Lake Barrington teen eager to start 3,300-mile bike ride for charity

 
 
Posted1/30/2017 5:36 AM
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  • Jan Gierlach, 17, of Lake Barrington has spent months preparing for a cross-country bike ride he's set to begin this weekend in San Diego.

      Jan Gierlach, 17, of Lake Barrington has spent months preparing for a cross-country bike ride he's set to begin this weekend in San Diego. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

One might assume that the question on the mind of someone facing a 3,300-mile, cross-country cycling trip would be "will my body hold up?"

But for Jan Gierlach, the Lake Barrington teen set to begin his "Ride for 3 Reasons" next week, the question circling his brain most may be "where will I sleep?"

Jan has spent a lot of time plotting his course from San Diego to St. Augustine, Florida, in great detail so he knows where all of the resources are along the way down to granular detail.

"I'm compiling a spreadsheet right now -- there's this gas station, there's this Motel 6, all these kind of places that I would need," Jan said. "I'm looking at what exists at what mile."

Doing all this work will help Jan improvise day by day. He has set himself the goal of traveling 300 miles per week, which he said allows him to bike as far or as little on any given day depending on how he is feeling and the elements outside his control.

Jan was inspired to attempt the 11-week "Ride for 3 Reasons" by the Barrington organization's founder, Bob Lee.

Lee completed cross-country trips in 2001, 2007 and 2012 to raise money for three causes: research into ALS, cancer treatment programs and hospice care. He was 70 when he completed his last trip and is ready to hand over the reins for the fourth Ride for 3 Reasons.

Bob Lee, left, has handed over the reins of his charity bike ride, the Ride for 3 Reasons, to 17-year-old Jan Gierlach. So far the ride has raised more than $600,000. "We are blessed to live in a community that's so giving," Lee said.
  Bob Lee, left, has handed over the reins of his charity bike ride, the Ride for 3 Reasons, to 17-year-old Jan Gierlach. So far the ride has raised more than $600,000. "We are blessed to live in a community that's so giving," Lee said. - Steve Zalusky | Staff Photographer, 2016

He found his successor in a local teen with whom he first crossed paths eight years ago. That's when Lee spoke about his mission and his cross-country rides to Jan's second-grade class.

Lee, who lives in Barrington, believes Jan is now in the right place mentally and physically to deal with the challenges the ride will bring, especially long periods of solitude when crossing open desert areas.

"I'm excited for him to have that time around the campfire and hopefully meet some people who are out for their own experiences," Lee said. "In 12,000 miles I've ridden, I've never run into a bad person."

Jan Gierlach, 17, of Lake Barrington is scheduled to depart this week for California, where he will begin a 3,300-mile cross-country bike trip to raise money for three charities.
  Jan Gierlach, 17, of Lake Barrington is scheduled to depart this week for California, where he will begin a 3,300-mile cross-country bike trip to raise money for three charities. - Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

Jan has had to change the course of his life, including graduating from Barrington High School a semester early in December, in order to make the trip happen.

"I've just been so focused for so long," he said. "I feel great, I feel ready. ... I just want to start pedaling."

To date, donors have given about $602,000 for Jan's ride, according to Lee. If you add that to $1.3 million Lee raised on his three previous rides, the grand total is just short of $2 million for the Les Turner ALS Foundation, the Robert H. Lurie Cancer Center and JourneyCare hospice.

"We are blessed to live in a community that's so giving," Lee said. "It's very important to the three charities that we're supporting and the money will help more people than we'll ever know."

This map traces the route Jan Gierlach will take from San Diego to St. Augustine, Florida.
This map traces the route Jan Gierlach will take from San Diego to St. Augustine, Florida. - courtesy ridefor3reasons.org

Jan won't have much longer to wait for his trip to begin. He is flying out to California later this week and will set off from San Diego over the weekend.

It isn't too late to contribute to Jan's ride. Those interested can donate at ridefor3reasons.org.

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