Still alive: Chase Thurman’s miracle ride across America

by Peter Flax


Everyone who has done an important race or gone after an epic adventure knows that the starting line is rarely where the story really begins. It takes a journey to get to the starting line. It takes sacrifices and at least a little bit of suffering. Sometimes it takes a lot of suffering.

Chase Thurman surely understands this better than most, but such introspection wasn’t really on his mind as he stood beside his bike at the Santa Monica Pier one morning this past June. His mind was flooding with anxieties. He was gripping the handlebar and saddle of a touring bike that he had never ridden fully loaded. He was thinking about all the uncertainties of navigation, the stresses of riding alone and dealing with LA traffic.

And even though nearly everyone who is about to ride across the United States worries about the physical challenges ahead of them, Chase had better reason than most to wonder if his body could handle it. After all, one afternoon less than a year and a half earlier, that body had been unresponsive and strapped to a gurney, racing above the agricultural expanse of western Illinois in a Life Flight helicopter.

He had come down to the Santa Monica Pier with a friend, a former classmate from college who lived and worked in Los Angeles. They had plans to go out for breakfast, to spread some maps out to discuss the smartest biking route out of LA. But as his buddy snapped a few photos of him standing by the pier, Chase was flooded of emotions, a mix of instinct and angst, and he knew he needed to blast off.

“I was like, ‘Man, sorry to bail on you, but I’ve just got to start pedaling,” Thurman recalls. “And then I just started going. I felt like I’ve got to do this, or at least die trying.”

I

Chase doesn’t remember the first couple weeks after the crash as a cohesive narrative — it’s just a hazy series of anecdotes, like flashbacks from a war.

The first thing he recalls is waking up in a hospital bed. It looked like an intensive care unit. The only one in the room was a former girlfriend, someone he’d broken up with months earlier. He could tell he was hooked up to tubes and wires; he could hear the beeps and burps of medical equipment. He had no idea about all the surgeries he’d been through, but he could feel something foreign in his leg.

He tilted his head toward his ex-girlfriend and moaned a question: “Am I dreaming?” She shook her head and burst into tears. Chase remembers that moment clearly, but then the pain and the sedatives kicked in, and he blacked out.

II

Riding out of LA was not exactly fun. “It was kind of nasty, actually,” Chase laughs. “I’ve never ridden in traffic like that. And people were looking at me like I was homeless or something. A couple times, people grabbed their kids to move them away from me as I rode up to a crosswalk.”

But within a couple of days he had pedaled out of the sprawl and into the vastness of America. Places where he could ride for a couple of hours between towns. Places where he could hear the wind and his ragged breath. Places where the landscapes were big and bold and there was little to distract him from the searing pain in his leg.

Folks had seemed busy and hurried in the city, so quick to lean on their horns, but now he was meeting people who were friendly and kind. These were people who were interested to hear his story; people who were moved by his story.

In Barstow, he talked to a couple from Branson, Missouri — he told them what he’d been through and where he was going. The woman asked if he needed any money and he told her no. “She slapped her husband and he pulled out his wallet and she ripped it out of his hand,” Thurman recalls. “And then she just handed me this wad of cash. She said, ‘Hey we just want you to be safe on your ride, we’re really inspired by what you’re doing.’”

III

Long before any of this happened, Thurman was an athlete. Growing up in Bloomington, Illinois, he never showed extraordinary talent at any particular sport, but no one worked harder or showed a greater passion to multitask.

“In high school, he was such a tenacious athlete,” says Lance Thurman, Chase’s father. “He basically refused to take a day off from training. I was always beating him over the head to take a day off. I would tell him that even the Good Lord took a day off. I’d tell him that you can’t go 100 miles an hour, seven days a week, 365 days a year, but he always wanted to prove me wrong.”

Chase doesn’t dispute that. “It was never a talent thing for me,” he says. “It was just that I was really well rounded and could work myself until I was almost dead. And that kind of gave me the edge on the competition.”

He played four varsity sports at a school with three seasons. He was an all-state wrestler. He went to the state championships in cross country. He excelled at track & field. He played both ways on the football team.

