By Barrett NealeNearing the end of a four-year lacrosse career at St. Mary's College, Towson native John Windsor didn't have any immediate plans for after college.
One of his classmates from the St. Paul's Class of 2007, Jon Zorn, who went on to Towson University, suggested they go on a cross-country bike ride. Windsor, a four-time member of the Capital Athletic Conference All-Academic team, had yet to decide what he wanted to do with his economics degree. He decided to accept Zorn's offer, as did Raphael McGowan, a 28-year-old from Australia Zorn had met while studying abroad.
Windsor hadn't done more than a two-day bike trip before this trip began on July 28, but he said this journey was about more than just exercise. It represented a challenge, an adventure and the opportunity to support a cause that had recently become important to him.
"A family member of mine has been struggling with eating disorders for a year now," he said. "I guess two years ago, if you had asked me about eating disorders or a mental illness, not that I would be a jerk about it, but I guess I just didn't understand how difficult they were. Once Jon came up with this idea, I threw out the idea, why don't we do it for charities?"
Windsor decided to raise money for the Johns Hopkins Eating Disorders Program, which is part of the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences. The program, established in 1976, customizes the intensity of care for each patient, with options including inpatient treatment, a partial hospitalization program and consultations on an outpatient basis.
Barbara Verrier, senior associate director of development for the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, said Windsor's efforts had brought in $6,685 as of Sept. 9. Windsor said he hoped he could eventually raise $20,000 to help the program that has helped his family through this difficult time.
"It's not something you should really be ashamed of," Windsor said, "and a lot of the time, it is something that the person themselves, they do kind of feel ashamed. They just kind of hide it. I look at people totally differently now. I do notice a lot more the girls and how actually thin they are sometimes. ... It's a tough disease and it takes a while to get over."
Dr. Angela Guarda is the director of the Johns Hopkins Eating Disorders Program. The money Windsor has raised will help Guarda's team with its research initiatives, which include assessing the outcomes of patient treatment and analyzing the connections between brain chemistry and the symptoms of eating disorders.
After hearing about Windsor's plans, McGowan decided to raise awareness about an Australian group called beyondblue (beyondblue.org.au), which supports people who are battling depression.
Zorn, Windsor and McGowan decided to take the TransAmerica Trail, a path the Adventure Cycling Association created. They began the 4,262-mile path in Astoria, Ore., and will finish it in Yorktown, Va., in early- to mid-October.
They've had to stop about once every 1,000 miles for tune-ups, because of the wear and tear on their bikes -- a Trek 520 for Zorn, a Giant for McGowan and a Kona Sutra for Windsor.
Windsor, Zorn and McGowan have front and back racks on their bikes to carry personal items. Each has his own tent and they also brought cooking equipment in addition to a sleeping pad, a sleeping bag and biking outfits.
They upload pictures to their Web site, johnwindsor3.webs.com, from Zorn's iPhone, and when they have access to a computer -- about once a week -- they plan out their lodging by Googling the cities they'll be traveling to and contact churches in town.
"We'll talk to the pastors," Windsor said. "We'll link up with them and when we get into town, you have any variation. Some haven't been there. They just leave the door unlocked and say, 'Leave it as you found it.' Others have invited us to their house and we've eaten dinner there and their wives have cooked dinner, breakfast in the morning. The trip has also helped us see how wonderful the U.S. really is and how welcoming a lot of people are."
Another resource they use is warmshowers.org, which describes the Warm Showers community as a free worldwide hospitality exchange for touring cyclists. People willing to host bikers can sign up and provide their contact information, and Windsor said there were some people in the cities along the way who were willing to host them for the night.
Windsor may have started this journey because he's trying to find out how he wants to start his life after college, but he has used it to benefit others, through his work with Johns Hopkins, and has also seen how willing strangers were to help him as he has traveled across the country.
One night in Hesston, Kan., there was a mix-up with their planning, and the three bikers found themselves 20 miles short of the church they were hoping to stay in. After a long day of biking -- Windsor said they averaged between 65 and 70 miles per day -- they didn't want to go the extra distance.
"This one guy talked to us for 10 minutes and then just invited us to have dinner with his family," Windsor said. "Just a really nice family and we ended up just staying there the night. They cooked us breakfast [the next] morning and it was just a great experience. ...
"When someone comes up to you, you definitely should talk to them, because you never know what it's going to lead to. A few times, it's led to meeting great families that'll put you up and are just as wonderful as could be."
More Front Row:
Henderson Guys: Backing The Line -- And Each Other
Long Bike Ride Unveils Unexpected Generosity
Burger Fans Rejoice: Gino's Giant Is Back
Some Old Faithfuls Depart Blast Roster
From The Cheap Seats
Issue 165: September 2011