Ever the adventurer, 32-year-old Jake Yaeger, Waddington, has much to reflect on after his experience at Unbound, a grueling cycling event through the Kansas countryside.
While he cut his intended 350 mile ride short, the lessons learned, friends made, money raised, and fresh perspective certainly made the journey worthwhile for the Canton native.
Yaeger set out from the North Country on Memorial Day weekend, spending a few days traveling with his wife, Tricia Storie-Yaeger. The couple made stops along the way at Mammoth State Park in Kentucky and in Nashville, soaking up life experiences at both. After Tricia boarded a plane back to the North Country from Nashville, Yaeger carried on, with stops in Arkansas and Missouri before landing in Emporia, Kansas on May 31.
Unbound, hailed as the “World’s Premier Gravel Event” in cycling, takes cyclists through the Flint Hills region of Kansas, with several iterations of the race at various distances. Yaeger’s attempt at the XL, a 350 mile trek, is the longest option available at Unbound.
“Well, it didn’t go as planned,” Yager said of his ride. “After 20 hours and 180 miles, I decided to call it. The winner ended up winning in 22 hours, and I was only halfway in the same amount of time.”
Still, Yaeger found positives in the experience. Taking a break after a brief moment of sickness, brought on by a lack of fresh water, Yaeger got into a groove.
“After that, I felt great, but riding alone gets lonely and tiresome,” Yaeger recalls. “Luckily Juan from Connecticut by way of Colombia caught up to me, and we rode the remaining race together.”
“What also surprised me was the friendship; being in the back of the pack when we met up with others in the rest areas, we all cheered each other on, checked in, and sometimes grouped up,” he continued. “A lovely man, 62-years old, on a single speed (no gears), partnered up with us also and was one of the main reasons we made it as far as we did. He was fit!”
Yaeger’s ride provided an opportunity to further the charitable aspect of his cycling passion. He was able to raise upward of $3,500 for The American Cancer Society, a cause dear to him. Yaeger’s father, Jim, died from lung cancer seven years ago.
“My dad was always a ‘kid’ who loved riding bikes, appreciated the simple things in life, and always had a can-do attitude,” Yaeger said. “Even through his illness, he insisted on trying anything that might help because if it didn’t work for him, maybe it would work for the next person. Riding for a good cause is my attempt to continue his legacy and help the next person.”
This was not the first time Yaeger has raised money for charity through his cycling excursions. He began in 2019 with the Great Cycle Challenge, where he set a goal to ride 100 miles in June to fight children’s cancer. Yaeger ended up riding 148 miles, while raising $2,099.40 in donations.
His next feat would be a far greater trek.
“The following year, 2020, a pandemic hit, but I still decided I needed to do an epic number of miles for a good cause,” Yaeger said. “Leaving the northernmost point of New York, I traveled to the southernmost (point) over four days, traveling 422.68 miles and accumulating 31 hours of seat time. Over the few months prior, I was able to fundraise $5,515, donating proceeds to World Bicycle Relief to help mobilize rural frontline health workers worldwide.”
“None of the money went to me or my expenses, I am just using my platform to try and help raise money for a cause I believe in,” Yaeger explained. “This year alone, more than 600,000 Americans will die of cancer. That’s more than 1,600 people per day. Through my fundraiser, the money I raised will help fund the critical programs and services that people count on every day.”
And while the goal of a race is speed, Yaeger’s journey provided an opportunity to gain an appreciation for slowing life down.
“These adventures made me realize that the unbeaten path is worth taking,” Yaeger said. “We are often so quick to reply to an email, demand an answer from a client, or rush to a dinner date that we forget to slow down, put our phones down and see the world around us, and breathe. It is a reset, a purge, and a blessing to take a break, a break that’s undoubtedly not awarded to everyone in our society.”