After he got competitive as a wrestler and his parents told him to be careful about losing weight the wrong way, Chase got serious about nutrition. He didn’t just keep his learnings to himself. “He changed the entire family’s eating habits,” says Lance. “He challenged all of us to get our act together nutritionally.”

His passion for physical activity stretched far beyond his sports in school. Chase got plugged into the scene at a local climbing gym and soon he was hooked. That led to bouldering, and then sport climbing. Before long he was doing multi-pitch traditional climbs where he was placing his own protection and taking road trips to climb around the region.

Chase had ridden a bike as a child and got back into it when he was a sophomore in high school. His dad and his dad’s friend George wanted to do RAGRAI, the famed weeklong ride across the state of Iowa that’s held every summer. Chase borrowed a bike from a buddy and completed the 500-mile event. He remembers dipping his back wheel into the Missouri River at the start of the ride and then dipping his front wheel into the Mississippi at the end. “I loved the atmosphere and seeing all the different cool bikes,” he says. “There’s just a lot that went into it that appealed to me and my lifestyle.”

In a way that surprised no one, he got serious about it. He got a nice Trek and started training in his free time. He did some triathlons and time trials. He completed RAGBRAI again the following year. He once biked 200 miles in a day. Another time, he signed up for a triathlon on the morning of race day just to join a buddy. “All the time I was looking for stuff to do that would keep me busy and help me get better physically,” he says. “I don’t know man, exercising has always been my thing,”

IV

He planned to follow Route 66 for the first half of his journey across the country. His father had been under the impression that his son’s quest was a ride from Los Angeles to Chicago along this fabled byway; it wasn’t until the ride was well underway that Lance learned that his son was headed all the way to the East Coast.

Chase had a new Co-op touring bike he’d bought at REI; it had a triple chainring and burly Continental tires. He outfitted the olive-green bike with Ortlieb panniers on the front and back, and he crammed those bags with stuff. The newcomer to long-distance bike touring says that when he left Santa Monica, his rig weighed 96 pounds. As the journey progressed, he would shed unnecessary gear along the way. “I’d say it was a metaphor for the ride,” he says. “Because I shed a lot of emotional weight along the way, too.”

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Six days after he rolled away from the Pacific, Chase crossed the Colorado River into Arizona. He rode through moonscapes and over sun-baked mountain passes, he climbed up into the high desert and then the forested plateaus around Flagstaff and beyond. He mostly rode alone. He didn’t see much rain until he saw torrential rain. He tried to cover at least 60 miles every day — “because in my head, that’s like an hour in a car,” he says. “I was in a constant state of ache, so I tried to take it day by day.”

V

On January 30, 2017, after 18 days in the hospital, Chase came home. Everyone said it was a miracle. And it was.

But it also was very hard. Lance and his wife, Meg, had used up all of their vacation time to attend to their son in the hospital, and they both needed to get back to work. Every weekday, from 6am to 6pm, Chase was home by himself, although a network of volunteers from school, church and the community kept him company and tried their best to help.

There was so much uncertainty about Chase’s mobility that the family acquired a chocolate lab puppy and began training it as a service animal. They named the dog Crash. “We weren’t sure how things would go — we thought the dog might have to have to answer the door for him,” says Lance. “But he continued to rapidly improve once he got out of the hospital.”

To everyone else, Chase was making a shockingly quick recovery. But it didn’t feel that way at all. He was dealing with pain issues and mobility issues, he was recovering from a head injury and dealing with survivor’s guilt. He was a young man who had lived his entire life up to that point at 100 miles per hour, and now he could barely move.

Chase decided to attempt short walks outside with Crash. One time he decided that they’d try a loop around the neighborhood—a distance of roughly a half-mile. “The first time I tried to go all the way around, I had to stop and rest on the side of the road for 30 minutes,” he says. “I just broke down there on the curb. That was definitely a low for me.”

