From Potomac to the University of Louisville, to the Peace Corps in West Africa, to a 3,000-mile solo bike trip across the USA — even though, “I have never been a cyclist,” David Zamkow, son of Eileen Zamkow of Potomac, is an adventurer at heart, a young man driven by his passions to experience and explore the world around him.
How many people can decide to bike more than 3000 miles from the east coast to the west coast — and then follow through with their plan? His motivation to “make a difference” is a driving force that has kept him pedaling for more than two months.
Zamkow grew up in Potomac’s Regency Estates and attended Beverly Farms, Hoover and Churchill. He graduated in 2007 and went on to the University of Louisville, Ky. where he majored in political science and communications. In high school, he was a diver for the Montgomery Dive team and then went on to collegiate diving at the University of Louisville.
After graduation, he chose the Peace Corps where he taught people of West Africa how to use their skills to form businesses and earn a living. “I was a community economic development advisor,” he said. “Not only did I advise them on business, but I also worked with them on how to clean up their water, improve the education for children, and fight the spread of the HIV virus. The Peace Corps was the best growing experience I have ever had. It taught me about the world outside of America and also a lot about myself. The isolation and the living conditions were quite challenging; I had to learn the dialects and be very flexible in my ways of thinking.”
After he finished two years in the Peace Corps, he traveled throughout Europe. When he returned in August 2015, he had already decided that he was going to bike to a wedding in Austin, Texas, and then continue on to Los Angeles. His first-ever bike tour would raise money for leukemia research, a cancer which took his dad’s life when Zamkow was 8 years old. Leukemia is also the number one cause of cancer deaths to children and Zamkow wanted to raise money to fund research for this disease. Thus far, he has raised almost $4,000 by gathering donations through the website
www.gofundme.com/bikeamerica. His goal is to raise $10,000.
“I left Sept. 5, 2015,” he said. “I’ve been riding from 50-80 miles a day. My most gratifying experiences have come from the people I’ve met — the insane hospitality I’ve received as well as the support from complete strangers. People have bought me a beer, housed me, invited me to take a shower in their home and allowed me to camp in their yards. Meeting new people and seeing how generous they are has been an experience I will never forget.
“In Arkansas, I had just finished my 60 miles for the day and was getting some sustenance in McDonalds (low in price, high in calories). A man came up behind me and nodded to me. I told him what I am doing and asked him if I could set up my tent in his backyard. He said, ‘If you are coming to my house, you can stay in my basement. What was supposed to be one night, ended up as five nights with the Joiner family of Paragould, Ark. I truly felt as if I had been adopted into their family and even spoke to their daughter Stephanie’s first-grade class about my time in Burkina Faso. Mr. Joiner took me on a tour of the town and out on the lake in his boat. His older daughter started introducing me as her new brother.”
Zamkow has enjoyed seeing the country and biking alone. “It gives me plenty of time to meditate — and it also forces me to get out and talk to people. I’ve ridden through places in America that most people never get to see. I have become acquainted with small-town America and learned that in every state there are truly nice people. My mom was very worried that I would get hurt or attacked by strangers I met along the way — but everyone has been so genuinely nice.
“Every day has moments of ‘what was I thinking?’ There were long steady hills in Ohio and East Texas has huge hills. My toes and fingers are often numb — and my butt hurts from sitting on the seat. However, I have been really lucky because the weather has been outstanding. One day when I was leaving Pittsburgh, it was pouring down rain, but I honed-in on pedaling one foot after another. On the day I was planning to arrive in Austin, I had three flat tires — but now I’m an expert at changing them quickly. Bike shops have really helped me by giving me chains, tires and free tune-ups when they hear what I am doing.”
Zamkow made it to Austin, Texas in plenty of time for the wedding of his best friend. After a week’s sojourn, he biked on to El Paso and is currently heading to Los Angeles to meet his girlfriend by Dec. 1. After his biking expedition, he plans to move to Wisconsin to work — hopefully as a broadcaster or in journalism. He also plans to sort the thousands of photos that he has taken these past three years — and to plan his next adventure.
To help David meet his $10,000 goal for leukemia research, go to www.gofundme.com/bikeamerica to make a donation.