Overcoming allergies leads the cyclist on a long journey

Food allergies prevented Stephen Kuhn from his dream of cycling across the country while in college, but 15 years later, those allergies helped give him the motivation to achieve his dream.

Kuhn rode his bike from Florence, Oregon, to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina this summer. Kuhn averaged 122 miles per day on the 4,031-mile journey he covered in 33 days.

The 2006 graduate of Jacksonville High School started cycling at a young age. Kuhn’s grandparents, Alex and Mary Cole, moved to Jacksonville before the Kuhns arrived. His grandfather loved cross-country skiing and Kuhn caught the bug.

“I would ride with my grandpa; 15 or 20 miles seemed like a lot. As I got older I started cycling longer distances. Then I dreamed I’d like to go cross country,” said Kuhn.
But Kuhn had to be careful while driving, as he had food allergies, seasonal allergies, eczema and asthma. He has anaphylactic reactions to peanuts, nuts and shellfish.
“That can be a problem because granola and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are staples for cyclists who eat on the go,” Kuhn said.
Kuhn was active in cycling while attending Washington University in St. Louis. When members of the groups he was involved in organized cross-country rides, he was unable to participate because groups were unprepared to handle someone with food allergies and were hesitant to accept liability for a serious reaction during the ride.
Drinking fountains and restaurants where other cyclists would stop were too risky. He should also carry everything necessary for his ride, including food, water, an EpiPen, and an inhaler.
After leaving school and working as a mechanical engineer in St. Louis, Kuhn no longer had the summer vacation that would allow him to take three months off.
When the pandemic hit, Kuhn and his wife, Adrienne Knapp, decided they needed to stay active, so they got on their bikes and cycling became a daily activity again.
“I could do a 200-mile back-to-back ride over the weekend,” Kuhn said. “Then I told my grandmother that I had traveled 100,000 miles during the pandemic. She told me I was ready to drive across the country.”
A ride seemed like a perfect opportunity to raise awareness about food allergies and raise money along the way. Kuhn paid all expenses for the trip and all money raised will go to Food Allergy Research and Education, or FARE.
“When I was younger, not nearly as much was known about food allergies, and the internet wasn’t around,” Kuhn said. “My family handled allergies the best they could. My family depended on FARE to learn about food. They were a big part of my early life.”
He started looking at routes, planning logistics and talking to his boss about some time off. After that was arranged, he rented a recreational vehicle and the journey was set. His mother, Helen Kuhn of Jacksonville, and his aunt, Heather Cole, drove Kuhn west to the ride’s starting point. Then they accompanied him back to St. Louis, where his wife drove the remainder of the journey to South Carolina.
Kuhn generally followed the TransAmerica Trail. It starts in the northwest and winds through Idaho and Montana, then south through Wyoming and Colorado before turning east through Missouri.
“The RV allowed us to stop wherever we were and take the food I could eat. We saw things that we wanted to go back and visit,” Kuhn said. “Many of the rides across the country are large groups, or one person with a lot of equipment. I could just cycle as fast as I could because everything I had was in the RV.”

The roads Kuhn took were paved, but were generally minor county highways. In Wyoming, where the speed limit is 80 mph, the roads had no shoulders.
Perhaps surprisingly, the hardest part of the trip was the RV.
“Tyre problems in Wyoming were a challenge. We had to stop for a day and find a place to fix it,” said Kuhn. “In the Appalachian Mountains, a box truck pushed my wife off the road and the camper’s awning got caught in a tree, so we had to make do. There were rough roads that the camper didn’t always handle well.”
The ride was challenging, but nothing Kuhn hadn’t counted on.
“There were some issues with riding that many miles a day — repetitive use injuries and muscle strains, but those were to be expected,” Kuhn said.
One detour Kuhn called fun was driving to the top of Pike’s Peak.
“It was the toughest climb of the trip,” said Kuhn. “It was one of the fun challenges and detours I wanted to take.”

Overcoming allergies leads the cyclist on a long journey

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