Through an 86-day, 6,000-mile bicycle trek from Florida through North Dakota all the way to Alaska, a Bellmore native said he learned much on his travels as he faced down bears, braved the elements and made friends in unexpected places.
While driving back with a friend across Fairbanks, Alaska, on Saturday, Alexander Pekoff, 22, said what motivated him to ride his bike from Key West, Florida, to Prudhoe Bay, Alaska — the northernmost point in the United States — was the chance to make up for a previous long-distance bike trek gone wrong.
A graduate of Mepham High School’s Class of 2015, Pekoff said his April 2018 bike trek from Boulder, Colorado, to San Diego, California, went awry because of his lack of conditioning and his bicycle breaking down.
“I thought that next time, if I applied myself, maybe I could do something big,” said Pekoff, a psychology major at the University of Colorado Boulder.
Pekoff threw himself into a rigorous six-month regimen where he trained 12 hours a day cycling, running, swimming and lifting, while balancing studies on four hours of sleep. Anticipating adversity, Pekoff said he intentionally did things to make his training “miserable.”
“I would skip meals, I’d skip sleep, bike from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m., sleep outside; I would ride 140 miles on a school night,” Pekoff said. “It’s about developing a mindset where you don’t quit no matter what happens.”
That training helped Pekoff — who began his journey May 7 in Key West — as he encountered strong headwinds bicycling across Minnesota, thunderstorms in North Dakota and cold and isolation along the Yukon Territory in northwest Canada. There, he also encountered 14 bears, including a few grizzlies. One bear stole his food and another nearly charged at him while he was bicycling. Undaunted, Pekoff said he focused on finishing the trip.
“Your concept of time and distance changes so much. I could be a week and a half away from a destination, and even if you’re 700 miles away, it still feels close,” Pekoff said. “I never had a second thought about stopping.”
What touched Pekoff most, he said, was the people he befriended on his travels. Brent Bulow, a Minnesota resident who befriended Pekoff through his Instagram trip posts, convinced his aunt and uncle to let Pekoff stay at their Minot, North Dakota, home. Another person Pekoff met at a North Dakota bar let him stay at his home and shared his life’s story with Pekoff. When Pekoff’s body was breaking down in the Yukon, a doctor hiking nearby gave Pekoff acupuncture treatment.
“You learn about different cultures. You live in one place, and you only see one side of an argument, but after you bike across a continent and meet so many people, I’d say I’m a more well-rounded person,” Pekoff said.
After capping his emotional journey Aug. 1 by swimming in the Arctic Ocean and arriving in Prudhoe Bay, Pekoff said he one day will do an intercontinental trek.
“I definitely want to run some ridiculous distance, like Forrest Gump,” Pekoff said.