Student bikes from Kent to Maryland solo

Kelsey Misbrener

At the end of last June, Chris Leppla took a 12-day bike trip from Kent to the coast of Maryland.

Leppla, a sophomore psychology major, tried for years to plan a long summer bike trip with friends, but his friends always backed out. He was tired of waiting, so he rode the 660 miles to Maryland by himself.

“I just hopped on my bike and went,” Leppla said.

He attached 50 pounds of saddlebags to his bike to carry his belongings. The only items he brought with him were a full set of tools, food, a change of clothes, an iPod, a cell phone and water.

Leppla didn’t ride 660 miles nonstop. He took breaks whenever he needed them, ranging from every 10 miles to every 50, and he spent only one night in a hotel. He camped out, stayed with friends of friends and even people he met on the trail for the other 10 nights. As a result, the 12-day trip cost less than $200.

“I met a lot of people on the way and everybody was feeding me and putting me up,” Leppla said.

A new friendship began when Leppla came upon six bikers pulled off to the side of a trail in Cumberland, Md. Leppla simply meant to stop and see if anyone was injured or needed help and then continue on his way. No one was injured, but the bikers appreciated his concern and asked him to ride with the group.

Leppla’s concern also landed him another perk: His new friends invited him to have dinner at the home of Lyndon B. Johnson’s postmaster general and Lady Bird Johnson’s personal secretary in Washington, D.C.

“It was the only time I’ve ever had a butler ask me what I’ll have to drink while I’m wearing racing spandex,” Leppla said.

The stop in Cumberland, Md., also came with another friendship. On one of the trails, a family stopped and asked him which route was the most scenic. The family said they were going back through Washington and asked if Leppla wanted to hitch a ride with them. He denied the offer, but their kindness proved useful later on.

When Leppla was riding alone in Maryland, a bee stung his face. He lifted one hand to swat the bee and accidentally tweaked his handlebars. His bike swerved to the side of the road and flipped over while his 50-pound saddlebags swung around him, knocking him to the pavement.

Although Leppla was in pain and his bike rack carrying his supplies was broken, he was determined to reach his destination. After the accident, he rode the remaining 100 miles to the coast. He later found out he rode those 100 miles with a broken collarbone.

He knew he wouldn’t be able to ride all the way back to Kent with a broken bike rack and saddlebags, so he gave the family, whom he turned down earlier, a call when he reached Washington, and they drove him back to Kent.

Even though he took a 660-mile bike ride on a whim, Leppla admitted his love of bicycling developed accidentally.

“I just planned to start bike commuting,” Leppla said. “I built a bike from the ground up, started riding it and just fell in love with it.”

Now, Leppla can’t get enough. Although his 660-mile trek came with some complications, Leppla would definitely do it over again.

“I want to ride the other way next time,” Leppla said. “Ride to California.”

Contact Kelsey Misbrener at [email protected].