Napervillian Bikes 1,600 Miles from Chicago to Maine

Biking from Chicago to Maine

It was a dream 35 years in the making. On June 21, Naperville resident David Sladkey embarked on a journey with his college friend Jon Nelson who lives in Minnesota.

Family and friends of the Naperville Central High School math teacher saw the two off in Chicago as they pedaled off to start their two-wheeled ride to cross eight states. Their final destination – Bar Harbor, Maine which is 1,600 miles away.

“Our friendship has blossomed again so that was a real gift from the trip,” said Sladkey.

Meeting New People

Having postponed the trip one year due to COVID-19, another gift that came from this ride – meeting new people.

“Ultimately that turned out to be our reason is to meet new people and see the people of our country and the stories that they have,” said Sladkey.

The duo crossed paths with those going about their everyday lives, meeting restaurant owners who persevered through the pandemic, strangers opening up about their personal stories, and everyone else in between.

The trip was everything Sladkey was expecting and so much more.

“For [the] most part, people want to talk and I think part of the thing was that we had our bikes and our packs all on there and they saw this as a dream for us and they kind of were magnetized to that, that ok I have my own dream,” said Sladkey.

Stops Along the Way

Along the route from Chicago to Maine, Sladkey and Nelson stopped by spots like Lake Erie and Niagara Falls, camping out most nights.

At times, there were high hills to conquer. All in all the two friends went up a total of 58,000 vertical feet – which equals two Mount Everests.

“I think that’s a life lesson for me is when things look so difficult from far, not necessarily avoid it but to go a little pedal at a time, set those small goals, then you suddenly are reaching those small goals and you get to the top,” said Sladkey.

After 25 days of biking across the country and finally making it to Bar Harbor in Maine, Sladkey traded in his bike for a plane back home today.

Special Someone on the Ride

But before he left, he met up with his father in Maine, and shared that he felt a special someone was along for the ride.

His mom died in 2018. One day on his trip, he came across a butterfly and Sladkey knew she was with him.

“I shared a dream with her when I was in high school to make a long bike ride,” said Sladkey. “And she didn’t squelch that dream, she encouraged that dream. So I kind of felt like she was rooting me on in this adventure.”

More pictures and people David met can be found on his Instagram page.

Naperville News 17’s Aysha Ashley Househ reports.

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