Man to bike to Mardi Gras for special cause

Photos by Brittney Lohmiller/The Herald
Danny Schnell of Schnellville will start a 16-day bike ride to New Orleans on Jan. 24 to attend his 40th Mardi Gras celebration. “I can get there in less time,” Schnell said. “But I want to give myself time in case of bad weather.” This will be his seventh long distance bike ride.  Schnell partnered with Indiana Donor Network to use this ride to help raise money and awareness. Above, Schnell prepared to bike from his home to Birdseye as part of his training Wednesday morning.

By ALLEN LAMAN
alaman@dcherald.com

SCHNELLVILLE — Danny Schnell is known as the bicycle guy in Dubois County.

Later this month, he will embark on a roughly 1,000-mile journey from his Southwestern Indiana home to New Orleans. The ride is a celebration of the 40th year he has visited the city’s Mardi Gras celebration, as well as an opportunity for him to raise money for the Indiana Donor Network — an organization especially close to his heart.

Schnell’s son, Josh Schnell of Newburgh, has undergone two kidney transplants, and several Schnellville residents have received organ transplants in the past decade.

“The idea is to raise money for the Indiana Donor Network, but it’s also to raise awareness to get people to think about becoming organ donors,” Schnell said. “That’s really the big thing. Because without organ donations and people that were willing to do it, my son wouldn’t be alive right now.”

Schnell, 62, started long-distance riding in 1982. His first trek was from Dubois County to Los Angeles — a roughly three-month experience during which he rode about 5,500 miles, mostly on state highways. He left home with $40 and no cell phone.

“I think they probably thought I was crazy,” Schnell said with a smile. “And that hasn’t changed much over the years.”

The self-employed real estate investor said his desire to accomplish great bicycling feats began during his time at Birdseye and Forest Park high schools. He wanted to accomplish a great athletic feat, but it just never panned out. He later got a job at Jasper Corporation and had a lot of time to think on the assembly line. After reading a newspaper story about a man who walked across the nation, he couldn’t get the idea out of his head.

“I wanted to do something to stand out,” Schnell said.

So, he did it. Over the years, he has made a total of six lengthy hauls including trips along the south and east coasts, from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean and in Europe. Past charities he has collected money for include the American Heart Association, Red Cross, and Ronald McDonald House Charities.

In his earlier trips, he slept in a tent, in church basements, and on strangers’ couches if they would have him. He got by on donated meals from diners, restaurants and families that supported his causes.

This trip, he will stay in hotels. It marks his first, long ride in more than a decade.

Schnell biked along Schnellville Road last week to train for his upcoming ride to New Orleans to attend Mardi Gras and to raise awareness and money for the Indiana Donor Network.

Sometimes, he said, taking free food made him feel bad. When leaving a restaurant on a trip to Wisconsin and the northern states, Schnell said he talked with a woman and told her he felt like a bum. She told him that because he was riding for a good cause, his presence was unique and powerful. He said he needed to hear that, and their conversation is something that has stuck with him to this day.

“She helped me a lot,” Schnell said. “I don’t know who she was, don’t know her name, but I thought of her a lot. She kind of put it in perspective.”

And he hasn’t hit a determination wall since. He was hit by a car on a trip to Mardi Gras in 2006 — his last long-distance ride — cutting that trip short. He was uninjured but shook up and returned to riding about two months later.

“You can’t live your life in fear,” he said.

Schnell doesn’t have a rigourous training schedule, and he noted he cycles an average of 2,500 miles a year. If he doesn’t ride a lot one week, who knows, he might make up for it the next week.

He said he isn’t a fast rider, but said slow and steady works well for him.

Those wishing to donate to Schnell can send checks paid to the Indiana Donor Network to Birdseye P.O. Box 41 with “Danny Schnell bicycle ride” on the memo line. Donations can also be submitted on the Indiana Donor Network website, indianadonornetwork.org/give.

Schnell will leave Dubois County on Jan. 24 and arrive in front of the French Quarter Suites Hotel in New Orleans at 11 a.m. on Friday, Feb. 9. This year, Mardi Gras falls on Tuesday, Feb. 13.

His wife, Julie, is fully supportive of the trips. She said she used to think her husband was unique until she saw one of the mountainous roads he cycled.

“And then I said, ‘Now I just think you’re crazy,’” she said with a laugh.




More on DuboisCountyHerald.com