It took Brookdale Community College student and veteran of the United States Marine Corps (USMC) Nicholas Novotny 77 days, 60 of which were riding days, and 4,000 miles to bike across the entire country. Novotny started his journey on June 25 in Tillamook, Oregon and completed his goal on September 10 when he reached the Atlantic Ocean in Brigantine, NJ.
Novotny would bike anywhere from 60 to 120 miles a day depending on the terrain, weather, and his own endurance. He rode through Colorado, Oregon, Wyoming, Missouri, which had very difficult terrains and steep climbs. He said Kentucky had the worst humidity he has ever experienced in the country, but he persevered through it all as he would ride, on average, seven to 12 hours a day. However, he didn’t let the enormity of his goal keep him from accomplishing it.
“You’ve got to think of it as winning the day,” Novotny explained of his journey. “It can get overwhelming when you look at a map and see how far away from your goal you are.” However, focusing on what he needed to accomplish one day at a time helped. “I had to focus on the individual day, what I needed to accomplish, and the number of miles I needed to reach,” is how he was able to accomplish his goal.
Novotny was inspired to bike across the United States to honor his fallen friend, Corporal James Currie, and to raise awareness about mental health issues among Armed Forces service members and veterans. In 2020, after the loss of a friend in their unit to suicide, Currie began battling with alcoholism; on May 3, 2020 he passed away due to complications from alcohol. “I think it shows more of a sign of strength to talk to someone about these issues and deal with them rather than hold these feelings in,” said Novotny. His journey helped raise awareness about mental health issues and celebrated the life of Currie.
Novotny accomplished his first goal of reaching Glenside, Pennsylvania by Labor Day Weekend in time for a celebration of Currie’s life that was organized by his family. “The celebration of James’ life was beautiful,” said Novotny. “A lot of my friends who were also in the Marines never got the chance to say goodbye because of the circumstances of the pandemic,” he explained. However, they were able to attend the celebration of Currie’s life. “I’m so grateful that I could take this journey and I can help others remember my friend’s life in a better way.”
Novotny’s ride along with the celebration of Currie’s life helped not only his fellow marines but also Currie’s mother with her grief. “She had this positive thing to look forward to and focus on,” he explained of Currie’s mother. During his trek, he raised over $10,000 to be split between the Wounded Warrior Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping veterans, and Currie’s family.
“Many good things came out of this experience,” Novotny said. In addition to helping many deal with the loss of Currie, he also got to experience the kindness of strangers. “People were so quick to kindness. I had people give me drinks for free and a lot of cars pulled over to ask if I needed water or a ride.” This inspired him to do the same for others.
“This journey has made me become a better person. We live in a world where everyone is quick to anger, quick to judgement, but then you have people who are so willing to be nice to you for no reason, and that will only encourage me to do the same thing,” said Novotny.
Now that his journey is complete, Novotny said he is focusing on finishing his associate degree at Brookdale. He is a full-time student this semester with a schedule of a combination of traditional online classes and remote live classes. “All of my professors at Brookdale are doing their best to give you that classroom experience during online classes,” said Novotny, who should graduate with his associate degree this spring.
“There really is a difference between Brookdale and the other community colleges I have been to,” Novotny said. “Everyone is genuinely happy and nice, and the professors overall have been great.”
After Brookdale, Novotny wants to pursue his bachelor’s degree. He is thinking about transferring to Stanford University in California or Columbia University in New York.
Novotny said he also plans on continuing biking. “I’m going to keep riding, but it will not be the same as biking across America. It is actually going to be really strange when it hits me that I don’t have to do that anymore,” he said.
To donate to Novotny’s cause, please visit gofund.me/e7ebb4bb. To see videos and images from his journey, you can follow him on Facebook at facebook.com/nick.novotny.395, or Instagram @billyocean_, or LinkedIn at linkedin.com/in/novotnyfit.