He was a guy who had wrestled his way to a state championship and biked 200 miles in a day and now he needed help to take a shower or go to the bathroom. “Exercising has always been my thing and in an instant, it was just torn away,” he says. “I was just crippled, by the injury physically but also by the psychological stuff. I knew my injuries were healing but I was afraid that I would do something in a kind of depression spell. I felt almost crazy from the stuff my head was doing — some of it was from the traumatic brain injury. I would have these mood swings out of nowhere where I could barely get through a day without breaking down or feeling like a vegetable.”

It was hard for Chase to read for more than 15 or 20 minutes without submitting to exhaustion, but he did the best he could. He read the Bible a lot. He also had a stack of magazines, and he read those, too. He remembers reading a cycling magazine, a story about a woman who had ridden her bicycle from Los Angeles to New York. The scale of her adventure seemed so beautiful to him.

He needed a physical outlet. The walking hurt too much. Going to a pool regularly was a logistical nightmare. So he asked his parents if he could get a wind trainer and ride his bike. In the middle of March, a local couple, Nancy and Eddy, bought a trainer and donated it to the family. Folks in their hometown were doing stuff like that all the time.

So they put the trainer in Chase’s room and stuck the bike on it and set the unit to zero resistance. “I can remember for two or three days he had such a hard time trying to make his leg pedal up and down like a piston,” Lance recalls. “His leg wanted to wiggle all over like a giant piece of spaghetti. But it gave him something to do other than stare at the ceiling all of those hours.”

VI

Chase was surprised by New Mexico. He rode through desert expanses and through the sprawl of Albuquerque and into the mountains around Santa Fe. “I had thought the whole state was going to be tumbleweeds—you know plains,” he jokes. “And some of it was kind of like that. But really, New Mexico was an accumulation of all the different terrains I had been in up to that point besides the beach.”

He crossed the Continental Divide out on state route 53 somewhere between Gallup and Grants. He took a photograph to celebrate the high point of his whole trip, leaning his bike up against the sign that announced the 7,882-foot-high summit. He was nearly 1,000 miles into his journey.

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Chase met so many kind people and saw so many amazing views and had so much time to contemplate his second chance at life, but the struggles were intense, too. Every day there was pain that a young man riding cross country should not have to bear.

“I would get these spasms in my legs throughout the day,” he says without drama. “I think it was one of the lowermost screws in my leg, poking through the bone a little bit too far into the muscle. It would feel like somebody took a knife and stabbed it into the inner part of my thigh.”

Chase just rode through it. Day after day, he just rode until he got tired or it got dark or the pain in his leg wore him out. Then he would eat and rest so he could do it again.

VII

Lance and Meg, Chase’s parents, found out about the crash through a game of telephone. One neighbor saw the smashed-up Volkswagen in the bean field and called another neighbor. That guy called Chase’s maternal grandfather to tell him his wife had been in a bad accident. But his wife was sitting right next to him. He realized in an instant that it was Chase.

He raced three miles to reach the scene and got there as first responders were about to deploy the Jaws of Life. He jogged out to the pulverized Bug—he saw Chase; he touched Chase; he told his grandson that he was going to be fine.

Then he called his daughter, who was at work, and told Meg what he had seen and what he knew and that he didn’t think Chase was going to make it. He told her that a helicopter was carrying her son to a hospital that was 175 miles from her home.

Meg called her husband to tell him the news. It was a Friday, and on any other Friday Lance would have been at work, too. But their youngest son, Max, was home sick that day.

Lance had seen his eldest son just a few hours earlier. Chase was leaving home after a long college break; he was going to head back to college in Iowa City after he dropped the car off at his grandparent’s house, where his old gas-guzzling Jeep Wrangler was sitting. The last thing Lance had said to Chase before he walked out the door was “I love you.”

Lance immediately started making arrangements for the trip; someone would have to take care of the other three children while he and Meg were in Quincy. He texted his brother, a Secret Service agent who was on duty in Macedonia at the time, and his four best friends and gave them a brief synopsis of what had happened. He asked them all to pray for Chase.

“Right after that I started to walk back through my kitchen and I just collapsed on the floor,” Lance recalls. “It was a little bit crushing and I cried for a moment. But I also remember thinking that I was thankful I’d had that opportunity to tell him I loved him. Some of our conversations haven’t ended that well.”

