By APRIL DIODATO
OBSERVER Lifestyles Editor
Donald Lang isn't taking his retirement lying down - he's taking it sitting down.
Don Lang poses with his bicycle as he prepares for his trip.
Instead of playing golf or pursuing other leisurely hobbies, Lang is embarking on a cross-country bicycle trek in an effort to raise funds for cancer research at Roswell Park. He hasn't had any experience with bicycle touring or even with cancer, but wanted to find a way to help others - and maybe find himself along the way - in his newly-found downtime.
"People just kept asking me, 'What are you going to do?'" Lang said of the weeks leading up his retirement from SUNY Fredonia's School of Music in October 2010. "I said, 'I don't know - something different, something else, something fun.'"
Lang woke up one morning with the realization that he wanted to buy a bicycle and begin to train, and if he liked it, take a trip. He knew that on this trip, he wanted his efforts to benefit others. He met with an acquaintance that had embarked on a journey similar to the one he was considering 30 years ago to raise money for Aspire of Western New York (an organization that provides support to those with developmental disabilities), and they helped to put Lang in touch with Roswell.
"He is such an amazing person," said Stefani Trpcevski, special events coordinator of Roswell Park Alliance Foundation. "Don came up with the idea completely on his own to cycle across the country for all of those who have been touched by cancer. We support athletes and novice athletes who want to take on challenges."
Roswell shipped Lang's bike to San Diego, from whence he will depart on March 29. He will ride back to Fredonia, zig-zagging across the United States, with stops planned in Scottsdale, Ariz., and Pueblo, Colo., on through Kansas, Iowa and Pennsylvania. Lang is seeking sponsorship at 1 cent per mile ($30) for his 3,000-mile trip.
Bicycle aficionado Rich Goodman, founder of the Dunkirk-based bicycle advocacy program called Spoke Folk, is helping his longtime SUNY Fredonia colleague prepare for the trek. While driving, Lang spotted Goodman riding his bike in Dunkirk and stopped him to pick his brain.
"I never knew Don to be a cyclist," Goodman said as he and Lang sat down to discuss the upcoming trip. "I think my first question to him was, 'Do you have a bicycle?'"
Lang's reply was, "No!"
"I rode a bike as a kid, everybody does," Lang said, and that was the extent of his cycling experience.
Riding from one coast to another is not as easy as hopping onto any bicycle with two wheels and beginning to peddle. Luckily, Goodman, with many bike tours behind him, has taken Lang under his wing.
Together they have been working on what he calls "Touring 101." The informal instruction included everything Lang would need to know to equip himself for a long-distance bicycle trip, from what bike to buy - "You can't just go into any store and buy a bicycle for a trip of this magnitude," Goodman said - to gearing, to training and preparation, and what to bring along.
"The very first thing I brought up was, 'I'm going to ride my bike from here to California and back again,' and Rich said, 'You don't want to do that,'" Lang recalled with a laugh. "I said, 'Why not?' and he said, 'Every day that you go west, you're riding into the wind'"
"Prevailing winds," Goodman added.
Lang discovered how right he was when he took his bike out for its inaugural ride from Fredonia to Brocton along Route 20 and struggled to make the 10-mile trip there. With the wind behind him on his return, however, it was a breeze. This led to Lang's decision to ship the bike to San Diego and ride home with the wind at his back.
"Now that's a simple thing that I, as a novice, wouldn't even had thought about," Lang said. "Talk about Touring 101!"
Goodman said the current technology is such that buying a bicycle is no longer "one-size-fits-all." Upon his recommendation, Lang looked at several different touring bikes.
"There's a big consideration with comfort," Goodman said. "Certain materials such as high-quality steel frames are much more comfortable and durable than aluminum or carbon fiber because they have different attributes."
Once Lang found the right bike, the next step was equipment. He would need a rack, a computer, cycling gloves, safety gear (such as a rearview mirror and lights), spare parts, tools to take care of the bike, extra tire equipment - as Goodman said, it's not a matter of if but when a flat tire would occur. For luggage, it is important to put bags in the front as well as the back to balance out the center of gravity and even out the load in order to put less stress on the back wheel.
To plan his route, Lang has used AdventureCycling.org, a Montana-based nonprofit bicycle travel organization that provides trip-planning resources for cyclists, such as maps of researched routes.
For physical preparation, Lang has been riding anywhere from 20 to 40 miles at least every other day since he bought his bike in mid-September. On his cross-country ride, he plans to travel about 50 miles per day - but he's in no rush. He anticipates the trip will take at least two months, maybe longer with some sight-seeing and any unplanned obstacles such as adverse weather conditions (as Goodman said, "You have to expect adversity.").
"It's not a race," Lang said. "I'm retired. I don't have anywhere to be."
WITH HELP FROM FRIENDS
On his trip, Lang hopes to reunite with old friends and make new ones. He is looking forward to visiting a former student in Scottsdale, Ariz.
Lang doesn't plan to luxuriate in hotels along his journey. Instead, he will be relying on the kindness of strangers. Through websites such as CouchSurfing.org, WarmShowers.org and HospitalityClub.org, Lang has found people to generously offer him a couch or a bed to stay on each night for the first leg of his trip so far.
For the 30 years that Lang taught at SUNY Fredonia, he conducted the Chamber Singers, a group of 24 to 28 students. At least every other year, Lang and the singers traveled to places in the United States and abroad, including Scandinavia, Puerto Rico, Great Britain, Jamaica - and also took an annual trip to different high schools throughout New York state. In every place they visited, they stayed in private homes.
"When you travel, it's the only way to really see the culture and learn what the life there is really like. You eat the real food - you're not fed in a hotel - you meet the real people and you make all kinds of friends," Lang said. "I think at the root of this trip is some memory that I have of meeting all those people and finding out what the truth of the culture and the situation is. When the bike trip came to me, it was assumed that I wouldn't stay in hostels, inns or hotels. If I was going to do it, I was going to meet the people; these websites allow me to make these contacts."
Lang has also found his new connections to be helpful in planning his route. Some have pointed out potential obstacles or detours that he may need to take.
Lang will also need help from friends new and old to raise the funds for Roswell. Only his friends - his sponsors, at $30 each - will be able to join his Facebook group, "Don Lang's Bike Ride." Facebook group: Don Lang's bike ride. Using his smartphone and iPad, Lang will be chronicling his journey and bringing his friends along. His goal is 200 sponsors; at press time, Lang said he had between 70 and 80 sponsors.
"Everybody in the world knows somebody who's been affected by cancer," Lang said.
Even though Lang has little personal experience with cancer, he explained that the disease's effects are far-reaching - it touches everyone, whether the connection is immediate or distant - and with the funds he will raise for research, he's taking preventive measures.
"Of all of the causes that came into my mind, this seemed to be the most important," he said. "It's about finding a cure."
The trip will be a challenge but Lang is unfettered by potential battles with the elements or any unexpected hardships that may arise. He recalls a recommendation from an advisor that read, "Don Lang is optimistic by nature." Those are words he plans to honor.
"I'm taking this trip with as much optimism as I can," he said.
His wife may be a little skeptical and concerned for his safety but Lang said that no one has tried to talk him out of his trip.
"It's just something I have to do - I can't completely explain why but (I want) to find out what's out there and find out what's in here," Lang said, indicating himself. "It's going to be an adventure."
If interested in supporting Lang's efforts or to make a donation directly to Roswell, contact him at Lang@fredonia.edu, 366-6517 or 673-5521, or find him on Facebook (search for Donald Lang, Dunkirk).
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