What do you think would be the toughest part of cycling across the United States? Climbing the mountains? Crossing the desert?
Not for University of South Florida student veteran Kiersten Downs.
“Dealing with the silence because I have been on the road a lot by myself,” Downs said. “I have learned how important my community is to me and how much I need them.
“Sometimes I like to say ‘Oh, I’m a super strong woman and I can do it on my own.’ And as vets, I think a lot of us have problems admitting that sometimes we need help,” Downs said.
A half dozen veterans joined Downs in Pueblo, CO for the day’s ride. She also is visiting local chapters of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) to chat with older veterans about how they can collaborate.
It was just over a month ago that Downs dipped her bicycle’s rear wheel into the Pacific Ocean – a tradition for cyclists attempting to cross the country.
Downs left San Francisco June 2nd with the goal of riding into Washington D.C. August 5th. She tells WUSF News she’s on track, yet she still plans to increase her daily pace from 70 to 80 miles.
Downs suffered a strained muscle only a few days into her ride. She attributed the injury to the unfamiliar terrain, new equipment that she didn’t have time to adjust to and riding her first day with professional cyclists from the Ride 2 Recovery organization.
“They really set the tone and gave me the motivation that I needed to ride,” Downs said. “On the downside, I probably exerted myself that first week a little bit too hard and I ended up straining my left quad muscle. That was sort of a blow to my ego.”
Her mom, who is driving the support vehicle and is a registered nurse, convinced Downs to rest for two days. That she said saved the rest of the ride.
She took July 4th off resting in Garden City, KS and estimates crossing Kansas will take three or four days.
Her goal is to raise awareness for Student Veterans of America and to raise $10,000 for the student run organization.
Downs has another meet-up with student veterans in Arkansas who plan to ride along. Until then, she said her biggest battle, other than the silence, will be any headwinds and she’d rather climb mountains all day long than swirling, strong winds that sap her energy.