Photojournalist Dave Klein has seen some of America’s most beautiful sights up close.
But a months-long 3,200-mile journey that took him across the country was not for fun. Klein, who had to postpone his adventure for a year due to the pandemic, is on a mission.
Since late November, Klein has cycled the lower half of the country: from California to Florida. The 58-year-old chief photojournalist of WDIV-TV (Channel 4) rides hundreds of miles on his bike to raise awareness and funds for colon cancer, a disease for which early detection can save lives.
A friend was diagnosed with colon cancer and encouraged Klein to take the bike ride to raise money for the Colon Cancer Coalition.
“It’s really amazing. It’s really kind of like being a tool…a messenger to help get the message out,” said Klein, who had her first colonoscopy last year. “I feel 2,700 miles into this 3,200 mile ride, I’m incredibly mentally stronger than before.”
His friend is in treatment, which involves weekly chemotherapy.
“She does really well some weeks,” Klein said.
Klein of Harrison Township set out on his trek Nov. 30 in Santa Monica, Calif., after a two-day train ride from Michigan to California with his gear.
He rides a Novara Randonee 24-speed chrome alloy road bike weighing about 20 pounds. Equipment is 60 pounds extra.
He averages 55 to 70 miles a day, depending on weather conditions and wind direction, biking through scenic areas such as the Sandia Mountains in New Mexico, the Petrified National Forest in Arizona and the Begging of Texas.
Along the way, Klein, who has been with WDIV since 1999, has met some interesting people. He said everyone was nice to him and applauded his efforts.
One of the acts of kindness Klein remembered happened in northern Arizona last month, when he was down to his last three tablespoons of water. He was at the top of a mountain pass when a trucker showed him some generosity.
“It was about 18 miles to the next town and it was going to be tough to get there,” Klein said. “A trucker named Henry gave me three bottles of water.”
Some businesses that cater to climbers, cyclists and other outdoor enthusiasts closed during the pandemic, and he struggled to restock water and other essentials.
From sleeping on the side of a highway embankment to camping in the wilderness of the Petrified National Forest, Klein endured his cross-country journey.
He had severe headaches, he said, after sleeping in a swampy area with mold spores in far western Louisiana. He wears bear spray and encountered a pack of coyotes “screaming like babies” who terrified him, he said.
“A lot of this stuff is mental,” Klein told the Detroit News. “It’s really life changing.”
Klein’s road trip attracted media attention across the country. He did several interviews with television stations in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama as he headed east.
Klein hopes others will no longer prolong an imported medical test, a colonoscopy, which screens for colon cancer and precancerous polyps in the intestines.
Estimates for the number of colorectal cancer cases in the United States for 2022 are 106,180, with about 52,580 deaths, according to the American Cancer Society. Colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of cancer death in both men and women, and it is the second leading cause of cancer death in men and women combined.
Efforts like Klein’s are applauded in the medical community.
“It’s an exceptional effort,” said Dr Harry Wasvary, head of colorectal surgery at Royal Oak Beaumont Hospital, who stresses that awareness and early detection are key in the fight against colon cancer.
Colon cancer is on the rise in younger populations, especially those under 50, Dr. Wasvary said. While a colonoscopy is the “gold standard” for testing, a stool sample has also become an option for colon cancer screening, Dr Wasvary said.
Risk factors for colon cancer include family history. Symptoms of cancer include a change in bowel habits and unexplained weight loss. Otherwise, Dr. Wasvary said, colon cancer is asymptomatic.
The recommended screening for colon cancer is ages 45 to 75, Dr. Wasvary said. He added that 50,000 people die of colon cancer each year in the United States and 150,000 cases of colon cancer are diagnosed each year, Dr Wasvary said.
Klein expects to arrive in St. Augustine, Fla., in two weeks.