When we last saw James Munsch, he was on his way to Seattle to begin a bike tour around the nation with a goal of raising $5 million for cancer research.
Monday, Munch called from Austin, Texas, where he's worked for his uncle's construction company since mid-December. The 2006 graduate of Brainerd High School needed money to finish his trip, even though he's spent just $250 to this point. Munsch will leave Austin this weekend and pedal for the Florida coast.
"The fundraising has been tough, real tough," said Munsch, who has raised about $400. "I've stopped at businesses and asked for donations and talked to newspapers, but I haven't had a lot of success."
But the riding has been an adventure that Munsch describes as "my best friend and my worst enemy."
He left Seattle on Sept. 28 and headed for Longview, Wash., where he stayed for a week with his aunt. There he got on Highway 101 and rode down the Pacific Coast through northern California. A highlight of the trip was Monterey, Calif.
"One of the most picture-perfect cities you'll ever see," Munsch said of the coastal city. "It's entirely surrounded by the sea. I camped on the point right north of Pebble Beach and watched the sun set over the ocean."
In Santa Barbara, Calif., Munsch hit on a great idea, thanks to Robin Reese, grandmother of a fellow student at Brainerd High School, with whom he stayed for a few days. Reese told Munsch to keep a journal of his trip, which he's doing on a digital voice recorder.
"I'm glad she talked me into it," Munsch said. "It all tends to blur together after awhile."
If Monterey was pleasant, Phoenix was decidedly unpleasant. Munsch disliked Arizona's capitol from the moment he hit the outskirts of town.
"The divisions of society are so clear-cut," he said. "On Broadway, everyone was Mexican and African American. I thought, 'Okay, where are the white people.' I stopped once and put my hand up against a traffic signal box so I wouldn't have to put my feet down. There was a bullet hole in the box."
In Tempe it all changed.
"Ninety-five percent of the people were white," Munsch said. "It was the typical middle-class society, a fluent river of ignorance, with soccer moms driving their vans. Here in America we say, 'Let's help the starving people in Africa.' Hey, look next door. There are people starving in this nation."
On Thanksgiving Day, Munsch met Terrence Parmer, an ex-con who did 20 years at a federal prison in Michigan. He was caught running guns from El Paso to Detroit for the Mafia.
"That was his story, anyway," Munsch said. "Sometimes guys like that make up stories. But he was really nice. He got enticed by the money. For every trip he made he grossed $120,000. That's a lot of money."
Three miles from the Arizona-New Mexico line, Munsch met Thomas Frias, a trucker on his way home to Forth Worth, Texas. He asked Munsch if he would like a ride.
"I calculated the mileage," Munsch said, "because I committed myself to 6,000 miles. It was time for some R & R."
Frias dropped Munsch off in Waco, Texas, and Munsch rode the rest of the way to Austin. Now he's got money in his pocket, his bike is tuned and he's ready to hit the road again. He'll head east to Jacksonville, Fla., then go north up the coast to Maine and eventually turn west for Minnesota.
Next week's we'll visit with Munsch about a bike-a-thon he's organizing for Aug. 4-5 from St. Paul to Brainerd.
VINCE MEYER, outdoors editor, can be reached at email@example.com or 855-5862.
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