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College student embarks on biking trip across US to raise funds for Salem Boys and Girls Club

Posted by Terri Ogan  August 2, 2013 01:07 PM

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On June 1, 22-year-old Garrett Shay of Melrose packed up 40 pounds worth of supplies, hopped on his used bike, and took off on a grueling cycling expedition across the country.

The University of Massachusetts Amherst senior is on a solo journey from Massachusetts to California, hopefully arriving by the end of August, to raise money for the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Salem.

In two sacks attached to the front and back of his bike, Shay is carrying a tent, water, a first aid kit, repair kit for his tires, maps, clothing, and more.

As of Friday, Shay was in Utah, according to his mother Jean. He has been documenting his journey on a Boys and Girls Club website, where supporters can donate to his cause. Thus far he has raised $6,305, according to the website.

"I admire him immensely." said Boys and Girls Club Executive Director Joanne Scott. "I think he's incredibly brave and adventurous and I look at this as a quest of a young man to complete an incredible goal in his life. I'm very grateful that he chose our organization to support in this journey of his."

Shay's goal is to raise $25,000, traveling more than 5,000 miles to the Santa Monica Pier in California.

His fundraising efforts will help the Boys and Girls Club maintain a low, annual membership fee of $10.

"The membership fee is meant to have children feel as though they belong to something, but it's not meant to be an obstacle for them to join," Scott said. "Because of that low feee we rely on fundraising and the community."

Thus far, Shay has travelled south to Richmond, Va. and turned west towards California.

With help from the Adventure Cycling Association, a national organization that provides services for cycle-tourists, publishes maps and campaigns for better cycling facilities, Shay has been able to map out the best routes for his journey.

In addition, the association provides contacts for people that are friendly with bikers, Scott said.

Shay has biked up to 100 miles per day, according to his mother, Jean, but sometimes averages 40 miles per day. His distance covered depends on the weather, which caused him to take a one-day break while he was traveling through Pennsylvania. Shay has taken a total of three days off throughout his journey.

"When he was in the flatlands he could pick up speed, but in the Rockies it changed," Jean said.

The engineering major at UMass contacts churches, fire stations, universities, senior citizen centers and other facilities to find his best option for shelter each night.

Throughout his experience, Shay has been amazed by the immense generosity of strangers he has met along his route.

"My favorite part of this adventure is the people I meet along the way," Shay said in a recent statement from the Boys and Girls Club. "Their energy and support is refreshing and motivational, especially after a long day’s ride in the sun. It makes you appreciate the smaller things in life, things as simple as a warm shower or laughing about a stupid SNL video. It’s hard to see these people as strangers. Some of them really feel like family; that may seem a little cheesy but that’s how it feels."

When Shay first approached his parents with the idea of biking across the country, they begged him not to go.

They gave up once they realized the extent of his determination and drive.

"When my husband said to him, 'Why this?' he said he wanted to reflect back on something in his life and have something to be proud of," Jean said. "We're just so proud of him at this point. He has accomplished so much. If he had turned around in three days we'd still be so proud of him."

Before Shay left, he dubbed his father, David, his "lifeline," who he would contact every night via text to check in and provide updates on his journey.

Prior to leaving, Shay expressed two concerns.

"He was worried about where he was going to sleep at night and dogs," Jean said. "He loves dogs, but they have chased him. We joke that he should've brought some dog biscuits."

Once Shay reaches his California destination, his parents will buy him a plane ticket back to Massachusetts.

"Of all the things he thought about before the trip, he said he never thought about the kindness of people and that's what has been overwhelming," Jean said. "We're just amazed at his drive, his self motivation and dedication to the cause."

Terri Ogan can be reached at oganglobe@gmail.com, or follow her on Twitter.

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