My family has always been the catalyst for me going on adventures, encouraging me to experience everything that this world has to offer. I discovered how to travel light, learn from every aspect of the journey, and enjoy the people along the way.
Biking was no exception. I have been riding since the moment my parents discovered that sugar was enough motivation and fuel to keep me on a bike seat for few hours. Seeing the world at a slower speed and experiencing parts of states that I used to sleep through made me fall in love with the sport and created lasting memories for our family. Thousands of miles, hundreds of lemon drops, and too many terrible team bike names later I realized that the time I spent on the road helped form me into the person I am today.
The driving force for all of these trips was my parents. They both grew up in adventurous families themselves, enjoying activities like backpacking in the mountains, BWCA canoe trips, tip ups on frozen ponds, and cycling treks over the rolling hills of the Midwest.
Those values brought my parents together until they ultimately decided that placing two wheels on the back roads to somewhere was something that couldn’t be sacrificed at any point in their lives. This stayed true when they decided to bike from Boston to Maine after getting married. It didn’t change when they started a family and began to pull a buggy full of restless toddlers and camping gear. It even held fast when our family was dealt the blow of a cancer diagnosis.
I remember sitting across from my Dad at a restaurant in New Zealand when he told me that he was having some discomfort and pain, but that whatever it was, he believed he was on top of it. Feeling reassured, I brushed it off but would soon discover that this would be much more than a side comment. After returning from my study abroad, our parents sat my sister and I down and shared that my dad had small-cell carcinoma in his prostate. Tears were shed as we embraced each other in a family hug and reassured ourselves that “this is just a bump in the road” and that with treatment, he “[would] be fine.” I didn’t understand the gravity of the diagnosis at the time, and part of me didn’t really want to. It was the elephant in the room and I was hoping that paying less attention to it would make it less of a reality. Over the next two years I made a point of spending time with my Dad. I resembled an investigative journalist asking hundreds of questions, trying to glean as many details as to what made up the fabric that was Bil. He told stories of his first girlfriend, growing up in a family of six, purchasing his prized Martin guitar, and ultimately what his thoughts were on the unanswerable: Life after him.
At the time I didn’t see how much energy he was putting into trying to maintain a sense of normalcy with our family. He would happily trade a week’s worth of energy for a cribbage game, a student graduation party, or some tinkering in his shop with his brother. He took a motorcycle trip with my mother, traveled to Austria, danced with my sister at her wedding, and even made time to breakout the TIG welder and build a tandem bike with me. Looking back I now know that I was uncovering the intricacies of my father – a teacher, husband, brother, coach, and a son – all roles that he cherished deeply.
Cancer changed my family and these days I rarely come across someone who hasn’t dealt with it at some point in their life. It is a diagnosis that causes immense hardship when all you want is to return to the moments that were free of that ominous hovering cloud. Like other cancer patients, my father lived beyond his diagnosis and found solace in moments of joy. He wore his “sorry for the chemo farts” t-shirt, told bad jokes to the nurses, and went as Mr. Clean for Halloween – all to make someone laugh. He wanted to keep going and his friends, family, the Region’s Oncology team, and countless others made that possible.
At this point in my life I have an urge to give back to the people that served as my family’s rudders throughout the journey. They worked tirelessly, exhausted every treatment option, stayed optimistic while being realistic, and offered patience in a time of shock, confusion, and panic. The moments that we had with Dad following his diagnosis wouldn’t have been possible without those diligent miracle workers by his side.
My father’s cancer story is the motivation for planning this 5,024 mile journey across 13 states. I consider it a small and overdue contribution to my father’s legacy. The support my family received was possible because of the generosity of others, shown in the form of anonymously delivered meals, gift cards for groceries, handwritten letters filled with memories, and smiles that offered glimmers of happiness.
Furthermore, every March for the past eight years Mahtomedi High School has held it’s annual Bil Gangl Memorial Run, collecting donations for the St. Paul, MN Regions Hospital Bil Gangl Fund. These donations have helped bring families dealing with a diagnosis some much needed relief. In return, the letters that the Regions team received are laden with a magnitude of appreciation that is indescribable.
My goal is to raise one dollar for each of the 5,024 miles that I plan to push my steel stallion across this country. I have witnessed these donations in action and I know how much the families appreciate the unexpected gifts. That being said, I ask for your help – whether that be a donation, words of encouragement, or spreading awareness of my journey. The families that receive these gifts, much like my own, will never be able to thank you enough.
On two wheels I go,