The three-hour drive to the hospital was excruciating. The cell service was spotty and they didn’t know what was happening. But as they got close to Blessing Hospital in Quincy, a doctor from the ER got through. Chase was about to go into trauma surgery.

The doctor held the phone receiver up to Chase’s mouth and ear. “He hiccuped or gurgled,” Lance says. “In our insanity of the moment, we thought, hey that’s got to be a good thing, they’re letting us talk to him.”

Then, right after the doctor asked who would have the power of attorney to make medical decisions, the call dropped. There was no more reception. It was only then, as they finished the ride in silence, that it crossed Lance’s mind that maybe doctors had called to give them one last chance to say goodbye.

VIII

On the third week of his bike tour, Chase crossed into Texas and then Oklahoma. Every day was hot and he often rode wearing a wide-brimmed hat instead of his helmet. When he crossed the Oklahoma state line, he had about 1,500 miles in the bag. The pain wasn’t going away, but his confidence was growing.

Route 66 continued to be a strange and magical place to ride. “I often felt like I was in a time machine,” he says. “Almost every day, I’d see all these old cars and buildings and memorabilia, and meet these people who still live and breathe Route 66.”

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He posted a series of images from this part of the country in an Instagram post — including the iconic Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, a 45-year-old pop-art installation where the back half of ten graffiti-covered Cadillacs are sunk into the ground. He posted pictures of Americana and the western Great Plains.

“I saw so much cool weird stuff in that part of the country,” Chase says. “I would just roll up on places that I didn’t expect to be awesome and they would be.”

IX

The wind trainer gave him purpose and home. Chase tried to ride on it every day. He could spin without any significant pain and he tried to ride a little longer each time he got on it. He started thinking about riding outside. And secretly, he started thinking about a bike adventure.

Late in March, Lance’s best friend George — the same guy who’d inspired them to first ride RAGBRAI — drove down to the house with a tandem bike in tow. They all drove out to the high school and then George and Chase pedaled 14 miles back to the house. “It was an incredible thing to witness,” says Lance. “Doctors had said this kind of recovery would take a year. But here he was after three months, riding outside.”

Chase was stoked, too. “I knew that a 10-mile ride can turn into a 20-mile ride and that can turn into 50,” he says. At that point, he was going to swim in the pool a couple days a week. And though it still hurt him immensely, he started to go out for easy jogs on soft grass fields.

His progress seemed beyond comprehension. Chase got this crazy idea that he wanted to complete a sprint triathlon. And then his doctors cleared him to try.

On June 4, 2017 — less than five months after a life-altering trauma — Chase stood at the starting line of the Tri Shark triathlon in Hudson, Illinois. Less than an hour and a half later, he limped across the finish line. He finished 94th out of 341 entrants.

He was elated, but the truth was that his foot had screamed out in pain every minute of the run. “After that, we found out he had a broken foot from the accident that we didn’t even know about,” says Lance. “It seems that when he went home from the hospital there still was enough swelling for those fragments to stay together.”

This kind of setback was nothing new. Back when he was in the hospital, he had surprised people by rumbling more than 200 feet down the hallway with a walker just two weeks after the crash. But that’s when he and his doctors discovered he had broken bones in his hand no one knew about. So he had to go into surgery again.

And now, after the triathlon, Chase had to return to the hospital to have yet another surgery, this time on his foot. “It was discouraging,” says Lance. “It was like it was never going to end.”

X

In the middle of Missouri, Chase finally veered away from Route 66 to chart a course toward New York City. He’d covered more than 2,000 miles at this point — far from the Santa Monica Pier, and also far from his final destination.

As he pedaled across the southern tip of Illinois, Chase got to ride for one day with his father and two days with his dad’s longtime friend, George. It was the July 4 weekend. George and Chase banged out 95 hilly miles on the first day, and then Lance joined them for a shorter but equally hilly ride to the Kentucky border.

