Phila U. cyclists complete Atlantic coast MS awareness ride

 The Coast to Coast for MS: Atlantic Coast Team recently completed their 2,637-mile bike trek. (Photo courtesy of Cameron Swengel/for NewsWorks)

The Coast to Coast for MS: Atlantic Coast Team recently completed their 2,637-mile bike trek. (Photo courtesy of Cameron Swengel/for NewsWorks)

They made it.

The Philadelphia University students who planned to cycle from Maine to Florida to fundraise for MS research completed their trip in Key West on Saturday, June 22. Cameron Swengel, Alex Klohr, George Renzulli and Michael Otterbein – part of the “Coast to Coast for MS: Atlantic Coast Team” – rode through an enthusiastic crowd before touching the concrete buoy marking the southernmost point in the U.S. Their 2,637-mile bike ride has raised more than $20,000 for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. 

Yesterday, NewsWorks caught up with Cameron Swengel and Alex Klohr, teammates and trip coordinators. The Phila U. juniors, both architect majors, said the hardest part of the ride was the first leg of the trip.

Unanticipated obstacles 

They started on May 20 in Bar Harbor, and while they had planned well for the logistics of the endurance challenge, the team couldn’t anticipate the duration of the cold temperatures and rain that accompanied them from Maine into Pennsylvania.

“Slowly, everybody started breaking down,” said Cameron Swengel, who cycled from Virginia to California to raise MS awareness two years ago. “We were in soaking wet clothing for 10 hours a day between the riding and the breaks.” The team persevered, finding relief in the warmer climates as they headed south. “Everybody had their own challenges and their own goals,” Alex Klohr said, “and did extremely well.” Klohr’s greatest takeaway so far is the time he spent in the company of a group that was “able to physically and mentally handle a trip like that.”

The riders had planned for bruises and flat tires (there were a total of 16 shared by seven riders). Unanticipated tests included a wrong turn in Baltimore, two ER visits, a bout of bronchitis, a reckless driver, and a pack of angry dogs in Georgia. In Portland, Maine and in Jupiter Island, Florida, police cars stopped the Penske truck full of provisions that accompanied the cyclists. When officers learned the reason for its slow speeds through wealthy areas, the encounters led to police escorts.

Flat roads, snakes and generous strangers 

Cameron Swengel compared this endurance ride to the one he took from the east to west coast. “The last ride had more mountains,” he said, “and mountains help take your mind off things.” After grueling ascents, cyclists look forward to downhill breaks. Swengel found the “miles and miles” of flat roads from Virginia to Florida to offer more of a mental contest by giving riders not much more than “time to think.” The South did cause Swengel’s heartbeat to race a little uneasily when he rode past some of its native inhabitants. “There were more snakes than I expected,” he laughed.

The team doesn’t yet know exactly how much money they raised for MS. “We had a bunch of donations on the spot,” said Alex Klohr. These monies include the generosity of strangers that the group encountered on a ferry, in a restaurant, and on a hotel shuttle.

Klohr and Swengel estimate that cyclists covered approximately 90 miles and burned between 6,000 and 8,000 calories a day. Snacks ranged from bananas out of the Penske truck at the start of the trip to gator jerky purchased from a roadside stand in Florida. Along the way, they camped or stayed with host families.

Now back at home in York, Pennsylvania, Cameron Swengel is working in a warehouse before the fall semester begins at Philadelphia University. He acknowledges the difficulty of the psychological transition between extreme sport and normal life, and he misses his life on the bike.

“It’s like your daily grind on steroids,” he said.

The Atlantic Coast Team is still accepting donations, which can be made through its website

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