Graduate student Joel Paula, 34, is serious about cycling. He’s biked to work for the past 7 years and is actively involved in cycling advocacy. Last summer, in between his first and second years of graduate school at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, he decided to take his commitment to the next level: riding cross-country to raise money for a charity.
After doing some research, he decided to make the Cancer Research Institute the beneficiary of his ride. “I liked your philosophy and the way you approach cancer research, so I decided to raise money for your organization,” Joel says. Having family members who were personally affected by cancer made the choice more meaningful, he explained.
The ambitious cross-country trek began in Tillamook, Oregon on the west coast. Four thousand miles and many ibuprofen later, he arrived safely in Boston. All told, Joel raised nearly $7,000 for CRI, exceeding his original fundraising goal.
We caught up with Joel in January, 2014, after he got back from an internship in Paris, and chatted with him about his trip.
CRI: Was this your first long-distance ride of this sort or had you done other long rides before?
Joel: Previously, my longest ride was about 100 miles. I had never done a tour before, which is long distances over a span of time. So this is the first time I did something like this. I'd never put my body through something so strenuous before.
CRI: How did you prepare for the trip?
Joel: I went on long-distance rides around the Boston area to train. I also went to physical therapy for some knee problems that I was having and that helped a bit. I also bought a new bicycle for the journey. It was a bit more comfortable and designed specifically for touring.
CRI: Were you by yourself or did you have a biking partner?
Joel: I cycled with a good friend from school. His name is Scott Snyder, and he was raising money for another charity. Having a companion on the trip was definitely key.
CRI: Where did you stay and sleep?
Joel: We camped a lot. We also used a website called Warmshowers.com, which is cyclists who open their homes to other cyclists. Sometimes we were lucky enough to just chat with people and they would invite us into their homes and we'd either put up our tent in their yard or maybe sleep on their floor. I was really humbled by the generosity and the kindness of strangers.
Something I can definitely say about this trip is that I've never felt like I was in a position of need before, of being so reliant on the generosity of others and it really caused me to have to open my heart up a little bit more.
CRI: What surprised you most about the trip?
Joel: Just the genuine interest of people. I can recall one example. We were at a restaurant in Minnesota and as soon as we walked in wearing our full cycling gear, people started asking us questions and were really interested in what we were doing. Once they learned that we were raising money for charity, they started passing a hat around and people were just giving money right there on the spot.
CRI: What was the hardest thing about the trip?
Joel: Probably just the exertion. We had a really fast pace. Most people wanting to do cross-country will do it in two months, maybe a little longer. We did it in about seven weeks.
CRI: How did your knee hold up?
Joel: It was difficult at first. Right away, coming from the Oregon coast, we crossed the coast mountain range and then two days later we were in the Cascades. So we had our second highest climb of the entire trip right in the very beginning. There were nights when I was icing my knees down and taking ibuprofen to help with the inflammation. So the first week or so was very difficult.
CRI: It must have been disconcerting to have that happen right at first. You still have the whole rest of the way to go…
Joel: Absolutely. And I was so worried about it that I didn't launch the campaign to raise money until about a week into the trip because I was so worried that I'd asked for all this money, ask all my friends and family to support me and then to have to… I basically was fearing failure. And I'm so glad I overcame it. Now when I think back, I feel silly for having done that. I should have just from the beginning been really committed and not have been so concerned about failure.
CRI: How did you raise money?
Joel: I spoke to former business associates and colleagues and they actually ended up donating quite a bit of the total. But friends and family, social media, just writing the blog I think also helped. It's a good tool to use.
CRI: Anything else you want to mention that I didn’t ask about?
Joel: I also just want to mention that I was really inspired by the stories that people were telling me cross-country about family members who have battled cancer, how it's affected their lives. And also by the email I received from the people I reached out to for donations who shared a lot of their own stories too. So that was another source of inspiration to keep me going on those really tough days.
To see more stunning pictures of Joel’s trip, and read about his adventures, visit his Tumblr page: www.coasttocoast4acure.tumblr.com.