This item originally appeared in the Fall-2004 Bulldog Survival Guide issue of The Tech Talk.
By BRIAN TYNES
Wei "Zack" Zhao conquered mountains, fatigue and a broken spirit on his bike ride from Harrison, N.J., to St. Louis.
Zhao, a research associate for the College of Engineering and Science, rode 1,623.8 miles from April 1 to 26.
"It's been a dream for some time, and probably the best way for me to know the United States," Zhao said. "I can talk to people that I can't [talk to] when I'm driving a car."
If his 12-hour-a-day riding schedule fails to show his dedication perhaps that the last 1,000 miles of his trip were completed after an unfortunate wreck will.
Zhao crashed his bike in Beaverdam, Va., broke his thumb and was knocked unconscious for about 30 minutes.
An unconscious Zhao was taken in by Bruce Woodworth, a self-employed carpenter from Beaverdam, and allowed him to stay for a few days with him afterwards.
"When I first saw him, he was unconscious," Woodworth said. "He was trying to figure out his own name, and we were trying to let him think about what happened. My initial reaction was this was the end of his trip."
Woodworth drove Zhao one hour to a trauma hospital to have his injuries evaluated.
At the hospital, the doctors informed Zhao he would need surgery on his thumb and his trip would come to a disheartening end.
"He was really disappointed he wasn't going to be able to finish his journey," Woodworth said. "So I asked them for a second opinion, and he was glad to hear it."
That second opinion said surgery could be postponed for a couple of weeks, allowing Zhao to continue his trip.
Zhao said he stayed with the Woodworth family in Beaverdam for two days before resuming his ride.
Woodworth said he and his family were privileged to meet Zhao.
"It's been a blessing to me and my family to have met Zack," Woodworth said.
Woodworth said he was not the only member of his family affected by Zhao.
"When Zack left, my wife walked him to the end of the street and watched him ride off," Woodworth said. "She cried the whole day."
Even though Woodworth said he and his family were sad to see Zhao leave, they never questioned his reasons for continuing and did not try to talk him out of riding farther.
"I told Zack I could cut his cast shorter so he could ride easier," Woodworth said. "I'm all about helping people accomplish something they want to do."
Zhao said many other people showed him kindness as well.
"I got a flat tire and broke spokes several times, and some people stopped and gave me a ride to the bicycle shop," Zhao said. "I met a lot of good people almost every day."
Zhao also said some even went out of their way to give him free food.
"In almost every restaurant some people came over to talk with me," Zhao said. "I like talking with people and it's very interesting for them as well."
Zhao said this was his first attempt at long-distance riding, but he rides locally every week.
Shanhai Guan, a graduate student in civil engineering, said he rides with Zhao about two days a week around Ruston.
Guan said most of these trips are usually 20 to 30 miles depending on the time they have.
Zhao said he wants to continue to his cross-country trek.
"If I have time, I would like to start in St. Louis and ride to the west," Zhao said.
While a trip like this is a physical challenge, Guan and Zhao said other non-physical factors are what allow a successful finish.
"It's about the beauty of mind," Guan said. "It's quite easy to give up, but after [a trip like Zack's] you can tell yourself 'I can make it'."
Zhao agreed that the trip was not just a physical feat.
"When I started my trip, I wasn't sure if I could make it," Zhao said.
"To me it's about the power of your spirit É only about 40 percent is physical."