Vickroy: Providence Catholic grad completes cross-continental cycle trip
By Donna Vickroy email@example.com December 27, 2012 9:38PM
Palos Park native Brendan Kay (right) just returned from a bicycle trek from Shanghai China to Dublin Ireland. He posed for this picture with Lord Mayor of Dublin Naoise O Muiri after completing the 8,800 mile journey. | Brett Roseman~Sun-Times Media
Updated: January 29, 2013 6:26AM
The Great Ride has come to an end. As he stands in the kitchen of his parents’ Palos Park home, the great adventurer reflects on what a long, endearing trip it was.
“The people were the best part of it,” said 29-year-old Brendan Kay, who pedaled across Asia and Europe in a campaign to raise awareness about hemochromatosis, a life-threatening disease.
Kay, a graduate of St. Alexander School in Palos Heights and Providence Catholic High School in New Lenox, and his Australian buddy, Ben Shuker, first pedaled out of Shanghai, China, on May 21, bound for Dublin, Ireland.
On Dec. 7 — 8,836 miles, 75 flat tires and 20 countries later — they rolled up to Dublin Castle.
Through China, Kazakhstan, Turkey and Germany, over mountains, along rivers and through terrific windstorms, they pedaled.
“One day, we rode 130 miles along the Danube River,” Kay said. “It was incredible.”
Along the way, they nursed broken spokes, made friends and adapted to changes in plan.
“Our original plan was modified several times. We couldn’t get a Russian visa and I couldn’t get into Iran, so we ended up going straight across the Caspians (mountains),” he said.
Though Kay had been there before, Germany made the top of his list of favorite destinations — for its beauty, its people and its nice bike paths, many of which are old tank paths that have been converted.
The cyclists camped, couch-surfed and sometimes sprang for indoor hostels, which ranged in comfort from a spot on the floor to a concrete room with a cot.
Kay took a fall in Kazakhstan.
“I shifted my weight too quickly and tumbled. Ended up with a nice scar,” he said.
That was the worst of the injuries, though. And other than petty theft, there was no criminal activity to report, either.
“People were just great,” he said. “Everywhere we went, we were like celebrities.”
They even made the Irish Independent newspaper when Dublin’s Lord Mayor Naoise O. Muiri invited them to tea at his mansion after their trip was over.
They often dined on the generosity of the locals, but when they couldn’t find a meal, they bought a loaf of bread, a block of cheese and a chunk of salami.
Despite border hassles and endless issues with bicycle spokes — a wider rim with 36 spokes finally solved the problem — Kay said the toughest time on the six-month journey came in Serbia when the time change and daylight-saving-time adjustment caused them to lose daylight.
“We were so tired by 3 or 4 o’clock,” he said. “We get down. It was a real struggle to push through it, but we did.”
Meanwhile, back home in Illinois, Kay’s uncle, the inspiration for his cross-continental undertaking, finally received the liver transplant he so desperately needed.
Kevin Ready has hemochromatosis, a hereditary condition that causes the body to absorb too much iron. It affects Northern Europeans, particularly those of Irish descent. The disease is treatable with early detection. But without treatment, it can become life-threatening.
To prove how painless and simple it is to get tested, Kay ordered a kit while on the road, and while Shuker took video, he tested himself.
He knows his campaign raised at least $1,500 for the Hemochromatosis Society. It’s more difficult to measure the spike in awareness, but people who work for the society said there has been a definite jump.
He was riding through Frankfurt, Germany, when he got the news about his uncle’s transplant.
“It was a big relief,” Kay said.
His Uncle Kevin holds a special place in his heart.
“He’s always been a jokester. He used to pick me up and turn me upside down so my change would fall out of my pockets,” Kay said.
Ready is recovering at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago.
Kay’s parents, Walter and Julie Kay, admit they were a tad nervous when their son announced his travel plans.
“But he’s always been an adventurer,” Julie said. “He was always taking off on his bike and going places he shouldn’t have.”
The stories he now tells, about dining with Chinese families and making friends in Istanbul, “restores your faith in humanity,” Walt said. “It seems like much of the world has a very good moral code. People are caring and giving.”
“People are the best. So many people had nothing but tea and a place to sleep to offer us but they were so gracious about it,” he said. “Sometimes they were embarrassed that they couldn’t offer us more.”
The cyclists met a number of other long-distance riders while on the road. One man, who was in his 70s and suffering from prostate cancer, was riding from Wales to Istanbul to raise money to buy bicycles for kids.
Kay, who has a degree in marketing from Butler University, said now that he’s back in the United States, he will work to earn his teacher certification. He has taught English all over Asia, including in Korea and China, but certification would boost his job prospects and salary potential.
Like many former Chicagoans, he missed certain foods while he was away. His first meal back home was pork chops with stuffing, green beans and applesauce, compliments of his mom. After that, he hit the restaurants, enjoying a steak-and-cheese burrito, and a cheese and sausage pizza from Aurelio’s.
After cycling across two continents, what do you do for an encore?
“This will be tough to top,” he said. “I’m thinking of maybe kayaking down the Danube or maybe scaling Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa.”
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