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Chicago Cyclist Prepares for 4,300-Mile Journey Across the United States

CHICAGO — Jaik Smith is unfazed by an upcoming challenge to ride his bicycle about 4,300 miles diagonally across the United States.

Rather, the Logan Square resident is pumped to pump the pedals of his Specialized Awol X Poler bicycle from Seattle to Key West starting July 27. He's hoping to finish in 48 days and raise at least $5,000 for the Livestrong cancer foundation started by Lance Armstrong.

As of Sunday morning, the former Wicker Park and Bucktown resident had raised just over $900.

"People have always told me I'm always very focused and determined to finish things," said Smith, 35. "For me, riding 4,300 to 4,400 miles, it just seems like another thing to accomplish in my life, and I'm really looking forward to doing it — and benefiting others at the same time."

Smith, who works on computers for InnerWorkings in River North, said he's the first person in his company's 12-year history to take a leave of absence for reasons other than having a baby. His company is letting him return to work after his ride ends, but Smith said he has to write an article for them about his experiences.

Smith will be cycling through Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, Iowa, Missouri, Illinois, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. His longest single ride will be 156 miles in Missouri; the shortest a 24-mile ride in Montana.

Smith isn't worried about the overall distance, even though his longest previous ride was a 200-mile, two-day trip to Lake Geneva and back.

Jaik Smith's 4,300-some-mile route diagonally across the United States. [Jaik Smith]

Smith hasn't owned a car in 12 years and said he usually rides his bike about 100 miles a week.

He chose Armstrong's cancer foundation because he's known several people with cancer, including his grandfather, sister and 3-year-old son of a close friend. Smith's real name is Jacob, but he changed it to Jaik because a Greek restaurant owner he worked for as a teenager in his native Michigan always spelled it that way. The restaurant owner died from cancer, and Smith wanted to honor him with the name change.

Smith, a member of The Chainlink, chose to start in Seattle because he's never been to the Pacific Northwest. He said the entire route, which he created using ridewithgps.com, consists of bike-friendly roads, interstates and trails.

"There's definitely a lot of stuff I want to see along the way," Smith said. "And I'm excited to try and finish on time."

And his girlfriend, Lindsey Stevens of Wrigleyville, can't wait to meet Smith at the end of his long journey.

"Now that the day of his departure comes closer, my excitement grows and am looking forward to hearing all the stories from the road while we relax on the beach in Key West," she said.

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