Though he’s vacationed in Europe and Asia with his family on numerous occasions, Chien said his travel has changed the way he sees the country and the Rye Brook community.

“As a biker, you’ll get honked at more in Rye Brook or in the Northeast than down South because I feel like people down here don’t really see cyclists or have interactions with (them).”

Out in the Great Plains, the romance of the open road is established: meeting strangers, self-enlightenment, just enough anguish, getting lost and breaking down. Biking maintains a fine split between fast enough to feel the wind and slow enough to take in the social landscape. Chien said the road had undoubtedly changed him for the better. Over the course of his journey, he has glimpsed a three-dimensional view of the country few in Blind Brook see, from corn fields to canyons, clearer than the caricatures sometimes seen on television news.

“I guess that in the Midwest and the South, a lot of people are more patriotic, and you’ll see political flags, as a way to say it, literally everywhere,” Chien said. “And I guess you’re able to get out of Westchester and you see the wealth divide within the nation. Personally, I had known about these areas, but I had never really seen them in person and seeing them in person was eye opening, as well as seeing the way other people live and how different it is than people in Westchester.”

Fortunately, the road leaves time for rumination and podcasts. Chien listens to interviews done with other cyclists to hear their story. “Either that or I just listen to the road,” he chuckled. “It’s pretty boring.” On the current service route that parallels Interstate 40, Chien encounters little traffic, allowing him to get lost in the monotony of his trek.

“I just weave through the lines on the road, just for fun for like 10 miles and just lose track of what I’m doing basically,” he joked.

Once finished, Chien said he will stay in Los Angeles with a couple of his friends. He will probably do some sightseeing, a lot of sleeping and maybe go for a run. When asked if he’d go for a bike ride, he simply laughed.

“I might do a recovery ride, but nothing long,” Chien said.

For more information about Chien’s story or about donating to his charity drive, visit charity.gofundme.com/o/en/campaign/bike-across-america-for-international-medical-corps.

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