AUGUSTA — One big toe that got so cold it still has no feeling, nearly 18,000 miles each on scooters that barely top 40 mph, numerous visits with people and programs fighting against hunger, 48 states, and 331 days later, Dan Emery and Myles Chung are home, and hungry to put what they learned on their slow scoot around the country to work.

The pair of Augusta residents who, together, make up the American Community Project returned last week from an arduous but inspiring and informative trip on their donated Honda Ruckus scooters. They traveled through all 48 contiguous U.S. states, visiting 135 food banks, soup kitchens, farms, service organizations, co-ops and other hunger-related organizations as they explored hunger and its causes and solutions.

They hope to implement some of the programs they found working well at stops along their trip, to combat hunger here.

They’re still assessing what they saw and learned, and they’re making plans for what might work here, but they said programs they hope to implement here could include programs encouraging urban gardening on unused land, assistance getting more produce and other healthful foods to people who might otherwise eat less healthful foods, and other agriculture-based ways to prevent and fight hunger.

“I’m very optimistic about what’s going to come out of this,” said Emery, 31, a former Augusta city councilor. Just a couple of days after returning from the road, Emery said he wasn’t yet sure what form his anti-hunger efforts will take, but they probably will include urban gardening and youth development, and will be agriculture-based.

One thing they learned on the road is that successful anti-hunger programs aren’t done alone. They said the most effective groups they met with all had networks in their communities, and they worked together for their common causes.

They also learned that, other than their different accents, people across the country are like them and, overwhelmingly, are good, kind and helpful.

“The parts of the country people warn you about, we found, are not nearly as dangerous as people make them out to be,” said Chung, 22. “With all the negativity people hear about what is going on in the United States, giving citizens here a bad rap, there are actually multitudes of people out there doing good. Hopefully, with our story, we can try to push across that point, that this country is fantastic. You just have to see past the bad, to the good.”

It wasn’t all good, of course.

Their trip started in Massachusetts on Jan. 8, when it was 11 below zero there.

It was also bitterly cold when the duo were scooting around New York City — so cold Chung lost feeling in his feet. The feeling in most of his feet came back once they got somewhere warm, but Chung said even today he hasn’t regained feeling in his left big toe. “I guess I should see a doctor and have that checked out,” he said.

The opposite weather extreme came in Death Valley, where it reached 120 degrees in the day and cooled to 80 degrees at night.

For Emery the trip’s low point, the only time he even briefly considered quitting, came in Connecticut, where they stayed overnight in a homeless shelter. While there, another shelter occupant threatened to kick his head in.

“Overall people were very supportive, very welcoming,” Emery said. “Accents changed, but people were wonderful. They found humor in the way we were traveling and respected what we were doing. They wished us luck and shared their personal stories with us.”

They also had a few encounters with police, in some cases because they were traveling below the minimum speed limit on their scooters and a few times while Emery’s scooter had a brake light out for about 6,000 miles.

Neither crashed a scooter during the journey, though they did have mechanical problems including flat tires and, on a Texas road so remote an AAA dispatcher couldn’t figure out where they were, a shredded drive belt that a passing motorist fixed for them.

Along the way they slept in the homes of friends, friends of friends, and people they met through the “couch surfing” network; and, on 84 nights, in their tent. Sometimes their tenting locations were anywhere they could set up their tent, while other locations were spectacular campsites. New Mexico, the pair said, was one of the more scenic locations they visited.

Sometimes, while in a rush to get somewhere, they wished for faster machines; but they said their scooters were so slow they were excellent perches from which to take in the scenery as they traveled.

They initially sought to raise about $30,000 for the trip but ended up raising slightly more than half that. They said it was enough to cover the trip’s cost, though with less money than they’d hoped to raise, they didn’t eat as well as they’d planned. Emery said that at one point he’d lost 20 pounds, though he has since regained 15 of them.

They had hoped to raise more money before and during the trip to donate to the groups working against hunger. They did raise about $5,000, which they plan divide among 48 groups — one in each state they visited. They plan to continue collecting funds to donate to those groups. People may donate, and learn more about their trip, online at www.acproject.org.

While Emery kept his car in Maine during the trip, Chung got rid of his and now has only his well-worn Ruckus and his feet for transportation, even now that he’s home in Maine. The scooter at least has studded snow tires and hand warmers on the handlebars.

Chung said his plans include completing the remaining year of his associate degree program at the University of Maine at Augusta and finding a job. Longer-term, he hopes to get into a business involving fresh fruit.

Chung said part of his inspiration to go on the trip was the desire to encourage people to eat more healthful foods. He said he used to weigh about 300 pounds because he relied on overprocessed foods, because they’re cheap and readily attainable; but then he had an epiphany and realized he could eat cheaply and healthfully.

“Now I weigh 185 pounds, through a better diet and proper nutrition,” Chung said. “In so many communities, people rely on these fast-food chains. I see a lot of people in the situation I was in two years ago. Hopefully, we can reverse some of the damage. Hopefully, other people will have the same epiphany I had.”

Emery, too, is looking for a job, and hopes to work in marketing or business development.

He said what motivated him to take on the project — as a former city councilor, a former Maine State Credit Union worker and Augusta Rotary volunteer — was the desire to help fight hunger. “I saw a lot of problems growing, and the solutions weren’t quite keeping up.”

He came up with the idea for the trip and invited 10 of his friends to go. Only Chung ended up making the trip with him.

Emery said a book about the trip is planned.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj


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