Pa. biking duo stage celebration in Natchez

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 17, 2010

NATCHEZ — For a cancer-fighting duo, a stop in Natchez has become a two-day birthday party.

Natchez is the halfway point on Phil Bayliss’ and Jon Traintafyllou’s cross country cycling tour on which they are raising money for cancer research. The duo took their longest pause to celebrate Bayliss’s 23rd birthday Friday at the Grand Soleil.

“Staying at this hotel is actually a treat,” Bayliss said. “Normally we stay in some dive motel, or we pitch the tents and camp.”

The people of Natchez have made it a good place to stop and celebrate his birthday, Bayliss said.

“The southern hospitality down here has really made an impression,” he said. “The people have been really friendly, especially compared to the fast-paced style we are used to back east.”

The duo, both of York, Pa., have typically ridden seven days on for every day they take off, on their trip from San Diego to Avalon, N.J. Bayliss and Traintafyllou, 23, will pedal their bikes toward Clinton today.

“We’ll have to pedal for about six to eight hours to get there,” Traintafyllou said.

The idea came up when Traintafyllou decided he wanted to try biking to York from Denton, Texas, where he goes to school, two years ago. Bayliss said if they were going to do something so grand, it should be for a cause.

“Nothing happened that summer, we both had internships and it never materialized,” Bayliss said.

Come Halloween, Bayliss was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, and with the seed for the trip was already planted, the life-changing event brought cancer research into the forefront.

“We thought, if we were going to do something that big, why not go coast to coast?” Bayliss said. “We set up our non-profit corporation, Bike Towards The Cure, and after our send-off party, we flew to San Diego to begin.”

Bayliss, who successfully underwent treatment and is cancer free after physicians caught it early, said cancer had been around him his whole life.

“My aunt and grandmother both had it, and my grandfather had it twice,” Bayliss said. “It has been a big part of my life growing up, and when I got the diagnosis, that is when we decided to do this.”

“It was shocking when my 22-year-old friend called me and told me he had cancer,” Traintafyllou said. “I was in from that call. I thought it was a good opportunity to help out and get some adventure in at the same time.”

Even though they are doing so well now that they are a day ahead of schedule, the trip didn’t get off to a good start.

“I lost my wallet on the first day,” Bayliss said. “Luckily, I didn’t have a lot of cash. I had all the cards canceled and mailed to a friend’s house we were going to stay at in Phoenix.”

“It was a logistic nightmare,” Traintafyllou admitted.

The men, who are not avid bikers, also had trouble keeping pace the first two weeks of the cross-country trip.

“One day, we were going to Silver City, N.M., to stay in a bed and breakfast a lady was nice enough to put us up in,” Bayliss said. “We climbed 5,000 feet and rode 81 miles that day in 110 degree heat.

“It was an insanely challenging day. When I got into the bedroom, I literally sprawled out on the ground — then got up to drink two glasses of water and a Gatorade and then went right back down into the same position.”

To top off the challenge, the two are both pulling 70 pounds of equipment in trailers, in an effort to make the trip self-supporting.

“The cost of having a third person drive across country with us is one reason,” Traintafyllou said. “And another is to challenge ourselves more — it’ll give us a sense of accomplishment when we arrive on the coast.”

Since they spend most of their nights camping, most of the expense has been buying food.

“We have a constant appetite because we are riding all day and calories are being burned,” Traintafyllou said.

There have been moments where Traintafyllou said he has been nervous on the trip, especially after hearing about a couple of friends who were hit by an 18-wheeler while riding their bikes to New Orleans.

“There have been a few times, while going through construction zones, where it was scary seeing the 18-wheelers howling by going 80 miles per hour,” Traintafyllou said.

Bayliss said he has had his mind on the coast for a while.

“When I get to New Jersey, the first thing I’m going to do is dive into the Atlantic Ocean,” Bayliss said.

They are raising money for Lance Armstrong’s Livestrong Foundation, The V Foundation for Cancer Research and the American Cancer Society. So far, they have raised over $10,000 and are aiming to raise a total of $30,000.

For more information, visit www.biketowardsthecure.org.