Oak Park friends Nate Prescott and Mark Jirik, as well as Prescott's younger sister, Abby, all embarked on incredible bike trips last summer. Inspired by the revelations of their respective journeys, each traveler gained new and altered perspectives on life, nature, beauty, culture, and the world, not to mention a greater appreciation for adventure.
Nate, 27, rode his bike from Deadhorse, Alaska (the northernmost city in North America) all the way down to Argentina in 13 months. The ambitious Pan-American run encompassed roughly 18,000 miles through the United States, Canada, Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina as destinations along the unforgettable way. Jirik, a former classmate of Nate's at Oak Park and River Forest High School, accompanied his buddy from Alaska to Mexico City before returning home.
Nate capped off his trip by flying to Easter Island off Chile before relocating to Brooklyn, N.Y., where he currently lives and hopes to take on a more domestic adventure.
In preparation of the aforementioned Pan-Am trip, Nate saved money (pre-trip cost was estimated at $15,000) and planned for the daily needs of having sufficient food, clothing and communication. He packed a lot of high-calorie, low-weight foods like oatmeal, beef jerky, rice and beans, plus plenty of water. A hand-operated water pump filter was used as needed. Other preparations included clothes that could be layered up or down according to the climate, and immunization shots to ensure protection while traveling from country to country.
Nate's supplies were stowed away on his Surly Long Haul Trucker bicycle, custom built by Curt Warner at BikeFix, a shop in Oak Park. The bike is built to handle all manner of road conditions and support plenty of gear.
Looking back, it's virtually impossible for Nate to pick a favorite part of his trip. He enjoyed an assortment of cities and countries for wonderfully different reasons.
"Everything kind of fits into different categories," he said. "Mexico had the best food. The people in Columbia were some of the friendliest people I've ever met. Peru and Easter Island were incredibly beautiful."
Despite the many challenges Nate had to endure during his trip, including going through the desert in the northwestern part of Peru, the beautiful surroundings made hardships bearable.
"Biking through the desert was certainly a challenge," Nate said. "Once I was further south, I was in the mountains on a pretty steep incline, so that was also really tough. But the mountains were so beautiful. You're surrounded by mountains on all sides which was pretty incredible."
He fondly remembered his visit to the Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia, the biggest salt flat in the world.
"It was one of the most beautiful places I've seen in my life," he said. "I was looking forward to seeing it the entire trip. It exceeded my expectations."
While it will take time for Nate to truly grasp the significance of his journey, he already is comforted by the satisfaction that he made his dream trip a reality.
"I won't really know all the lessons I've learned from being on the road for 13 months right away," he said. "That's something that will just come to me in time. One idea that was definitely reinforced for me was that, for the most part, people are good. I was brought into so many homes and met so many families. It was heartwarming to know that the world is not as scary and crazy as it's sometimes made out to be."
An adventurer at heart, Nate would also love to try rowing from California to Hawaii or from Spain to the Caribbean.
"Rowing across an ocean is something I've always wanted to do," he said. "That's definitely a goal for me somewhere down the horizon."
Influenced by her older brother's previous cross-country bike trip with Illini 4000 to raise cancer awareness, Abby Prescott wanted a similar experience. Also motivated by her work as a site captain with West Suburban PADS (Public Action to Deliver Shelter), Abby felt the Bike to Build trip offered the perfect mix of taking on a new adventure while also raising funds and awareness for a good cause — affordable housing.
For Abby, 25, her biking adventure took her from Portland, Maine to Santa Barbara, California over a 77-day span last summer. She rode for the Bike to Build charity, which helps provide affordable housing across the country. Abby helped build homes in various cities as the cycling group stopped along the way on the trip after the entire team raised a total of $150,000.
"I really can't say enough about Bike to Build and all the great work they do," Abby said. "Doing this trip for charity made me realize it wasn't just my trip. It was a trip to spread awareness. We were the ones biking across the country, but everyone else was helping us along the way, so it became their trip as well."
Abby said her coast-to-coast ride was extremely gratifying.
"I came back a changed person for the better," she said. "I met some of my best friends on the trip. The thing that struck me the most about it was realizing just how many people want to help when you have a common goal. People would come from anywhere to help us out and give us food or a place to stay. It's amazing to realize how many good people there are across the country."
Among many beautiful sights along her ride, Abby was particularly excited to see the Southwest, especially Sedona, Arizona.
"The reason I chose this route was because I hadn't been to the Southwest before," she said. "The red rocks part of the country is insanely gorgeous. The sunsets in Sedona are unreal."
Although the rigors of the daily schedule took some getting used to, she adjusted.
"The first couple of weeks were pretty rough," she said. "It takes a while to get used to waking up at 5 a.m. and being on the road by 7 a.m. every day and then biking all day. There definitely were some harder days and days where I wondered why I was doing this, but after a while you get used to it. Now all I want to do is be on my bike."
If given the opportunity, she would take a similar trip again if it's focused on helping others. If she goes back on a Bike to Build route, she would have to go back as a route leader because of the age limits.
"I would definitely do it again for the cause or another cause I'm equally passionate about," she said. "We had such a good group dynamic on this trip. I don't want to have to compare something else to that, but I would really want to try it out again as a leader."
Abby's parents hosted one of the Bike to Build teams on the northern route that passed through Chicago this year. Many Oak Park businesses and residents helped contribute during the bikers' stay.
"It was such a cool experience to have done the trip [a year ago] and it was great to have my hometown help out as well," she said. "If we can do it again next year we definitely will."