Twice in one year

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Michigan man hopes to be the first to complete two solo trips across the U.S.

By Mark Scohier, Staff writer

 Chris Nickolas knows the importance of planning and setting goals. But he also knows that to make it through adversity one has to take things day to day, moment by moment, step by step.

"When you set your own goals and you struggle, you're not always sure if you're going to complete the goal, but there is a point when you know you're going to finish."

Thinking about the end too soon in one's journey can often be overwhelming, he said. It's better to focus on the task at hand.

Nickolas still has a long way to finish his most recent goal, a 6,000-mile journey that started in Maine -- on foot -- and will end in Portland, Ore.-- on bike.

Last week, the 33-year-old athlete from Grand Rapids, Mich., on his way back up from the Florida Keys along U.S. Route 19 with another 3,200 miles to go, stopped in Chiefland for an overnight stay.

"What really makes this exciting is the people I meet and their stories," Nickolas said, adding that he chose to come up U.S. Route 19 because of the number of small towns along the way.

"When you go through small towns, you feel like you're special," People, especially when hearing he's making his trip for several charities, often buy his meals and take the time to get to know him. "That doesn't happen in big cities."

Nickolas, who runs a small advertising and public relations firm in Grand Rapids, said people in this part of florida tend to pay more attention to him when he's riding along the highway.

"From Spring Hill up, what I've noticed is that people are very courteous."

When Nickolas completes his journey, he will be the first to have made such a trip twice within a 12-consective-month journey across the U.S.

His first trip started in March of last year when he got the bright idea to run solo from Washington D.C., to Santa Monica, Calif., a trek that took him 88 days and earned him a spot as the 30th person to make such a trip. Nickolas, pushing a gear-packed stroller trailing a large American flag, made about $9,000 for the Children's Miracle Network.

A few moths later, he'd decided he wasn't finished.

"I decided, well, I'm going to attempt to run across the country again. Nobody has done it twice in one year."

So, in October, he headed out again, but after 1,000 miles or so a nagging knee injury forced him to stop. He almost gave in, until a bike company saw one of his Twitter posts announcing his decision to call it quits and donated a $3,000 steel-frame bike, which allowed him to continue onward.

The switch from running to cycling has caused a few changes in his body. Running burned about 5,000 calories a day, he said.

"You tend to eat pretty much whatever you want."

Cycling, on the other hand, doesn't take as much fuel, considering the number of miles covered by Nickolas each day, and he's gained a little weight. It's also taken some adjustment getting used to traffic. When he ran, he went against traffic and was able to see what cars were doing. Now, he goes with the flow, which, he said, at times makes him a little nervous.

And there are other challenges, as well. 

When Nickolas was in The Keys, his fiance came down from from up north, and the two got married. They spent a couple of days together, and then the endurance athlete got back to the daily grind. It's been hard, he said, but made easier through the use of social media.

He's been through stormy weather, seen police converge on a shooting near a park in Harlem and dealt with Florida's best-known reptile while riding through Alligator Alley.

"You see alligators every couple of minutes," Nickolas said with a degree of surprise. "Big ones. And one gigantic rattlesnake."

Still, Nickolas keeps going.

This trip, he's working to raise money and awareness for the Wounded Warrior Project, the Make A Wish Foundation and St. Jude Children's Hospital.

He's got no personal connection to either of the charities, he said, but was inspired to raise funds for them after talking to the many people he encountered on his first journey across the U.S. All of the money goes toward the charities, he said.

"It shows them that someone out there is doing something."

To donate or learn more about Nickolas' journey, visit his website at www.crossingtheus.com.