Story last updated at 6/6/2012 - 2:11 pm
Biking across America
Is the American Dream achievable for young people?
One young man from Kodiak sets out to prove it is.
John McDonald is concerned. He's concerned that Americans, particularly younger ones, are losing hope. He's lived on Kodiak Island in Alaska his entire life. He just graduated high school on May 20. On May 21 he started Day One of his attempt to show other young people across America that they can obtain the American Dream.
His plan is to bike from Kodiak to Florida, where he will be attending film school this fall. Along the trip he plans to gather video footage for a documentary named "Finding my America." His hope is that the film will illustrate that America still gives people the ability to achieve their dreams.
His platform is to stop at various Subway sandwich stores along his journey and ask customers two questions: "What is your favorite Subway sandwich?" and "What do you love about America?"
McDonald chose Subway as a destination spot as he believes it embodies the entrepreneurial spirit that so many Americans have come to believe is impossible to achieve.
"Subway was founded on the American Dream," said McDonald, in a recent phone interview.
He explained that Frank Deluca, the founder of Subway, wanted to become a doctor, but he didn't have enough money to attend medical school. So Deluca opened up a sandwich shop, which is now the thriving Subway chain.
"Now he's shared this entrepreneurial attitude with the world," McDonald said. "(Any American) Can save some money and open up a Subway."
"(The ability) To wake up one day, and go 'I want to make a career out of selling homemade shoes,'" and do just that, is something McDonald believes America affords its residents. But it's also an ability, he believes, that Americans perceive as a pipedream. Growing up in the isolated area of Kodiak, where his access to national news was restricted to radio, the internet and television, McDonald said that he has been fed the notion that people his age just cannot pursue whatever they please and expect to make a living.
After a high school trip to New York City, McDonald was confronted with quite the opposite message.
"The trip was a blast," he said. "I started realizing things that I had been told about America that I didn't find to be true."
The second question McDonald will ask, "What do you love about America?" is the more important one. "The goal is to try and get as many people showing they truly love this country," McDonald said.
McDonald started biking when he was around six years old.
"Once I realized there was so much you could do with a bike, I just started exploring more," he said. "It's a beautiful thing when you're out by yourself, just you and the road and the bicycle."
McDonald began making short films when he was in middle school.
"I just really started getting into the whole details of film two years ago and starting pursuing it as something I would want to do with the rest of my life."
He made a large local splash when he produced a film showing his high school's dilapidated condition, in response to the repeated denial of a bond for the school's renovation during local elections. McDonald's father, Stewart, who happens to be the Kodiak superintendent of schools, did not find out about the film until it was made. The renovation bond passed.
McDonald also made a film as part of a scholarship application to Full Sail University, the film school in Orlando, Fla. His film was a success, earning him enough for a year's tuition.
McDonald's decision to apply to film school was a no-brainer for him, but his parents were skeptical.
"He kept his parents deceived. He led us to believe he was headed to a 'traditional' school, possibly to study psychology," said Stewart McDonald, his father.
Upon learning of their son's decision to attend film school, his parents threw him every potential obstacle he should consider.
"They were asking questions," McDonald said of the first month after his decision. "Once they figured out it wasn't a phase, that I was determined, that I wanted to make it my career, they started helping me out with it."
"It made more sense, it really does," Stewart McDonald said.
In preparation for his trip, McDonald made a commercial prototype, which he posted to his blog. The short film depicts McDonald biking around the scenic roads of Kodiak, and entering a local Subway, with highlights of customers' answers to his two questions. The idea behind this was to get Subways across the nation on board with his mission. He's used the prototype as an example of what he would like to do for more Subway stores: a 30 second commercial.
"(The commercials will encompass) The family relationship, the strong bond between the Subway and the community, and how Subway is the community; how the community is Subway; how there's no difference," McDonald said. "Not a single community I go through will likely be the same."
He's had positive contact with 515 Subway stores.
"Basically, all of them have said, 'We'll talk when you get here,' not really trusting that I would come through," McDonald said. "The numbers might sky rocket once people see I'm actually doing the trip."
Six Subways have agreed to purchase McDonald's commercials, tailored to reflect the specific community in which each Subway is located. These stores include one in Bellingham, Wash., Tonasket, Wash., one to six shops in Kansas, Statesboro, Ga., a shop in Virginia and one in Key West, Fla.
Full Sail University requires a freshman year film project. McDonald will use the footage from his trip from Kodiak to Orlando, including the interviews at Subway stores used in various commercials, to produce "Finding my America."
On May 21, the day after McDonald graduated, he spent the day biking and filming around his hometown. He visited the local Subway stations, and worked on fine-tuning his gear. At 4 a.m. the next day, the typical time he used to wake up for a before school bike ride, he boarded a ferry for Homer, Alaska. His plan is to bike from Homer to Anchorage, where he will be met by the owner of Subway of Alaska, Steve Adams. Adams will house McDonald while he is in Anchorage, and take him to at least one Subway shop.
McDonald will then leave from Whittier on June 4. His ferry will stop in two Southeast Alaska towns, Juneau, and Ketchikan. He hopes to meet up with local cyclists in each city, ride around the towns, film, and visit local Subway shops.
Once in Bellingham, McDonald will begin his long journey down to Orlando. In addition to Subway stores, he plans to take any opportunity to talk with as many local residents as is possible and realistic.
"I'm going to try and get them to share their story with the world; there are inspirational stories out there. There are small businesses that are successful. There are American Dream chasers that have made a great name for themselves. No one hears about that," McDonald said.
To meet and cycle with McDonald in Juneau, his ferry will be in port from 1-4 p.m. on June 6. He will be in Ketchikan from noon-3 p.m. on June 7.
For more information on John McDonald's bike and film tour, and to view several videos chronicling his preparation and trip to date, visit www.johnsamericabiketour.com.