April 7, 2014, West Windsor, N.J. (ISN) – On April 19, Trenton native Jesse Herrera will set off on his bike to ride across America. He will leave the city with far more than adventure on his mind. Herrera will be giving back to his historic hometown by raising money for Mercer County Community College (MCCC).
After graduating from Hamilton High School West, Herrera spent his freshman year at Mercer in 2005, playing baseball under Coach Clifford (Kip) Harrison, the current dean of students at Ewing High School. He was following in the footsteps of his father, Robert, who played baseball at Mercer in the late 1960s.
“It makes me feel good to have a lasting connection to the same local school that my father attended,” Jesse says.
But he has another compelling reason to ride for Mercer. Since returning to Trenton after graduating from Arizona State University (ASU) in 2009 to live with his father and grandfather in Hamilton, he has seen the shuttered buildings and neglected sections of the city.
“I would ride through on my bike and see places where my grandfather [a musician] used to play and the buildings were boarded up,” he says. “All you hear about are the negatives in the city. I wondered what I could do to help.”
Herrera believes that MCCC, especially its Trenton campus on North Broad Street, has a role to play in revitalizing the city through education. His campaign, “Herrera Across America/Miles for Mercer,” is intended to help MCCC develop and expand its educational programs in the city.
“I see what Mercer is doing for education in the Trenton community. That’s the kind of spark we need to revitalize this city,” he says.
Herrera remembers his own Mercer experience in glowing terms. He recalls that playing on the Mercer baseball team “was like playing with a team of all-stars. Going to Mercer really helped me get a solid foundation for the future. I had a great experience.” Herrera transferred to Arizona State after freshman year and earned his bachelor’s degree in Communications.
Ed Gwazda, MCCC’s Vice President for College Advancement, says that Mercer is grateful to have an alumnus who has such strong ties to the college that he has singled out Mercer as the recipient of this major effort. “At Mercer we are well aware that education, especially at the community college level, has the power to change lives. We will be behind Jesse 100 percent and hope that the community will join us for the ride.” Community members interested in supporting Jesse’s ride should visit www.mccc.edu/jesse, where they can also get updates along his route cross-country.
Following his ASU graduation, Herrera lived “off the grid” for several months in California’s Tamalpais State Park, a mecca for mountain biking, where he initially got the cycling bug. Once he returned to central New Jersey, he began a career in sales for Certified Steel in Lawrenceville.
While sales proved a natural field for the dynamic 20-something, Jesse has other passions that are way stronger – a deep love for cycling and an enduring affinity for his home city of Trenton.
“I have worked in the corporate world, but I decided to follow my dream to work in the bicycle industry. I am young enough to change my life and do what makes me happy,” he says. Jesse says his dream job is to work for Specialized, the manufacturer of the premier bike he will be riding to the West Coast.
Indeed, Jesse’s bike will be his best friend during the trip and he is preparing it for success. “I have had my wheels re-laced with heavier gauge spokes and have new road-style tires and heavy duty thorn-resistant tubes,” Herrera says, adding that he will have his whole drive-train changed the week before he leaves because the cassette and cranks have an estimated life span of approximately 3,000 miles.
Herrera’s wide circle of friends already has his back, donating funds and gear to help him get properly equipped for the 3,300-mile journey. Several local bike shops are also supporting his efforts, including Knapps in Lawrenceville and Hart’s in Pennington.
Herrera has also been preparing himself for the physical challenges ahead. Currently employed as a substitute teacher, he has a strict training regimen and gets on his bike every day when his school day ends. He powered through horrid winter conditions on his training rides, doing a 30-miles loop from Titusville to Robbinsville and Allentown, and back again. Part of his training includes riding seven miles up hill with 65 lbs. of gear on his back.
He hopes to complete the trip in two to three months. His route will take him across the middle of the country and then turn northwest to Astoria, Oregon, where he “will dip his tire in the ocean.” Aside from several days off to explore Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons, he plans to cover between 50 and 100 miles every day, “as long as my bike holds up and I hold up,” he observes. He will carry a lightweight tent and sleep in campgrounds, although he says he will welcome an invite from any MCCC alumni along the way who might offer a soft bed and a hot shower.
“Part of the adventure for me is no amenities,” he maintains.
Herrera will rely on social media to stay in touch with his supporters, posting his progress every day via Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. His Twitter hash tag is #jhxctrip. “To make this trip, I will need everyone with me for support. I hope it goes viral, which will make it easier for all of us to follow.”
When he is all done, Herrera will have had a once-in-a-lifetime experience, complete with bragging rights. “I will be able to say I have biked across the country. I will have seen it in a way that will allow me to feel it and to connect to our country’s amazing history.” And, Herrera adds, he will be doing something to give back to his city – one of the country’s most historic places and one that can use his help.