- Associated Press - Saturday, February 6, 2016

JEFFERSON, Ga. (AP) - While setting out to see a lengthy stretch of American soil was Cam Thurmond’s ultimate goal, the 25-year-old got so much more than that out of the nearly 3,000-mile mountain bike ride.

But, it took some doing.

It took running out of water in the desert, scorching southwestern sun beating down on his dehydrated body. It took wandering around for hours at night with never-ending leg cramps and saddle pain seeking a place to sleep. It took being surrounded by gang members who wanted to rob him in the middle of nowhere. It took pedaling as fast as he could while a 900-pound grizzly bear trotted along beside him, closing the gap.

But after 82 days on the off-road trails known collectively as the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, the Jefferson native and his fellow cyclist Christian Ayoob of Watkinsville finished their journey Sept. 21.

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ROUTE OF THE RIDE

The duo started their journey on June 28 at Banff National Park in Canada. They then rode through Alberta, British Columbia, Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico to the national border.

Known as the longest mountain bike trail in the world, it sounded daunting to Thurmond - a 2009 Jefferson High School graduate - especially since he wasn’t exactly an accomplished cyclist.

“I had mountain biked before … but I was pretty inexperienced and clueless in general,” Thurmond said at his home in Atlanta. “I was in good shape but wasn’t ready for the kind of aerobic work it was going to be. I also didn’t know how to pack for something like this.

“Luckily, (Ayoob) knew what he was doing, because I did not,” he continued. “He knew the ins and outs of mountain biking, and I relied on him for tips on packing and diet.”

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FROM STRANGERS TO ‘BROTHERS’

Back in April, Thurmond had learned of Ayoob, who was a friend of a friend at the time. Thurmond was working as a medical scribe at the emergency room in Gainesville at the time, when someone suggested the two meet up.

“I’d always wanted to do a quote-unquote self-propelled adventure,” Thurmond said. “And, I’m using quotes because that was a term coined by Christian. I was talking with a friend about going on an adventure like that, and he said, ‘You should give my buddy Christian a call.’”

The two barely knew each other when they first set out on the trail together, but by the end of it, Thurmond and Ayoob were “like brothers.”

They covered anywhere from 30-70 miles per day. Rarely were they ever in a hurry.

“We weren’t there to ride as hard as we could all the time,” Thurmond said. “We wanted to take our time, see things, be out there amongst it all . we wanted to see what others can’t see. When you’re out in the elements at a slower place like that, you’re taking everything in. It’s truly inspiring.”

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UNEXPECTED SITUATIONS

However, several incidents along the way were nothing short of terrifying. During one such instance, Thurmond found himself alone (the two didn’t always travel together) without water in the middle of the Great Basin Desert.

“I somehow missed my planned water source while I was riding,” Thurmond said.

The young man had two choices.

“I could backtrack 10 miles and try to figure out where it was, or I could push forward another 100 miles to the next water source,” he said. “It was a bad situation.”

Thurmond decided to stay put “because neither of the choices were good.”

However, a blessing appeared along the desert horizon.

“The only car I saw for three days in that desert . had three liters of water in the car,” he said.

Thurmond replenished his water supply and resumed his journey. He said it was humbling as well as frustrating.

Another troubling situation in New Mexico involved a gang that surrounded Thurmond and Ayoob, trying to persuade them to take a short cut.

“It became apparent to us very quickly that these men meant to beat us and take us for all we were worth if they could only get us to go down the right road,” Thurmond said. “You just had to be prepared for these types of situations.”

Since both men were legally carrying pistols, they managed to escape the situation before it escalated.

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CHANGE OF PERSPECTIVE

After pedaling 2,955 miles over a three-month period, Thurmond and Ayoob arrived at the United States-Mexican border in New Mexico.

“When you set out on a journey like this, you have to have an attitude of being prepared for something bad to happen,” 23-year-old Ayoob said. “You always have to be one step ahead … but the feeling of achievement when you’re done is overpowering.”

Thurmond agreed.

“It changed me,” he said. “It would change anybody and their perspective on life.”

Thurmond explained while on the trail he found himself sometimes wondering: What’s happening right now in the world? What’s happening on social media?

“But eventually, I became disinterested in all of that, because what we were doing was all that mattered,” he said. “We were exactly where we wanted to be and knew exactly where we wanted to go next.

“Without a doubt, it was a life changer.”

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Information from: The Times, https://www.gainesvilletimes.com

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