Day 67 – Washington D.C.

At last. Or is today a day I’ve been dreading? As tired as I am of biking every day, I already know that I am going to miss all of my teammate – my new brothers. Getting on our bikes, most of us acted as if today would be like any other day on the bike. We laughed and joked. No one wanted to talk about arriving to the capitol building. But as we left stageup, which was at George Washington University, and started biking the last 3 miles to the Capitol, it suddenly hit us. We were all silent, reminiscing to our selves. There was a weird sense of silence in our minds, even as the city was bustling, and the tourists were out taking pictures. I wasn’t sure how I would handle the end, but as I biked the last hundred yards to Capitol lawn, the sight of the awaiting crowd struck me deep. There were hundreds of parents and families, friends and loved ones. I couldn’t help and look around, seeing some of my teammates in tears, and get red eyed myself. But we got off our bikes, tried to keep a straight face while saying our hellos to people we knew, and walked up the lawn. We stood together as a team at the top of the hill as the crowd was addressed by the CEO of Push America. Time flew by and next thing I knew everyone was all over the place. I found my parents and of course, each hug lasted 5 minutes, at least. But what I was looking forward to most, other that saying hi to everyone, was to hold my bike, my precious bike, over my head with the capitol in the background. I felt as if I had just won the superbowl and I was holding the trophy. This was, for me, the moment I had worked towards for the past year.

I’d like to end this blog with a final thank you. Here is something I wrote for everyone that has supported me along the way.

The only disability in life is a bad attitude. That is how I, and all of my fellow teammates who accomplished this mission with me, have come to think. Whether I talk to my parents or my friends about this summer, what I can convey are nothing but stories. Stories do not do this summer justice. Stories cannot describe the feeling of landing at Oakland airport nervous and full of doubt, unsure of what the summer will entail and scared as hell because of it. Stories cannot describe the emotions running through my mind and the thrill of crossing the Golden Gate Bridge. Stories cannot describe the mental and physical pain and exhaustion I felt every second of the 11 hours it took me to climb the 12,000 feet to Lake Tahoe or the pride in my voice as I said “thank you” to the 6 women of a small town of 70 in Austin, NV who spent their entire weekend driving to a Walmart a couple hundred miles away in order to provide for us a meal to sustain us for another day. Stories cannot describe the happiness of jumping in a swimming hole in Griswold, IA, playing wheelchair ice hockey in Milwaukee, WI, or running up and down the sand dunes on the way to South Bend, IN, all while thinking in the back of my mind that we have a hard day of biking the next day and I should conserve my energy, but knowing that this summer will only happen once. No regrets. Stories cannot describe the fulfillment in my heart as I see a 12 year old boy with a developmental disability in Ann Arbor ride a 2 wheel bike by himself after training for 6 years, and seeing his mom jump up and down with tears of joy. Stories cannot describe the awe of finally reaching the summit of a mountain in Maryland after biking up through the early morning fog, wiping the sweat of my forehead, and looking left and right at the teammates next to me who I know, without exchanging any words, feel the exact same way I do. Stories cannot describe the jumble of emotions running through my body as I biked the last quarter mile to capital lawn, red-eyed, through the crowd of family and friends, as it finally hit me – I did what I thought I never could.

Every day, the Journey of Hope has been an adventure that has brought me new challenges. I have spent a summer with many inspiring individuals whose approach to life has taught me that you can overcome any challenge with the right attitude.  Your contribution, your words of support, and your belief in me and in this cause have undoubtedly given me the determination and perseverance to believe in myself and this Journey. All the challenges I’ve faced along the way are nothing compared to the challenges faced on a daily basis by these individuals I’ve spent my summer with. But if I have come to learn one thing this summer, it is that we should be focusing on people’s abilities instead of their disabilities, and this can be applied to everyone. So, thank you again in making me realize that I can make a difference in their lives; and that I will continue to do so in whatever capacity I have.

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Days 62 to 66 – This is the end.

