When you set out to push 3,000 miles across the country in a racing wheelchair, you expect a few challenges along the way.
Ryan Chalmers had his share, that's for sure.
Hands that blistered and cracked and turned the color of eggplant from punishing 70-mile days? Check.
Hairpin turn on an eight-mile descent in the Rocky Mountains that nearly caused him to wipe out into the side of a tunnel? Check.
Enraged bull on the side of a road in Illinois giving him the evil eye? Check.
Apparently you haven't lived until you've seen that.
But when Chalmers, a 24-year-old paralympian born with spina bifida, set off from Los Angeles on April 6 to cross the U.S. and arrive in New York in 71 days, he knew there’d be situations he couldn’t anticipate.
But the message was too important to let hardships stop him.
"I want to show people that, able-bodied or not, if you're passionate and set goals for yourself, you can achieve those goals," he said Sunday when he pushed into Baltimore on Day 65 of his epic journey, arriving at the Marriott Waterfront Hotel accompanied by a police escort and some 20 disabled riders from the Kennedy Krieger Institute.
What compels someone to rise at 5:30 every morning and push the equivalent of two to three marathons a day through all kinds of weather and over all kinds of terrrain for over two months?
In Chalmers' case, it's to raise funds and awareness for Stay-Focused, a non-profit that provides SCUBA training for disabled teens and young adults.
His team thinks this will be the fastest a wheelchair athlete has ever pushed across the country. But the logistics of putting everything together were daunting.
A team of six people accompanies Chalmers daily, plus two videographers. Four vehicles travel with the Churchville, N.Y., native: an RV with food, luggage and bathroom facilities, a Ford Edge with flashing lights in front of him, a supply van with flashing lights behind him and a car for the videographers.
(You'll be shocked to know that even with all those flashing lights, some idiot driver would occasionally weave into the procession and scare the hell out of the team.)
But maybe nothing shook Chalmers more than the incident at Wolf Creek Pass in the Colorado Rockies.
After an eight-mile climb that took two hours and 16 minutes and involved over 5,000 feet of elevation change, Chalmers decided to make up some time on the way down.
So he made it to the bottom in 16 minutes.
That's because he was screaming downhill at 35 mph. Nearing the bottom, he was alarmed to see what he now casually calls "a tight turn."
To make matters worse, it was leading into a tunnel.
At this point, Chalmers was starting to picture the emergency room he'd end up in.