Cross-country bicyclist faces mental fatigue in ride to raise funds for UND endowment

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To think that we’ve arrived here because of some guy pedaling 1,339.31 miles is not even close to half the story.

– Mike DeVries, writing in his journal Monday, Feb. 8, from Austin, Texas, the halfway point on his cross-country bicycle trek from San Diego to St. Augustine, Fla.

GRAND FORKS — He’s been hunting waterfowl at a North Dakota hunting camp for years, so when Mike DeVries embarked on a “bucket list” bicycle trip across the southern U.S. last month, he decided the trek would be a fundraiser for a Game Management Endowment at the University of North Dakota.

Erik Fritzell, 74, a UND alumnus and hunting buddy of DeVries’ from Grand Forks, established the endowment in 2016 with the goal of growing it to $250,000 before he died. The endowment already has surpassed $300,000, and if all goes according to plan, DeVries could raise another $6,000 or so by the time he completes the trek from San Diego to St. Augustine, Fla.

With his wife, Michelle, driving a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van he refurbished as a support vehicle, DeVries, of Grand Rapids, Mich., started the bicycle trip Jan. 14 and is scheduled to finish the journey in early March.

Helping to grow the endowment was an easy choice, DeVries says.

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“I just feel like a kindred spirit with Erik,” he said by phone earlier this week from Austin, Texas, which is about the halfway point of the ride. “We just love science, love wildlife, love the outdoors – you know, kind of the classic duck hunts. It’s not about shooting a lot of birds, it’s about just doing it right.”

DeVries and Fritzell met through a mutual friend, Bruce Lytle, a Fargo native who became a renowned heart surgeon in the Cleveland area. Lytle owns the old farmhouse in Kidder County southeast of Streeter, N.D., that became the hunting camp headquarters and returns to his home state every fall.

Hatching an idea

This past fall, as plans for the bicycle trip began falling into place, one of the hunting camp members sent a group text saying he would pledge 10 cents a mile to a charity of DeVries’ choosing.

Others quickly got on board.

“Because the group that he texted is predominantly a group of people that go out to this hunting camp, it was like, ‘Well, this is a perfect time to take the money and donate it to the UND endowment,’” DeVries said. “Erik’s been trying to raise money for it for a long time, and so I told the guys, ‘Hey, I’ll match whatever you do up to $3,000 – let’s try to get a $6,000 gift here.’

“I don’t know where we stand, but I think we’re close to having the full match.”

The Game Management Endowment to date has been awarded to four students since maturing, and will be awarded again this spring for the 2021-22 school year, according to Tim Belmore of the UND Alumni Association and Foundation.

Tim Belmore, UND Alumni Association Foundation.

The endowment has received 102 gifts from “passionate hunters, outdoor enthusiasts and UND alumni and friends” since its founding, Belmore said. The endowment also has benefited from a program the North Dakota Legislature established in 2019 that awards 50 cents on the dollar in supplemental funds to qualifying endowments.

“We’re grateful to the generous individuals and families that have contributed to the Wildlife (and) Game Management Scholarship Endowment,” Belmore said. “We are thrilled with the progress of this endowment and look forward to its future growth.

“We’re hopeful for another state match opportunity after this legislative session.”

Rivals become friends

The story of the hunting camp that is contributing to the endowment through DeVries’ bucket-list bicycle trip in many ways is a story of rivals becoming friends.

Like most of the hunting camp crew, Lytle was a member of the Fargo Central Class of 1963 and was quarterback of the high school football team that lost to rival Grand Forks Central in the fall of 1962.

Fritzell was quarterback of that victorious Central team but later became friends with Lytle through a mutual college friend at UND. And yes, Fritzell admits, the outcome of a certain high school football game nearly 60 years ago hasn’t been forgotten at hunting camp.

“Believe me, the subject does come up,” he said.

An avid hunter-conservationist, Erik Fritzell of Grand Forks established the UND Game Management Endowment in 2016. He’s shown here in 2017 with a couple of prized canvasback decoys from his collection. (Photo/ Brad Dokken, Grand Forks Herald)

As the youngster in the hunting camp, DeVries says he timed the bicycle trip to coincide with the milestone of turning 60. Riding a Salsa Vaya bicycle, DeVries has been averaging about 70 miles a day on a trip he says has had its share of highs and lows. The highlights have included “bombing down” a mountain in California at 40 mph for 14 straight miles – “I’ve never had so much fun on a bike,” DeVries says – and pedaling 109 miles in 5 hours on another day when he had a 20 mph tailwind.

Whether pedaling through the seemingly endless miles of desert, the uphill trek across mountains or staying in subpar rural hotels they “probably wouldn’t choose to stay in if we had our choice,” the mental aspect of the trip has been the biggest challenge, DeVries says.

“For the most part, all my rides I’ve ended the day with a smile on my face and physically felt like, ‘Boy, I can do this again tomorrow,’” he said. “But from a mental fatigue standpoint, I’ve fought mental fatigue probably every day.”

If he’d known what he was in for when he left San Diego, DeVries says he might not have made the trip.

Mike DeVries and his wife, Michelle, on a stop during his cross-country bicycle trek across the southern U.S. DeVries is raising funds for a Game Management Endowment at UND, and Michelle is driving a support vehicle on the trip, which began Jan. 14 in San Diego and will conclude in early March in St. Augustine, Fla. (Photo courtesy of Mike DeVries)

“That’s the truth of the matter,” he said. “That’s a tough ride. The first day is a straight-up climb into the coastal mountains of California, and as an ignorant Midwesterner, I never anticipated what it was like to climb a mountain on a bike. I’ve climbed hills, and though the first day ended with a great descent of those mountains, that first morning was rough – kind of straight up 6,000 feet of climbing.”

Then came the desert – miles upon miles upon miles of desert.

“If you like desert landscape and scenery, it’s a great place,” he said. “We’re not accustomed to it so we found it a bit ‘off’ – we just weren’t feeling like the desert is where we wanted to be.”

Tough sell at first

The trip initially was a “tough sell” for his wife, Michelle, DeVries says, but she warmed up to the idea once they decided to stay in hotels rather than try to live out of the van.

She’ll drive ahead 15 or 20 miles on a typical day, and DeVries will stop and get replenished on food and drink when he catches up. Occasionally, they’ll stop and take in the sights and visit with people they meet along the way.

Mike DeVries “stokes up the engine” Sunday, Feb. 7, biting into a macaroni-brisket sandwich in Texas. (Photo courtesy of Mike DeVries)

“It’s been challenging, but overall, it’s been really good,” Michelle DeVries said. “It took me awhile – I’m not a camper, so the idea of living out of the van, that was a little harder to take, but when he said that maybe we’ll spend more time in motels and hotels, I thought, ‘OK, I can do this.’ This has been on his bucket list for a long time so let’s do it.”

With most of the desert and mountains behind him, DeVries says he hopes to dip the front tire of his bicycle into the Atlantic Ocean at St. Augustine sometime between March 8 and March 12. Every mile he pedals – roughly 3,000, give or take – helps UND biology students achieve dreams and goals of their own.

“It’s great,” DeVries said. “We love what Erik and UND are doing. I think my love of waterfowl and wildlife and knowing how Erik thinks about it and what UND is doing with that endowment … I’m just really happy that we’re able to contribute.”

  • On the Web:

DeVries has been keeping a daily journal with photos and updates from the trip. Check it out at http://www.crazyguyonabike.com/doc/mikeandmichelle2021.