Day 62 – Pittsburgh, PA day 2: Breakfast was actually right outside the hotel restaurant in their outdoor seating area. We had a huge breakfast sponsored by some of the Pittsburgh chapter brothers and alumni. We actually had a couple hours after that, so we went back upstairs and watched some tv for a while before heading to our friendship visit!  The friendship visit was at a center for people with cerebral palsy and a couple other disabilities, but most of the people there were confined to wheelchairs. We had a “tailgate” inside which included bbq, pierogies, and some other typical tailgate snacks. Lots of people were also dressed up in Steelers and Pirates apparel. After that, we had some more time off to hang out. We went back to the same ice cream shop and I got a root beer float this time. The rest of the time until dinner was spent either watching Anchorman or Ace Ventura, we watched both that day. Dinner was at a camp called Woodlands with about 40 campers and the Build America team! The camp does a fun thing where if you get caught eating with your elbows on the table, somebody will start a chant and you have to run around the cafeteria building. HOWEVER, it was also fair game to throw cups of water on them as they ran around and even right as they tried to enter, so that was fun. We also did a program that night where we talked about some of the challenges we faced and how it related to many of their lives. It was actually a very good program that apparently had a large impact on many of the campers. The next day, we got an email from the camp director telling us that many of the campers had said things like, “how did they know what I was going through” and many had been very inspired. I didn’t see the impact we had because we were only there for a couple of hours, but many of the people in the audience were given hope for their future, and that is more rewarding than just about anything else on this trip. That evening, back at the hotel, I helped Jason out with a fantasy football draft.

Day 63 – Uniontown, PA: Today I rode with Jeff for the short 55 miles to Uniontown. The ride was fairly easy, but towards the end there were some steep climbs. About 40 miles in there was a huge, steep climb that most of us wouldn’t have been able to finish at all if it was the beginning of the trip. But it was cool to see us all power through the hill and make it all the way to the top at a relatively fast rate. We reached lodging, which was a YMCA, and we quickly ate lunch and got ready to go white water rafting! We were sponsored by a past Pi Alpha brother who hooked us up with this team event. Needless to say the rafting was a blast and a great way to relax. In my raft it was Jeff, Jack, Austin, and Blake. We aced every rapid and none of us fell out unless we wanted to. After rafting we web straight to dinner sponsored by the Knights of Columbus. We had a wonderful meal and continued the tradition by taking a photo under the gazebo that stands outside the Knights of Columbus. There a huge volleyball game in the yard next to dinner as the sun was setting.

Day 64 – Cumberland, MD: The next three days of biking were all hyped up. We reached the brunt of the Appalachians and had between 4000-8000 feet of climbing each day. Today was a 60 mile but 7000 feet of climbing day. I started the day riding with Derek and Jack, but a couple of miles in Jack’s chain broke and he fell back to the sweeps to get his bike fixed. Derek and I kept on going and we hit every hill hard. Climbing, climbing, climbing. The hills would never end, but on the plus side, the downhills were awesome! Towards the end we had a 7 mile stretch of downhill where we almost hit 50 mph! We finished the day exhausted but satisfied with our riding. The YMCA we stayed at had nice showers and a nice brand new turf field for us to nap on, so it was a great few hours of down time. I ended up going to Walmart to drink my chocolate milk. We voted on our favorite friendship visit of the summer before dinner, and the winner was PEAC! PEAC is a growing operation out of Ann Arbor that teaches kids with disabilities how to ride a bike! They see biking as a way to integrate into the community and develop confidence. Then, dinner was at a nice state park under a shelter with the local Rotary Club. After getting back to the Y we had to move our stuff over to their elementary school building where we stayed for the night. We had a fun team event and went to bed in a good mood.

Day 65 – Hagerstown, MD: I got on the bike thinking that the ride would be pretty easy, but it ended up being close to 6000 feet of climbing, on top of the 75 miles. But the good thing about todays ride, other that the thrill of riding through the fog, was the hugh pelaton we formed. About 20 of us decided to “break rules” and we all rode together for the day. Apart from riding in a big group, it was hard staying on the bike. A lot of us were homesick or burnt out from all the riding. I know I was. But we reached lodging, which was at the Potomac Center which is a center for people with disabilities. We had some free time in which I cleaned my bike some, took a shower, and had ate some snacks the center provided for us! Dinner was an interesting experience, but definitely a good one. Many of the clients with disabilities had previous records of trouble with the law. So the center was more of a rehab place. After dinner I went to the bike shop to get my bike fixed. It was making an annoying clicking sound each time I pedaled.

