James Munsch is back in Brainerd, preparing to pick up where he left off.
A year ago last summer, Munsch was four days away from reporting for his freshman year at North Dakota State University when he took a hard left turn. Instead of going to college, he hit the road on his bicycle, starting in Seattle and ending in Manchester, N.H., where he finally ran out of money. He took a bus home to Minnesota.
Munsch rode 6,000 miles through 22 states, stopping along the way to ask businesses for donations to aid cancer research for children. His goal was $5 million. He ended up with $500 and a practical lesson in fundraising.
"I had a fire in me, a youthful idealism," said Munsch, 19. "Now I realize I needed to get more organized. Business owners were like, 'Who's this homeless bum asking for money?'"
Ramen noodles and peanut butter fueled Munsch's ride until he bought a $10 camp stove and made warm meals. He slept in a tent until problems with condensation forced him to buy a 9 x 12 plastic tarp he called a "scout tent." He would set his bike against a tree, attach the tarp to the bike and another support and sleep underneath.
"I'd do it again, but I'd like to bring a friend. You need a certain mindset and personality to be on the road alone day after day. It gets hard."
Munsch saw the entire spectrum of American life. He learned the most from the time he spent with the homeless.
"Granted, 90 percent of them are on drugs or drink a lot of alcohol. But 10 percent are people who have had a rough time. They've lost their job or can't make the payments on their house. Their car has been repossessed. On top of that, they have something in their past, like a felony, that makes it hard for them to get a good-paying job. They live in a big city, where it's $1,800 a month for a one-bedroom studio. They make $60 a day doing day labor. There's no way they can make it."
Munsch spent February in New Orleans helping the homeless. He has a new perspective for what it means to be a responsible adult.
"If you hold public office or have a job where you make decisions for other people, you have to spend time with your constituents. How many politicians get to know the homeless? How many have AIDS or some other health problem for which they don't have insurance? Live on the street for a day, go to work with the people you represent."
On Aug. 4-5, he will head the "Halfway to Headwaters" bike ride from St. Paul to Brainerd. The goal is to raise money for the Lance Armstrong Foundation, but Munsch said he won't put pressure on riders to take pledges. Just come along for the ride. Details can be found at www.biketolife.org.
Come August, Munsch will go to college, where he plans to pursue degrees in engineering and computer science. His bike tour is history, but from the people he met on the road, he gained insights he wouldn't have picked up in a college classroom.
"We're all on this earth to live and do the best we can. We're all trying to figure out who we are and what we're supposed to be doing here."
One year and 6,000 miles later, James Munsch is a little closer to finding himself.
VINCE MEYER, outdoors editor, may be reached at vince.meyer@ brainerddispatch.com or 855-5862.
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