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Duke grad pedals to peddle gas alternatives

For most, traveling the 631 miles between New Haven, Conn., and Chapel Hill, N.C., means an iPod-enhanced nap on a peaceful direct flight.

But when Nick Goddard, Pratt '05, made the trip by bicycle, he hit a few bumps along the way-literally.

Last month, Goddard discovered that he was able to bike precisely 631 miles on the energy produced by a single gallon of gasoline.

"I was working on a car magazine called Winding Road and I was studying alternative fuels," Goddard explained. "I read this energy comparison chart and it said gas had 31,000 calories and that seemed like a whole lot of energy."

Calories are a unit of energy that is defined as the amount of heat needed to raise the temperature of one gram of water by one degree Celsius.

He explained that a bicycle is 10 times more energy-efficient than cars such as the hybrid car like the Toyota Prius.

"Even really fuel-efficient vehicles still guzzle fuel," he said.

This new information, along with the reality of constantly rising gas prices, inspired Goddard to take a hands-on approach to studying and educating others on more efficient modes of transportation.

With his dad's old bicycle, a calorimeter to measure how many calories he burned and a steady diet of high-calorie foods from places such as Taco Bell, Goddard decided to see how far the energy equivalent of one gallon of gasoline would take him riding on his bicycle.

Munching on energy bars as he rode, Goddard stayed at various youth hostels and cheap hotels on his eight-day journey.

He summed up the strategy for his trip as "eat and ride."

With the help of the calorimeter, Goddard calculated his total miles per gallon travelled using the number of calories he burned-31,000 or one gallon of gas-and the distance he rode, 631 miles.

At 12 to13 mph, Goddard rode an average of 80 to 100 miles per day-once clocking as many as 130 miles.

"The ride definitely took some time but it wasn't unduly strenuous," Goddard said. "At 12 to 15 mph your body can rebuild itself as long as you provide it with food."

The cross-country trek inspired excitement in some, especially from supporters who learned and kept track of the project on Goddard's blog. In others, like Goddard's family and friends, the trip raised concerns. "They thought it was kind of kooky," he said with a laugh.

Goddard said his mother's support for the project eased his nerves, and after only a week of preparation, he set off on his journey.

The worries of Goddard's family, however weren't completely unfounded.

"The scariest part was in Germantown, a part of Philadelphia," he wrote in an e-mail. "At 10:30 p.m. on a Friday night, I still had eight miles to go to the youth hostel. I asked directions at a Dairy Queen and two cops said that I was about to go through the roughest part of town, and that they would give me their guns if they could."

Two patrons at the restaurant offered to give Goddard a ride for the eight miles to the hostel.

The next day, Goddard spoke to a woman staying at the hostel and found out how lucky he really was-she said one of her friends had been through that area and had been assaulted by a couple of teenagers who broke his jaw simply because they were bored.

Goddard has no immediate plans for any other adventurous energy projects, but said he is "always up for doing something."

For now, that something is trying to get a job at a solar energy company in New York and getting his story in a bicycling magazine.

Goddard said that his trip was more about proving a point than about convincing people to embrace bicycles as their preferred method of transportation, noting the feasibility of utilizing alternative fuels such as diesel, biodiesel and ethanol in the near future.

He added that the current energy problem is multi-faceted and requires a combination of solutions.

"More obvious improvements in personal transport will come as city planners incorporate more pedestrian districts, pedestrian bridges, bike parking and cycle routes into urban areas, while at the same time embracing traffic circles and smart traffic lights to deal with cars and educate drivers and cyclists about sharing the road," Goddard said.

"The three [bicycles, pedestrians and cars] can work together."


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