Nearly any parent of a young adult riding a bicycle cross country would have moments of concern about their child’s safety, but it was different for Lance and Meg. Their son had come as close to death as one can get, and now he was riding a bicycle, alone, across America. They can be forgiven for whatever moments of panic about his safety and well-being they experienced.

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Even now, two months later, Lance gets emotional describing the experience of sharing that ride with Chase. “I can’t tell you how many times my heart was singing out praises,” he says. “I spent much of that ride thanking God, for healing Chase and bringing him back. I was out on a bicycle with my son and my best friend, doing something we love. I felt incredibly thankful.”

Lance also took note of the hot and humid conditions, the narrow shoulder and the crumbling asphalt, the steep hills and the fast-moving trucks, and it didn’t exactly calm his anxieties about his son’s well-being. So he threw in one more prayer. “Please Lord,” he asked. “Can you just keep this idiot safe?”

XI

As he rolled up to the stop sign in his grandmother’s yellow Volkswagen on that January morning — it was Friday the 13th – Chase had no idea that his life was about to change. He was just a few miles from his grandparents’ house, where he planned to drop off the Bug and pick up his Wrangler. He’d borrowed the car for a weeklong road trip to go rock climbing in Arkansas.

The backstory to the moment is an expression of multiple All-American cliches. The decorated varsity athlete from a Midwestern family of faith coming back from a winter adventure en route to college in Iowa. A plan to stop along the way at both of his grandparents’ homes for a visit.

Chase has no memory of what happened at that intersection. The last scene he can picture is his paternal grandfather leaning out the garage door, hollering at Chase to buckle his seatbelt as he backed out of the driveway. He can remember the click.

Nobody can say with exact certainty what happened at that corner, because neither Chase nor the driver of the SUV can remember the collision, and there were no other eye witnesses. But police incident reports and analyses from the insurance companies and the accounts of first responders paint a relatively clear picture of what happened at 1:03 that afternoon.

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Chase apparently paused at a stop sign and then rolled into the intersection. He likely didn’t realize that the SUV was going 85 or 90 miles per hour. It was a grey day and the SUV was grey.

The collision was fierce. The yellow Volkswagen was launched off the road — it rocketed between two telephone poles, jumped a ditch, and came to rest 285 feet from the point of impact. The wrecked car sat in the middle of a bean field after traveling the length of a football field. Though it’s hard to see the positives in such a brutal crash, Chase was fortunate that the car never rolled, missed the telephone poles, and that the airbags deployed properly.

Someone came upon the scene shortly thereafter and called authorities. A helicopter was dispatched almost immediately.

Chase’s grandfather arrived just as first responders were about to pull his grandson out of the wreckage. A Life Flight helicopter touched down in the field. Chase’s grandfather asked the crew to take the young man to a hospital in Peoria — he’d had successful surgery there and knew it was a Level II trauma center and much closer to where Lance and Meg lived.

One of the paramedics listened to this request and offered a terse reply. “He’s not going to make it to Peoria,” she said. “He doesn’t have 15 minutes to spare.”

XII

On a big bike adventure, sometimes the most magical moments are born out of despair. And this was one of those days where things certainly hadn’t been going his way.

Chase was riding though an unpopulated region of Kentucky, already 80 miles into a long ride. His knee was throbbing and he was ready to stop for the night. But it would take three hours of riding to reach the next town. His bike-touring map indicated that there was only one motel in town — he had called ahead and a clerk told him they had plenty of rooms.

When he finally rolled into that small town, he’d pedaled 125 miles. It was dark and he was exhausted, overextended. And now the motel was sold out, and local police and fire officials told him there was nowhere in town he could throw up his tent. “I remember sitting on the curb outside the motel,” Chase says. “I remember I was about to break down.”

But he talked to the clerk again — she recalled talking to him on the phone earlier in the day about his cross-country ride — and she went inside to call the owner of the motel. It turns out there was an out-of-order room at the property — it had a sizable hole in the ceiling but he could stay there for free. Even if had been raining, which it wasn’t, he would have said yes.

He collapsed on the bed in a Kentucky motel room where you could look up and see the night sky. “I was crying tears of pure joy,” he says. “I’ll never forget the way some people stepped up to help me when I really needed it.”

