Bob Gang wanted to do something big, something slightly outlandish, something to get attention.
A 400-mile bike ride will do just that.
But the journey was a bit more humbling than even Gang expected. On the second day of his journey, the Appalachian Mountains in Pennsylvania proved more difficult than anticipated. Sore physically and exhausted mentally, he wasn't sure if he could continue on his 400-mile journey from his current home in Maryland to his parents' home in Hamburg, then participate in the annual Ride for Roswell event on Saturday.
But after a night of ice and rest, Gang got up ready to go, enjoyed a route with more downhills, and pulled up to the New York State border just before noon on Monday.
"I felt better and went for a ride this morning, doing 50 miles in about three hours," Gang said by phone on Monday. "The Pennsylvania hills were extremely humbling, but I'm going to finish the ride."
Gang planned to take Tuesday as a rest day and finish his ride today, arriving in Hamburg to complete his adventure.
"I wanted to do something extreme," Gang said. "I live in Baltimore now, so the majority of my audience for potential donors have no connection to Buffalo. I felt like I needed to dramatize my efforts, so I decided to ride my bike from my home back to Buffalo. Once I got my first donation, there was no turning back. I promised someone I would ride 400 miles and I had to keep my word."
Now in its 16th year, the Ride for Roswell is a community cycling event which raises money for the Roswell Park Cancer Institute. Participants solicit donations and choose from a variety of bike courses, ranging from 3 miles to 100 miles. Those who reach certain fundraising goals are invited to take a special peloton ride, beginning at Roswell Park and joining the start of the general ride at the University at Buffalo's North Campus.
Gang has raised more than $8,200 and is one of the top fundraisers for the event this year. Long-distance traveling to the ride is not completely new but it is a unique way to draw attention to the cause and rally support.
"Last year Gordon Gross rode his bike from Michigan State to Buffalo to try and bring a wider awareness to the event and Roswell Park," said Lisa Scherer, the manager for the Ride for Roswell. "We really do have a lot of people coming back from out of town to give back to the community. A lot of people make it a special weekend."
Originally, Gang was going to register for one of the longer distances, but after riding his bike 32 miles from his parents' home in Hamburg and participating in the 12-mile peloton, he thought better of it, choosing the 30-mile ride to enjoy the day. After all, Gang is just a recreational cyclist. This 400-mile undertaking is unlike anything he's done before.
"I rode my bike a long time for exercise and I actually got my bike from Bert's in 2005," Gang said. "When I moved to Baltimore [in September 2010], I started to commute to work on my bike. It was 10 miles a day and that was about the extent of it. I really wanted something to challenge myself with an the length of this ride definitely has done that."
While cancer has touched Gang's extended family, it his how the disease and Roswell Park impacted the life of his wife, Janelle. Her father, Tom Farrell of West Seneca, died of cancer before Gang had a chance to meet him. That has left a bit of void in Gang's life.
"My wife's father passed when she was just 16," Gang said. "I never got to meet him. I've heard all these amazing stories, but I never got to have any personal interaction with him. In a way, I feel like I was cheated because I never got to know him. That's part of the reason I wanted to do something big."
In order to do something big, he needed a bit of help. Gang called upon a neighbor in Maryland, whom he describes as "a hard-core cyclist," while getting hometown support and gear donations from Bert's Bikes and Fitness. His training began on April 9, giving him nearly three months to prepare for the journey and in that time, he's learned plenty.
The transition from commuter and fitness cyclist to endurance rider has come with challenges, including increasing his mileage. His first long ride was 50 miles. Then up to 60. Then up to 80 miles. The most difficult part of the training was learning how to eat on the bike. Long rides require an intake of calories and getting the proportions right took some time.
"One day I rode about 60 miles and I didn't take in enough calories," Gang said. "I was about five miles from home and I started to feel bad. By the time I got home, I felt horrible. My wife said she was scared when she saw me. I never wanted to feel like that again."
And so Gang increased his fuel on the bike, eating bananas, electrolyte gels and chews and plenty of water and sports drinks. His neighbor helped plan the route and gave him emotional support while the Wyndham Gettysburg Hotel and the Royal Inn of Ridgway provided him with lodging.
"I'm treating it like a stage race," Gang said of his plan of attack. "I'll be riding around 120 miles a day, so I'll treat it like a professional stage race. Not with the speed, but with the distance each day. It's really a challenge to push myself but riding is still a lot of fun for me."