Brendan Walsh fully expects to break a Guinness World Record for the fastest bicycle crossing of the East Coast of the U.S. by riding 2,400 miles from Maine to the tip of Florida in 12 days. He has learned the hard way that bringing his guitar and his French press coffee maker on long bike rides slows him down.
When the 26-year-old native of Ashburnham cycled cross-country from Boston to Seattle for two months in 2017 and raised $4,700 for St. Jude’s Hospital, he overloaded his bicycle with too much gear, including his guitar, and had to ship much of it home along the way.
“I had this big, romantic idea,” he said, “that I was going to pay for my lunch every day by playing my guitar in the street.”
A little before 6 a.m. Monday, Sept. 30, Walsh plans to embark from Madawaska, Maine, along the Canadian border and if he averages 200 miles per day, he’ll reach the southernmost point of Key West, Florida, in the required 12 days to set the record. More importantly, he hopes to raise $10,000 for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Visit bicyclebrendan.com to pledge a donation or keep track of his progress during his ride.
Walsh chose to benefit NAMI because four of his friends died after struggling with mental illness, three of whom committed suicide and one who died of a drug overdose. Walsh has suffered from depression and anxiety for his entire life.
“What I’m trying to do is let people know,” he said, “that it’s OK not to be OK. We all live really complicated lives and have a lot going on inside our own heads, and that’s really the nature of being a human being.”
Walsh said helping others through his cycling has served as an important outlet for his anxiety.
If riding 2,400 miles alone isn’t daunting enough, Walsh will also have to overcome the anxiety caused by a severe accident he suffered while training for his trip. On May 7, he was riding from his home in Waltham on Route 117 to Walden Pond in Concord, and an Audi cut in front of him and collided with his bicycle. He heard the sound of glass shattering, got tossed in the air, somersaulted twice and bounced off the pavement. He suffered a torn left meniscus that will eventually require surgery, a concussion, whiplash, bruised ribs, a sprained right ankle, bruised knee bones and numerous muscle knots. Fortunately, a nurse stopped and tended to him until an ambulance arrived.
Walsh admits that after the collision he was afraid to leave his house for nearly a week, and he couldn’t return to his job as the audio-visual manager for Lesley University in Cambridge for two weeks.
The 5-foot-9, 155-pound Walsh has biked up Mount Washington, run a marathon and competed in a long-distance triathlon. By being so physically fit, he was able to recover from his accident with intensive physical therapy, but he put off his trip to Florida from June until Sept. 30. This will be the first time he’ll try to set a record.
“I feel like I’m battle tested at this point,” he said.
His bicycle was totaled in his accident in May, so he purchased a new GT Grade bike that is built more for speed, so it weighs only 21 pounds, less than half the weight of the bike he rode to Seattle. In order to leave space for more food and water, he’ll bring only one pair of socks, one jersey, two pairs of cycling shorts and a bivouac sack to sleep in for at least a couple of nights. He’ll stay in hotels as well.
Walsh and his wife, Olyvia, met while attending Oakmont Regional. Walsh played soccer, ran track for Oakmont and won the Mid-Wach C championship in the 400 hurdles. His wife was a cheerleader at Oakmont, and she cheers him on now.
Before Walsh embarked to Seattle, he had never experienced an overnight trip on his bike, so his wife and his other family members and friends were concerned about him. Many people even asked him if he planned to bring a gun.
“It was like, ‘This guy is going to die,’ ” Walsh recalled. “ ‘He’s going to get lost and we’re never going to see him again.’ But I kept my nose to the ground and kept doing it and didn’t give up. So now people have come to expect me to do more and more things that someone else might deem as crazy.”
Some may consider bicycling safer than his previous hobby. Walsh took up cycling seriously after a motorcycle accident in 2014 left him with a torn rotator cuff, facial scrapes and, believe it or not, appendicitis. So he’s used to dealing with pain and, unfortunately, rain.
Walsh’s bicycle doesn’t have windshield wipers or even a windshield for that matter so when it rains, he’s constantly wiping the water off his prescription eye glasses with his fingers. During his trip to Seattle two years ago, it snowed the day he left, and it rained nearly every day for the first two weeks.
“You can only get so wet,” he said. “So once you get to a certain point, nothing really changes anymore.”
Whenever Walsh needs any inspiration to keep going, all he has to do is glance at the “feels good” tattoo on his right shin.
By the way, Walsh won’t cycle back home from Florida. He and his bike are going to fly.
—Contact Bill Doyle at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @BillDoyle15.