XIII

When the helicopter touched down at Blessing Hospital, paramedics were surprised that Chase was still alive. Doctors would later tell the family that his outstanding all around fitness surely helped him survive the immediate trauma.

But the list of injuries was staggering. About 8 centimeters of his right femur had been pulverized in the crash, and the rest of the bone had a compound fracture. Both of his lungs were punctured and struggling to function amid massive internal bleeding in his body. He had a traumatic brain injury. He had contusions on his heart and spleen.

Emergency physicians frequently assess a patient’s trauma condition using a medical scoring system called the Injury Severity System (ISS). The scoring system is relatively complex and allows doctors to evaluate a patient with major trauma.

The maximum ISS score a still-living patient can get is 75. Chase was rated as 48 — one can only get that score if he or she has a severe injury in three different body regions.

Put another way, when Chase arrived at the hospital, he had a greater statistical chance of dying than living.

The surgeries would begin that afternoon. He would have eight procedures all together. Doctors put a titanium rod in his right leg to stabilize where his femur had been destroyed.

At one point, Lance remembers, a doctor came out of surgery to offer a progress report. She told Lance and Meg that Chase was going to make it – that her big concern was whether the young man would ever walk again. Lance remembers telling the doctor that Chase wasn’t like most people, that his entire life was built around scaling mountains and 12-hour bike rides and wrestling championships. That he had an enormous pain threshold and tenacious work habits. That losing the use of his leg was not a viable option for this kid.

The doctor asked questions and listened. Luckily, she had operated on elite athletes before. “What we were asking her to do was not normal,” Lance says. “But she went back into the operating room and did a Six Million Dollar Man surgery on him.”

XIII

Before long, Chase was pedaling through Ohio, at times looking back on a ride that still had a ways to go. He was 700 or 800 miles from New York City, still trying to remain in the moment of the experience as best he could. “No doubt, I was in a different mindset,” he says. “The ride wasn’t over yet but I was reflecting on the beginning weeks and things that had happened before that.”

For the final two weeks of his ride, Chase started dedicating each day to a different person who had helped him reach that point.

“I was more aware than ever before that it was a gift to be alive and using my body,” he says. “I started dedicating days to people who I really care about or had been big influences on my life. I’d text them in the morning or call them and talk to them for a while and throughout the day I would try to think of different thing I had done with that person.”

The whole ride had involved a lot of solitary moments, long stretches of open road where he could think through all that had happened in the past year and a half. But now, with the end in sight, the introspection got more intense.

“It turned out it was really good for me to be alone for days,” he says. “I’ve always loved being around people and talking to people, but I really needed that time to reflect on what had happened and where I wanted to go.”

XIV

A little more than a year after Chase began his battle to survive, Blessing Hospital in Quincy produced a moving video that chronicled his saga. It was posted on YouTube and promoted on Facebook in late January and early February 2018.

Soon after that, Chase got a message from a man he’d never met named Dan. It turns out that Dan had been the first person to drive upon the scene of the crash. Once they got to chatting, Dan apologized for not reaching out sooner. But the truth is, he had assumed Chase was dead. Only when he saw the crumbled yellow Bug in a Facebook video did he know that Chase had survived.

Dan’s messages paint an intimate picture of the moments in which Chase’s life hung in the balance. Dan and his daughter had just left home to take their cat to the vet when they came upon the smoldering wreck. After he checked on the man driving the SUV — he was conscious and responsive – Dan sprinted out to the field to the VW Bug, dialing 911 as he ran.

“After checking you out I told 911 to get the Life Flight on their way,” Dan wrote Chase. “I took my phone back to my daughter by the other car and told her to stay there and keep that guy calm. I also told her to not for any reason to come out to the Bug. I honestly thought you would not make it.”

Then Dan ran back into the bean field, and did his best to stabilize and comfort a young man who he feared was dying. “You were not responsive, your eyes had rolled up in your head and you were having spasms,” Dan wrote. “I forced the passenger door open and got in the seat behind you. I kept telling you everything was going to be all right, that help was on the way. I had my arms around your chair holding your neck and head as still as I could.”

