When Sarah Elizabeth Gall returns to St. Andrew’s Priory this morning for the start of her senior year, she’ll have one whale of a what-I-did-this-summer story.
Granted, last summer’s 21-day kayak trip in Canada will be tough to top, but bigger, better, faster, longer is as much a part of the high-achieving 17-year-old’s makeup as her early-to-rise smile and OMG laugh.
A participant in the American Youth Foundation’s annual summer camp for the past five years, Gall invoked her eldest-only privileges to take part in a grueling two-wheel road trip from New Hampshire to Michigan appropriately dubbed "The Odyssey."
Like Homer’s epic tale, the trip was as long (a scratch under 1,200 miles over 24 days) as it was unpredictable.
Riding in a pimply peloton of 12, Gall and her fellow campers braved 102-degree heat, pickling humidity, sudden storms and the occasional 50 mph head wind as they made their way west, grinding granny gears over the White Mountains of New Hampshire, the Green Mountains of Vermont and New York’s Adirondacks before crossing into Canada on their way back to Miniwanka, Mich.
A ballet dancer since age 5 and a member of the Pride’s varsity tennis team, Gall was more accustomed to grand plie than pace line, more proficient at breaking serve than servicing brakes, but she rose quickly to the challenge.
She is, after all, the same young woman who does 6-mile training runs for fun, sews handmade dolls for children in Iraq and Afghanistan with her pals in the Interact Club (she’s president, of course) and can’t wait to start this year’s French 5, AP government, AP biology, AP chemistry, British literature, sculpture and (at Hawaii Pacific University) statistics courses.
Gall said the real challenge was learning to accept the fact that each day of the ride was its own unique, unforeseeable gift.
"One of our leaders would always tell us, ‘Don’t anticipate, participate,’" Gall said. "I always think about what’s ahead and try to plan for it, but no matter how much you anticipate, the future is going to happen the way it’s going to happen. If you spend all your time anticipating what’s going to happen, I feel you’re going to miss it."
Gall’s acceptance of that seemingly simple lesson led to other insights as she and her comrades spent their days pushing forward on their bikes, and their nights sleeping in trailer parks, church basements and graciously tendered living rooms and back yards.
On the third day of the trip, a woman let the overheated group stop at her home for water. So impressed was she with the young riders when she ran into them at a Wal-Mart later that day that she plunked down $60 for a round of ice cream.
Sometimes you’re so focused on yourself and your own life that you look past the people around you," Gall said. "You don’t always appreciate that they’re people just like you. Seeing how kind and generous people were to us, people we had just met, makes me want to do something. I don’t know what that will be, but I want to do something to make people’s lives better."
Reach Michael Tsai at email@example.com.