Overcoming sensitivity leads the cyclist on a long journey

Overcoming sensitivity leads the cyclist on a long journey

A food allergy prevented Stephen Kuhn from his dream of cycling across the country while in college, but 15 years later, that allergy helped provide the drive for him to pursue his dream.

This summer, Cohn rode his bike from Florence, Oregon, to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Cohn averaged 122 miles per day on the 4,031-mile trek, which he completed in 33 days.

The 2006 Jacksonville High School graduate got into cycling at a young age. Kuhn’s grandparents, Alex and Mary Cole, had moved to Jacksonville before the Kuhn family arrived. His grandfather enjoyed cycling around the country and Cohn contracted the virus.

“I was riding with my grandfather; 15 or 20 miles seemed like a lot. As I got older, I started cycling longer distances. Then I had a dream that I wanted to travel cross country,” Cohn said.

But Con had to be careful while riding because he suffers from food allergies, seasonal allergies, eczema, and asthma. He has allergic reactions to peanuts, tree nuts, and shellfish.

“That can be a problem because granola and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are staples for cyclists who eat on the go,” Cohn said.

Kuhn was active in cycling while a student at Washington University in St. Louis. When members of the groups he participated in were on organized cross-country tours, he was unable to participate because the groups were not prepared to deal with someone with food allergies and were reluctant to accept responsibility for the severe reaction along the trip.

Drinking fountains and restaurants where other cyclists stopped were precarious. He also had to carry everything needed for his ride, including food, water, AnEpiPen, and an inhaler.

After he dropped out of school and started working as a mechanical engineer in St. Louis, Cohn no longer had the summer break that would allow him to take three months off.

When the pandemic hit, Con and his wife, Adrienne Knapp, decided they needed to stay active, so they took their bikes and riding again became a daily thing.

“I can do a 200-mile back-to-back run on the weekends,” Cohn said. “Then I told my grandmother I had done 100,000 miles during the pandemic. She told me I was ready to ride across the country.”

The trip seemed like the perfect opportunity to raise food allergy awareness and raise money along the way. Kuhn paid all expenses for the trip and all money raised goes to Food Allergy Research and Education, or FARE.

“When I was younger, not much was known about food allergies, and the Internet didn’t exist,” Cohn said. “My family passed allergies as best they could. My family relied on FARE to learn about food. They were a huge part of my early life.”

He began researching routes, planning logistics, and talking to his boss about taking some time off. After that was settled, he rented a recreational vehicle, and the trip was decided. His mother, Helen Cohn of Jacksonville, and his aunt, Heather Cole, drove Cohn west to the trek’s starting point. They then accompanied him to St. Louis, where his wife took command duties for the remainder of the voyage to South Carolina.

Cohn generally followed the TransAmerica Trail. It starts in the northwest and winds through Idaho and Montana, then south through Wyoming and Colorado before turning east through Missouri.

“The RV allowed us to stop wherever we were and bring food I could eat. We saw things we wanted to go back and visit,” Cohn said. “A lot of rides around the country are big groups, or one person with a lot of gear. I could just bike as fast as I could because everything I had was in the RV.”

The roads Cohn took were paved but generally small county highways. In Wyoming, where the top speed is 80 mph, the roads had no shoulders.

Perhaps surprisingly, the hardest part of the trip was the RV.

“The tire problems in Wyoming were a challenge. We had to stop today and find a place where he could fix it,” Cohn said. “In the Appalachians, a box truck pushed my wife off the road and the awning on my RV got caught in a tree, so we had to deal with that. There were bumpy roads that the RV didn’t always handle well.”

The journey was difficult, but nothing Kuhn didn’t expect.

“There were some issues riding many miles a day—repetitive use injuries and muscle strains, but these were to be expected,” Cohn said.

One of the detours that Kun called fun was to ride to the top of Pike’s Peak.

“This was the hardest climb of the trip,” Cohn said. “It was one of the fun challenges and detours I wanted to do.”

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