Dan told Chase that although he is not a religious person, he pled for divine intervention as he sat there in the Bug, holding Chase as still as he could. “That was one of the few times I prayed,” he wrote. “I begged God to keep you still and calm as we waited for help.”

XV

Chase was surprised by the beauty of Pennsylvania. It wasn’t like any of the places he had ridden through before.

He remembers pedaling through Bald Eagle Forest in the middle of the state. It felt like he was riding through a scene from Game of Thrones.

It had rained the whole previous week so it was cooler than anywhere he’d been since his trip began. “I was rolling in through the mountains and I’ve never been somewhere where pine trees are so tall and close together,” he recalls. “So even though the sun was out, I saw patches of complete darkness looking into the forest.”

He also saw a number of statues and signs talking about Bigfoot. “I don’t believe in Bigfoot,” he laughs. “But if he exists, he’s definitely there.”

XVI

For months, Chase had fantasized about the idea of a cross-country ride without having a clear sense of when or how he could pull it off. His priorities were getting healed and getting back to college and making sure he could remain qualified for his ROTC scholarship. Those were some pretty big hurdles. “I was just planning in the dark,” he admits.

A month before his ride began, a plan for that ride did not exist. But in mid-May he was told that all the paperwork clearing him to jump back into ROTC training for the summer would not be completed in time. “I think that was a devastating blow for him,” says his father. “I think that’s when the idea of this cross-country ride really came together in his mind.”

He remembers telling his parents about the ride. They already knew he’d bought most of the gear and had the dream of a big cycling adventure. “They were like, okay, that’s a great goal someday,” he says. “And I was like, no, I’m going to do it this summer.”

Two and half weeks later, Chase was standing at the Santa Monica Pier, posing with a touring rig he had never ridden.

XVII

Fifty-four days after he nervously pedaled eastward from Santa Monica, Chase woke up in northern New Jersey to ride the final 34 miles of his 3,500-mile expedition. He says that he wrote detailed journal entries on every day of the trip except this finale — “because that will be etched in my mind forever.”

After just a few hours of riding, he reached the harbor in Jersey City, where he posed for some photos with the New York skyline looming in the background. He jumped on a ferry, chugging past the Statue of Liberty and down to Battery Park

He spent the whole day riding around the city. He pedaled to the 9/11 Memorial, and cruised up Mott Street in Chinatown, and rode past the Empire State Building and Grand Central Station.

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Chase always had imagined that Times Square would be the symbolic end of his long journey. And there he was, straddling his bike amid the crowds and the blinking neon. “I really loved riding in New York,” he says. “And Times Square was wild — it felt properly monumental.”

He was excited — excited to finish and succeed and also excited to move on.

“Fifty-four days is a long time for one excursion,” he says. “I was ready to get back in my normal lifestyle. But I also had this sense of what I’d call extreme thankfulness, so thankful to know so many people who helped me. And thankful to be alive.”

XVIII

Everyone who has ever done an important race or gone after an epic adventure knows that the finish line is rarely where the story really ends. The journey stretches far beyond the finish lane. It reshapes your outlook and your goals. Sometimes it even reshapes who you are.

Chase Thurman understands this better than most. He is back home a month after he rode into Times Square, and already he sees his 3,500-mile ride as the start of a journey. “You do stuff like this and it will change your life,” he says. He still has daily pain, the “constant state of ache,” but something has changed.

“I’ve just tried to leave the woe-is-me mindset behind,” says Chase, a young man who nearly was killed on a January afternoon, but whose spirit most certainly remains intact. “I’ve really tried to shed that attitude — I’ve come to learn that while I’m not in control of all my circumstances, I am in control of my attitude.”

He’s already got his next big caper planned — he wants to run rim to rim at the Grand Canyon. His knee has been giving him trouble, but he’s still training to join a cousin and uncle for the 23-mile run in mid-October.

“I want to continue this lifestyle, this crazy stuff,” he says. “This is who I am.”

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