MARION COUNTY, Fla. – Dave Klein has always wanted to ride his bike across the country, but the timing was never right. Things changed this year when his motivation transitioned from a personal challenge to one with more meaning.
Klein started his trip Thanksgiving weekend in Venice Beach, California. He rode his bike through eight states and covered more than 3,000 miles, all to support his friend Donna Lullo, who is battling colon cancer.
We caught up with Klein in Marion County as he was closing in on his destination, St. Augustine.
“Cycling for me has been a great way to not just relieve stress and keep in shape and get exercise. It’s been a phenomenal way to connect with people,” he said.
And connecting with people is what Klein says this trip is all about. Every stop he makes is an opportunity to talk to strangers, introduce himself and share Donna’s story.
“The trip has been amazing in that going as an individual, unsupported, sometime sleeping on the side of the road other times in a campground or hotels, it’s required me to reach out to other people,” Klein said. “Because you can’t do life as an individual, solo and isolated from everybody.”
His trip is dedicated to raising awareness for the importance of regular screenings.
“I’ve always wanted to do a cross-country ride. It’s been a goal of mine for a few decades and when my good friend Donna was diagnosed with colon cancer, it really changed a lot.” Klein remembers. “I said, ‘Wait a minute. If she’s going through chemo treatment every other week going forward, I can put up with a little aggravation, a little cold weather, a little rain, a little snow. I can do that for a couple of months and raise some awareness for her.’”
Klein caught a slight tail wind as he pushed his Novarra Randonee 24 speed bike through Ocala’s horse country. He’s wearing a Tour De Tush bike jersey and a flag promoting colon cancer awareness flaps in the breeze above him. His bike is loaded with bags and gear weighing close to 70 pounds. He needed all of it to complete the journey.
“I’ve been blessed with a body that can put up with this, day in and day out, 60, 70 miles a day. And I’ve got friends whose major challenge is just getting through the day,” he said, as he made his way east on Highway 40.
Klein stopped in Ft. McCoy for a drink and a scheduled interview with a Detroit radio station. He pulled into the Ft. McCoy Grocery on the corner of the town’s four-way stop light. Immediately Klein and his bike stood out. A group of locals approached with questions. It was a chance to spread his message and promote his project called Positive Pedals.
“It’s critical that people get screened,” he said. “Pay attention to symptoms and if things are not normal, get it addressed. Because it can be life-changing. The good part is that with early detection, it’s got like a 90% full recovery rate.”
Klein partnered with the Colon Cancer Coalition to promote his ride. Stacy Zwerdling, senior event and community engagement manager, said it’s been exciting to follow Klein’s progress.
“Dave, just cycling past people as he rides from California to Florida, he has gained a lot of attention in the media, which is phenomenal for us,” Zwerdling said. “It’s spreading the message and awareness of colon cancer and the importance of screening and getting screened on time.”
Zwerdling said the coalition relies on volunteers and people who are passionate about the topic to raise awareness.
“He definitely got that message out loud and clear, as he’s riding with his little ‘check your colon’ flag and his jersey and then, as he made stops and chatted with people,” Zwerdling said.
Klein kept followers updated on his website and blog including regular photos and stories from his trip. Updates that include the people he met along the way and the message he told all of them.
Klein says now that his trip is complete he hopes to continue promoting cancer screening in other ways.