(Editor’s note: The following article, featuring Che Shauqī Che Salmi ’19 and his bicycle journey from Iowa to Vermont, was republished with permission of Fayette County Newspapers and sports editor Jerry Wadian.)
Lots of people ride bikes, but not many people in northeast Iowa take it upon themselves to bicycle all the way to Vermont. That is what Che Shauqī (pronounced Chō kee) Che Salmi, did this summer.
Probably none of those who do extended trips go for the reason Shauqi did.
“I wanted to meet with Bernie Sanders,” stated the business major at Upper Iowa University.
The native of a small village in eastern Malaysia was horrified by stories of the migrant children along the boarder.
“To separate children, especially young ones from their parents, is so wrong. Why can’t they keep families together? Detain them together and deport them together?
“I want to have children one day, but I want to bring them into a better world,” stated the student with a passion.
Although Shauqi just graduated from Upper Iowa University, he has less than a ear in the country due to his classroom work in Malaysia. Since he isn’t very familiar with American politics, he examined all of the candidates running for president. Sanders’ worldview seemed most closely aligned with his own. So, he started to plan how to meet with the candidate to talk about the crisis.
“I’m a terrible planner,” laughed Shauqi.
However, his plan to save money on his journey to America did save $500. Of course when the bus arrived last August in Iowa City, he finished the trek by walking all the way to Fayette, complete with baggage, knapsack, and backpack.
“Many nice people offered me rides, but I wanted to walk,” the intrepid traveler said about the two-day journey.
So, on June 2, the recent graduate and still part-time cook in the university’s student union, set out on his bike, a $15 tent, a $10 sleeping bag, and some power bars and beef jerky, a water bottle – and, of course, his ukulele.
The first stop was at an influential professor’s home in Cedar Rapids, where he was encouraged to buy a few essentials, like rear view mirrors for the bike.
Next, it was on to Clinton, Rockford, Chicago and South Bend, where he tried to visit with candidate Pete Buttigieg, who, ironically enough, was campaigning in Iowa at the time.
From there, it was on to Ohio and New York, where he decided to take a little side trip to Niagara Falls.
“I had heard so much about it and it wasn’t that far out of my way.”
“Not that far” meant a five-hour bike ride – one-way.
Things were going well until the tired traveler was racing along trying to get the ferry from NY to Vermont before the last trip of the day.
Three hours from his destination, the road downhill made a little curve that Shauqi didn’t quite make. In the ensuing spill, he landed on a previously injured knee, adding to the injury; he also scraped an arm, and probably suffered a slight concussion.
“Several cars stopped and offered to help, but I bounced right up and told them I was all right,” said the injured biker.
He drove until he found a gas station, where he washed the wounds, downed some Tylenol, and tried realign the front tire.
“I was gulping Tylenol for the rest of the trip,” Shauqi admitted.
Despite the spill, he made the ferry and spent his first night in Vermont. However, he missed Sanders by one day, but biked another 180 miles to Nashua, N.H. There, he was in the front line of a rally.
However, once Sanders arrived, he was instantly surrounded and the Iowan from Malaysia never got a chance to meet the man he came so far to see.
He was able to leave a handwritten letter with a sympathetic campaign worker who told Shauqi of Sanders appearance at a local campaign headquarters.
Unfortunately, a mere block from the headquarters, the traveler hit a chip of wood lying in the road. Instead of flying off to the side the small piece of wood was thrust up the wheel well, stopping the tire, and our biking Malaysian quickly became the flying Malaysian.
Once more knee and face met concrete, and he tore the brand new bright pink shirt he bought to meet Mr. Sanders. Worst of all, he suspected that he broke two ribs. Once again, people came to help, but Shauqi was unable to jump right back up.
“The ribs hurt, but I kept telling myself they weren’t broken, that way they wouldn’t hurt so much,” was the injured trekkers explanation. However when he finally got back to Iowa and a doctor said they were indeed broken, IT REALLY HURT!” Shauqi said with his big laugh.
After the fall, it took bit, but Shauqi got up but with a bloody face, torn shirt, and a bad limp, he wasn’t allowed to get anywhere close to Sanders.
Realizing his crusade was over; he started the return trip, making it as far as Boston where he stayed for a couple of days.
As in some other places, in Boston the biker stayed in a youth hostel.
“You can meet all kinds of people from around the world,” explained the international adventurer.
For example, in Chicago, his hostel companions included nine Irishmen.
“I guess it’s true what they say about the Irish when they drink,” was how Shauqi summarized that experience.
While biking in more rural areas, he spent nights in is tent. One rainy evening a young couple with two young children in a neighboring RV brought him a hot meal.
However, the big surprise during the trip came at a bike shop to get a flat tire fixed. He was told of a website devoted to long distance biking that has a network of people who will host the bicyclists for free
“I met some really wonderful people, through this network,” gushed the new long distance biker. “There were a pair of professors from Cambridge that I had some wonderful discussions with, there was Ben of Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream who is an avid long-distance biker, and a nice lady in Euclid, Ohio who insisted that I take a little traveling money with me, just in case. I also stayed with some pre-med students who looked at my knee; it was in better shape than when I started – until the first accident.”
While in Boston, Shauqi finally came to the realization that he was not physically able to bike back to Iowa. Therefore, he disassembled the bike, boxed it, and took it with him back to Iowa by train and by bus.
Back in Iowa City, he reassembled the bike and started back to Fayette.
“I spent 13 hours getting to Strawberry Point, but could go no further, so I called some friends who came and picked me up. Once I got back to my apartment, I slept for 24 hours.
In all, the Malaysian immigrant rode his bike for 1680 miles!
Was it worth everything he went though, the accidents, not eating for four consecutive days, the physical demands of the trip, and not getting to meet with Sanders?
When asked that, Shauqi relied, “I failed, and failure is always bitter. However, I always like to turn a negative into a positive.
“For one thing, I learned just how far I could push myself, and that is very important.
“Even more important, is how much I saw and learned about America. Imagine, me, a poor, longhaired, bearded Malaysian boy travelling alone across the country with no problems.
“And I met so many wonderful people who were so kind. In homes, I was treated like family: free room, big meals and so much friendship.
“It was almost magical,” Shauqi summarized. “After my month on the road, I learned that 99.9-percent of Americans are truly wonderful people.”