Cycling Through the Past

Tuesday, January 31, 2006
By Danielle Smith/Staff Writer

San Juan Bautista - If most college students were asked to design their own class, it would probably entail study of daytime television or the opposite sex. Given that same opportunity, however, six students from Williams College in Massachusetts chose to spend a month running and biking a grueling 1,210 miles - all the while chronicling their journey - that would eventually lead them through San Juan Bautista.

"The whole project is sort of an idea gone wrong," said Corey Levin, one of the students taking part in the expedition. "Originally we wanted to run across country, but that turned out not to be feasible? Grant found a list of trails, and when he found the De Anza trail the distance was feasible and the weather was warm enough that we could actually do it, so we decided to just go with it."

Cross country athletes Stephen Wills, Grant Burgess, Bill Ference, David Rogowski, Corey Levin and Colin Carroll are currently traveling the last leg of the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail, which begins in Arizona and ends in San Francisco, marking the route Anza and a contingent of 30 soldiers and their families pioneered in their efforts to establish a mission. The students share five bikes among the six of them, ensuring that one of the group is running at all times.

"When we first thought of doing this, we were trying to think of a way to run that would also be fun and exciting," Wills said. "This was an opportunity for us to be pioneers in what we're doing. So the expedition will be not only for our benefit, but also for those who come after us."

The students' expedition marks the first time in recorded history that anyone has attempted to master the trail in its entirety since 1776. While the curious can follow the De Anza trail by auto route, the National Parks Service hopes one day to offer a continuous trail for cyclists and pedestrians, though the trail passes through some decidedly urban areas today. The idea, however, is that the students' adventure will be the first of many.

"We're all keeping journals of our trip," Carroll said. "They're for our own enjoyment as much as they are a part of schoolwork."

After nearly a month of travel, the students arrived in San Juan early Friday afternoon for a day of sightseeing, after stopping in town for a hamburger lunch - only their second sit-down lunch since the expedition began.

"We bought a big pack of tortillas before we left," Burgess said. "Some jelly, peanut butter, pop tarts and granola bars. It's neat, easy to carry, and it fills you up, but it's not a hamburger."

The students toured Mission San Juan Bautista and the historic park before attending a reception held in their honor at Hollister's Off the Chain Bikes, which gave them a chance to mingle with local cyclists. The group stayed at St. Francis' Catholic retreat overnight and left early Saturday morning.

"Even though this is really tough physically, I'm having a blast," Carroll said. "We're able to spend time in some really cool towns and meet great people."

In perhaps their greatest feat of stamina, the six will fly back to school from San Francisco tomorrow, and will be back in class Thursday morning.

As the final component of their project, the students will be putting together a detailed report of their observations along the trail.

"It's kind of bittersweet, now that it's almost over," Wills said. "I'm looking forward to getting back to school, but I know when this ends I'll just wish we had a few more days."