STERLING – At 9 o’clock this morning, Sterling native Rick Lerma will dip the back tire of his road bike into Lake Michigan. Nine days later, he’ll dip the front tire into the Gulf of Mexico.
That’s the plan, anyway, but as he says, “anything can happen” on the 900-mile trek, which starts at Chicago’s Navy Pier and ends on June 14 in Long Beach, Mississippi.
Lerma, 43, started cycling seriously in 2009, he says, but before then, he’d been a longtime fan of commuting to and from work on his mountain bike.
Then, on one of his commutes, he was in Tennessee, biking up a steep hill in almost-100-degree heat and humidity, when he realized that he was going so slow that mosquitoes weren’t only able to land on him, but they could bite him, too.
That’s when he ditched the mountain bike for a road bike.
Since then, he’s participated in races and solo rides throughout the country, some longer than others. But this 900-mile journey will be the longest.
“It’s an adventure, and you don’t know how it’s going to turn out,” says Lerma, who calls Charlotte, North Carolina, home.
So, how’s he feeling?
“I don’t know if excited is the word,” he says. “You’re ready. You have anticipation.”
For the first time, Lerma will ride for a cause. He was on a long-distance ride in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, when two different people walked up to him to ask which charity he was riding for. At the time, the answer was none. If you ask him now, though, he’d tell you Boy Scouts of America.
Lerma, a graduate of Sterling High School, has set up a Facebook page where anyone interested can follow him along his journey through middle America; there’s also a link to donate.
“I just asked myself, ‘What charity resonates with you?’” he says, and the answer was easy: the Boy Scouts.
Lerma has been in touch with a few troops along his route and hopes to meet with some of them, and maybe have them tag along for a short ride, before he moves on down the road.
“Why do I want to go across the country?” he says. “Because it’s there.”
Lerma's tentative schedule
Day 1: Chicago to Bourbonnais, Illinois (59 miles)
Day 2: Bourbonnais to Mattoon, Illinois (121)
Day 3: Mattoon to Ina, Illinois (106)
Day 4: Ina to Cairo, Illinois (89)
Day 5: Cairo to Jackson, Tennessee (107)
Day 6: Jackson to Tupelo, Mississippi (103)
Day 7: Tupelo to Louisville, Mississippi (90)
Day 8: Louisville to Laurel, Mississippi (111)
Day 9: Laurel to Long Beach, Mississippi (103)