NJ-born cross-country bike rider braves wildfires, beats COVID, dips his tire in Manasquan

·6 min read

Accompanied by his wife Tish, a bit of sweat and a large group of family and friends, Randy Wussler rode from the Riverside Café in Manasquan early Saturday to the nearby inlet and dipped his bike into the water.

The tire submerging slightly into the water marked the end of Wussler’s cross-country bicycle ride that started more than two months before. The journey saw Wussler survive a bout of COVID-19, wildfires, ride into more than a dozen states and — most importantly to him — raise $20,000 for Type 1 diabetes, a disease his daughter has struggled with for most of her life.

“I feel fulfilled," said Randy Wussler, 58, with a smile. "I've always wanted to do this. I had high expectations. My expectations were exceeded as far as the things I'd seen and what I feel. It was just everything I wanted and more."

From backpacking through Machu Pichu in Peru and visiting many of Europe’s most renowned tourist attractions, Randy Wussler has always loved an adventure.

That’s why not long after he retired from his job in data analytics in March, when he told his family he was going to ride across the country in a trek that started in San Diego, California with tire dip in the Pacific Ocean and would end with the same action at the Manasquan Inlet. He and his wife immediately started planning.

Randy Wussler is greeted by family and friends as he arrives in Manasquan after riding his bicycle across the country from San Diego. He rode a distance of 2,427 miles starting April 20, 2022 to raise awareness and money for research to wipe out Type 1 Diabetes. Wussler touches the Atlantic Ocean completing his trip.  Manasquan, NJSaturday, July 2, 2022
Randy Wussler is greeted by family and friends as he arrives in Manasquan after riding his bicycle across the country from San Diego. He rode a distance of 2,427 miles starting April 20, 2022 to raise awareness and money for research to wipe out Type 1 Diabetes. Wussler touches the Atlantic Ocean completing his trip. Manasquan, NJSaturday, July 2, 2022

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“When he said he was going to run a marathon 15 years ago I was like ‘What?’ Then he said he was going to do an iron man (race) a few years ago and I said ‘Really?’” Tish Wussler said. “And then he said this, so it’s like, ‘All right, what’s next?'”

After more than a month of planning, Wussler was ready to ride, but not without adding a pair of sentimental twists.

Randy Wussler grew up in Scotch Plains and spent many childhood summer days by the Jersey Shore. When he finished his journey, he wanted it to be somewhere he cherishes.

“The whole start and finish I wanted to start where I live and finish where I grew up,” Randy Wussler said. “I spent a lot of time down the shore when I was growing up, as a lot of kids do, and we went to Manasquan a lot, and I actually have friends in Manasquan.”

Randy Wussler is greeted by family and friends as he arrives in Manasquan after riding his bicycle across the country from San Diego. He rode a distance of 2,427 miles starting April 20, 2022 to raise awareness and money for research to wipe out Type 1 Diabetes. Wussler with his wife Patricia.  Manasquan, NJSaturday, July 2, 2022
Randy Wussler is greeted by family and friends as he arrives in Manasquan after riding his bicycle across the country from San Diego. He rode a distance of 2,427 miles starting April 20, 2022 to raise awareness and money for research to wipe out Type 1 Diabetes. Wussler with his wife Patricia. Manasquan, NJSaturday, July 2, 2022

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As the Wusslers prepared for the formidable ride ahead, Randy realized it as an opportunity to make a difference.

Lexie Jarnagin, the daughter of Randy and Tish Wussler, was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when she was 8 months old. A grown woman now, it still affects her life.

“I don’t really know what it’s like to not have it. Growing up with it has been pretty difficult, no one likes being the odd one out,” Jarnagin said.

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Having seen the difficulties Type 1 diabetes can cause firsthand, Randy Wussler decided that through his blog, which he updated every day throughout his journey, to raise money for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.

“(The foundation ) was really good to us when my daughter was diagnosed when she was really small, so I get to give something back to them,” Randy Wussler said. “(Type 1 diabetes is) treatable, but not curable now and everything we can do to get a cure will make the lives of hundreds of millions of people better.”

With his wife as his "co-pilot" constantly checking routes and driving to most hotels while he pedaled away, Randy Wussler set out on his ride on April 20.

The Wusslers were hit with an unforeseen obstacle on Days 14 and 15 of the ride while traveling through New Mexico.

"We look and we're like there's no way anybody should be in that 25-mile stretch I was supposed to be riding. It's dangerous and you might be in the way of firefighters and the air quality is horrible," Randy Wussler explained.

So, he and his wife made a compromise. They drove 20 miles ahead on their route to where the air-quality was better and Randy Wussler said he rode extra miles to "equate what I was going to skip."

As Randy Wussler wound down his journey, the father of two was given a Father's Day surprise he did not expect. With more than 3,000 miles completed in his almost 3,500 mile ride, Randy Wussler tested positive for COVID-19.

Yet, when considering how far he had come, this challenge didn't faze him.

"You don't get emotional. What's to do?" he said.

Randy Wussler is greeted by family and friends as he arrives in Manasquan after riding his bicycle across the country from San Diego. He rode a distance of 2,427 miles starting April 20, 2022 to raise awareness and money for research to wipe out Type 1 Diabetes.  Manasquan, NJSaturday, July 2, 2022
Randy Wussler is greeted by family and friends as he arrives in Manasquan after riding his bicycle across the country from San Diego. He rode a distance of 2,427 miles starting April 20, 2022 to raise awareness and money for research to wipe out Type 1 Diabetes. Manasquan, NJSaturday, July 2, 2022

Randy Wussler had to persevere through sickness, wildfires, wind, rain and many other obstacles to finish. But nothing was harder than what he faced on the fourth day of his ride.

Part of the opening paragraph of his blog post for the ride for that troubling day read "Today was hard. No. Today was brutal."

It took Randy Wussler 11 hours to bike 90 miles from Brawley to Blythe, California. When riding past sand dunes, extreme wind and constant vehicles passing by caused him to get constantly pelted by sand. After he finally escaped the dunes, Randy Wussler was accompanied by 15-20 mph headwinds that acted as a deterrent for the next 65 miles.

Still, he forged ahead and made it to his hotel for the night.

"I had never been so excited to see my wife," Randy Wussler said. However, she gave him the final punch to the gut he had to face that day.

The hotel had no water.

Despite the hardships, it was all worth it.

After more than two months, more than a dozen states, thousands of miles, countless hills and plenty of hardships, on July 2, Randy Wussler arrived in Manasquan, the same beach his mother used to take him to every Wednesday with his siblings, with one arm stretched into the air in jubilation, a group of more than 20 close family and friends cheered his accomplishments. He’s particularly proud of the more than $20,000 raised for Type One Diabetes, a number that exceeded his original expectations.

In a speech where he held back tears after completing his ride he said "it was a journey like no other."

Indeed it was.

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Shaun Chornobroff is an intern with the Asbury Park Press and entering his senior year at Rider University, majoring in sports media with a minor in journalism. He is the executive editor of the Rider's student newspaper and a resident of Jackson. Reach him at SChornobroff@gannett.com

This article originally appeared on Asbury Park Press: Bicyclist crosses US, braves wildfires, beats COVID, reaches Manasquan