By: Lauren Jacoby and Talia London
Briarcliff Alum Maddie Plank (class of 2019), along with a fellow Princeton student-athlete, Charlie Bagin, is currently taking on the feat of biking across the country. Starting off as just a joke to escape virtual schooling, the idea soon became a reality when the two ambitious students decided to put the plan into action. The ride is dedicated to supporting the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and raising awareness for mental health in general. With the COVID pandemic, mental health issues have been amplified due to the extremely tough and isolating conditions. Both Plank and Bagin feel passionate about this issue and want to eliminate the stigma around the topic. As student athlete wellness leaders at college, they have learned how to identify mental health issues in others, and provide support when needed. They are not only working towards this cause by raising money, but also spreading awareness about mental health as widely as they can through an Instagram page (@namicoast2coast) and a blog. They have a substantial audience viewing their daily entries and posts as they share inside details about the trip.
Plank and Bagin set off on this physical and mental challenge on April 10th, starting along the Jersey Shore and passing by Princeton (where their friends and teammates all cheered them on for the journey to come). They dipped their back tire in the Atlantic, making sure to literally travel from coast to coast. Carrying their belongings on their bikes, the two have persevered through many long days (averaging 65-75 miles a day), all types of weather and ranges of elevation. Maddie said that this ride has definitely tested her mental health but that having a friend like Charlie with her has really helped her push through and stay motivated. Both of them went into it knowing it would be hard, but with no specific expectations for how they would perform—taking the trek day by day. Although biking for such distances might seem lonely, Maddie expressed that she hasn’t really felt that way with such a jam-packed schedule, beautiful views, and a new friend by her side. Maddie also explained a sense of spontaneity about their trip, as they have to constantly plan—or not plan—where and when they are going to take rest days and stay each night. Because of this, they have met many new people and experienced many acts of hospitality, some memorable enough to be highlights of the trip. One retired couple named Kathy and Dave, who occasionally ride a tandem bike together, went an hour out of their way to pick Plank and Bagin up from their route and bring them back to their place. From breathtaking views across the country, to the hidden gems such as random roadside ice cream shops or race car tracks, Plank and Bagin have found several sources of happiness throughout this demanding trip.
Eventually they will dip their front tire in the Pacific, completing a journey that few would dare to take on. Plank and Bagin are an inspiration for all of us, whether it be through their courage to tackle this challenge or their passion to raise awareness for such an important cause.