Ten months ago Webster alumni Ethan Deghelder and JC Hayes were on Moss Field getting their diplomas, but instead of going to college now, they are learning from everyday experiences as they cycle across the United States.
Deghelder and Hayes are three months into their yearlong journey around the U.S., and are currently in Savannah, GA.
The group goes by Project Daedalus on social media and can be found on Instagram and Facebook where its members post progress reports on their journey as well the occasional philosophical “share.”
The trip started in Houston, TX. Deghelder and childhood friend Jacob James were dropped off by friends Alex Ring, Brian Dugan and Jack Scott, who drove them down in a car with Deghelder’s and James’s bikes on the back of the car.
Originally the plan was for James and Deghelder to leave via train on Jan. 1, but flooding morphed the train tracks and delayed their departure.
After 10 days, Deghelder and James gave up on the train and had their friends drive them to Texas.
Upon reaching Houston, the first thing they saw when they got out of the car was a dead homeless man being covered by a blanket and put in an ambulance, which has not proven to be a bad omen so far.
James and Deghelder started the journey in Houston, and after a month Hayes met them in New Orleans during Mardi Gras
After two months of riding, James decided it was time to return home and leave the rest of the trip to Deghelder and Hayes due to lack of money and a dream to start a bike shop in Columbia, MO.
On a typical day riding through the country, they wake up as the first rays of sun reach over the horizon, stretch, eat food and begin the day’s riding.
They break up the day into 10-15 mile sections, stretching in-between intervals and eating the whole time to keep up with calories. “As to not die,” said Deghelder about all the calories they eat.
They continue this until lunch, when they eat and take a long break, and then get back on the road until they reach the destination for the day. There they set up camp for the night, hang out and map the routes for the next day. A day’s ride typically totals 60-70 miles.
“Scatter in some possible stops for food, crazy or cool people talking to us for an extended period of time, flats and a break for breath-taking sights. That is an abbreviated version of our average day,” Deghelder said.
In the country Hayes and Deghelder are riding, but in the city it’s always different. In describing their day-to-day activities in the city, Hayes said, “Get up at noon,”… “chill with friends, hit the park, relax and recover is the name of the game.”
Deghelder said some of the breath-taking sights so far have been “the massively extensive pine forest of Texas, the swamplands and floodplains of Louisiana, the desolate beaches and bays of Mississippi and Alabama, the dense near-jungle woodlands of Florida, and the bug and gator filled marshes of Georgia.”
Hayes came up with the idea to bike around the United States, but Deghelder is the one who worked to make it happen.
So far they’ve experienced the Southern hospitality of Texas and the golden sunrises of Perdido Keys, FL, but not everything that’s happened has been sunrises and beaches.
In what he described as his least favorite experience, James met two people by the names of Sean and Greg in Florida.
Project Daedalus was camped on the beach, James had woken up before Deghelder and Hayes and had decided to walk the three miles from their campsite to the scout shelter to get water. As he walked up the gravel road to the scout shelter, James passed a parked Hyundai Sonata, and as he walked by, he saw a large man behind the wheel and a skinny naked man in the passenger seat, only a T-shirt covering his pelvic region, both apparently sleeping.
James thought it weird, kept walking, until he heard from behind him, “Hey, man, you need a ride?”
He turned around, walked back to the Sonata, stood by the driver’s side and said, “Hey, man, thanks for the offer, but I’m good. This is my ‘me time’ and I’m just gonna make the hike. Don’t worry about it.”
The fat man said nothing, but the skinny man insisted that it would be no problem, and if James waited a minute he would put his clothes back on, but James said, “No thanks” and kept walking.
Half a mile of walking later, James heard sand churning underneath the wheels of a car. The same Hyundai Sonata pulled up next to him, and the still naked skinny man said, “If you don’t mind me being naked, we could totally give you a ride up there.”
It was early in the morning for James, and as he stood there by the Sonata with a naked man staring at him, he said to himself, “You know what. I can’t think of a reason why I care.” Whether it was curiosity or stupidity, James opened the back door and got in the car.
In the back right seat of a car with two men he didn’t know, one of whom was stark naked, James sat, when the skinny man turned around and said, “Hey man, you smoke?”
“Smoke what?” James replied.
“Green, you smoke green?” the skinny man said.
James said, “Yes,” and the fat man packed him a bowl while he continued to drive the car, resting his arm against the wheel as he put the marijuana into the bowl. He then handed it back, and James smoked it half-heartedly.
They were halfway to the scout shelter- James could see it in the distance- when the skinny man, whose name was Sean, turned back to James and showed him his wrists, one covered by a hospital band and the other covered by a large welt.
Sean told James how he’d just gotten out of the hospital after trying to kill himself and to celebrate getting out, he had just bought himself some meth and met with Greg, the fat man, who would give him oral sex. Sean then held his bag of meth in James’ face, offered James meth, and asked if he would like a oral sex himself.
It was at this point that James realized he could very well need to defend himself against Sean and Greg. After denying Sean’s offers, James figured that if he needed to, he would use his right hand to get the buck knife from his backpack behind him and stab Sean through the back of the passenger seat, and with his left hand, grab the bear spray from the left slot of his backpack and spray Greg in the face, then open the car door and run.
The left turn that led to the scout shelter was only 30 yards away, and James was thinking, “They’re not going to make that left turn. This is it. This is the end for me.”
To James’ surprise, Greg made the left turn. James got out, thanked them for the ride, and before he went to into the bathroom, Sean asked him, “Hey dude, you’re not gonna call the cops on some freaky dudes, are you?”
James said back, “Nah, man, you were courteous. I don’t care. You do what you gotta do.”
While Project Daedalus has had negative experiences with people like Sean and Greg, it’s also had positive ones with other people.
In East Texas at the end of their first week, James and Deghelder were stopped at a gas station, and they went inside to get food. When James went inside and found everything to be too expensive, he walked out. When Deghelder walked out, he was carrying multiple meals worth of food. A woman working at the counter who could tell James and Deghelder were travelers gave them the extra food from the day. She had recently lost her husband, son, job and house and was living in her car, but wanted to open a shop devoted to feeding travelers like James and Deghelder, and in the meantime decided to give them a few free meals.
Encounters like these where strangers went out of their way to help Project Daedalus haven’t been out of the ordinary.
“In New Orleans, Tallahassee and Savannah, upon entering the city, we had no place to stay, and we legitimately instantly met people who would become dear friends to us in a close time.
Along with these, there has been on small acts of human kindness that have been so unexpected that it has quite entirely restored my faith in humanity. On countless occasions I have been given food, money, advice, shelter and kindness from those who were in harder places than I, or from those who in all reality didn’t need to get involved in my life, but I’m eternally grateful that they did,” Deghelder said.