Day 66 – Bethesda, MD: Today was pretty much the last ride. Waking up, it was hard to imagine that the summer was coming to the end. I decided to bike today with Beau and Jason, the two guys I biked with the first day of the journey. It was only fitting. It was also only fitting that I crashed today 15 miles in. The roads were very slick after a night of heavy rain and I went around a turn and tried to slow down before crossing a bridge, but my back tire gave out and I fishtailed and wiped out. Luckily I was only going 15 miles an hour and my only injury was some road rash on my shoulder and elbow. The biggest injury was to my pride. It was the only crash of the trip. But Beau, Jason, and I took the ride easy, reminiscing of the past 2 months. We stopped 30 miles in at a McDonalds to eat some more. We got though the ride just fine though and arrived to Landon High School, which was an amazing private high school. We had Subway when we got there for lunch and then had some free time to shower, pack our bags to be shipped ahead to DC, and relax. The locker rooms had huge, open showers. It’s funny to think about how different our team handles group showers now compared to back in the first week. Dinner tonight was with all 3 Journey of Hope teams and the Build America team. We got to show off our sick North Route shirts that we designed. Upon getting back, we polished our bikes, took some van pictures, and did jersey signing for everybody with the jerseys we had worn all summer. Then, we had our very last team meeting. After that we goofed around, but I could sense that all of us were nervous about the next day. As one guy put it best, tomorrow shouldn’t be something we get depressed about (none of us wanted to go home), but we should look at it as the day we had been working towards for the last 66 days.

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Days 57 to 61 – Roller Coaster to the Appalachians

Day 57 – Sandusky, OH: At last! For a lot of the trip we had been talking about this day. Most people had heard of Cedar Point and its fame, but they never had a chance to go. After leaving Toledo we had 65 miles and only a couple hours to reach Sandusky. Even though we were short of time, the entire team finished, even though many people were plagued by flat tires. Our arrival was at a marina where we were greeted to a friendship visit/lunch. There we hung out with clients, played some cornhole, and danced. The friendship visit was with Ability Works, an organization that provides opportunity for employment. After going to lodging, which was the Ability Works office, we went to Cedar Point. First we ate outside in the picnic area where we treated to a delicious sponsored dinner by the parents of a past Pi Alpha. We rushed through dinner so we could make most of our 2 hours at the park. Jason, Derek, Luke, and I went our own way in order to tackle as many of the rides as possible. First we went on the Top Thrill Dragster, then onto Magnum, followed by Magnum, Gatekeeper, and finally Mantis. We had a great time.

Day 58 – Cleveland, OH: The night before, we had a drawing to decide our pacelines for today. Normally we pick but because we had a short day of riding we decided we’d turn it into a “race.” I ended up riding with Reggie and Mike Jones, and we booked it the entire day. We averaged around 21 MPH and at a point Reggie pulled us to 30 mph, which was insane! After reaching the city we put our bikes away on the Case Western, where we stayed at an empty Delta Gamma house. Then we left for a sponsored baseball game, Indians vs. White Sox, where Jason and I met one of our friends Jess. The Indians won and we had a great time at the ball game. After having some time to relax after the game, we went to dinner at a park in Willoughby. The sponsor was an alumni initiate of Pi Kappa Phi and also the father to a pi alpha that did north route. We had a good pasta dinner with some delicious brownies. We played corn hole, played volleyball, and even played on the playground a bit before and after dinner too. The real fun happened after we got back tonight. Naturally, we wanted to eat following the leadership meeting we had. So, we raided the crew vans for all of the food that won’t be eaten otherwise. We ended up having a race to eat a pack of shot blocks (lost) and people were trying to eat a scoop of the gatorade powder (won). We also observed what happens when you slam a pressurized 2 liter bottle on the ground. I think it did a flip before jetting off into the nearby forest area. After that, we needed to get rid of the bananas. Now, we have been talking about the “fizzy monkey” challenge for quite some time now. The challenge is to eat 2 bananas and then drink at least a liter of sprite. It is supposed to make you throw up, but I think more Sprite than a liter would be required for that. Anyway, about 8 of us went to buy Sprite and so I just got three cans to drink, which was just over a liter. Even though I ate the bananas and drank the Sprite way faster than the other four guys attempting it, I didn’t really feel bad at all afterwards. Even after the parking lot sprints and 20 push ups. The other guys didn’t feel so well afterwards, but they were all fine. Another funny thing also happened… About 4 cop cars and SUVs rolled up to our (empty, dark with one light) parking lot next to lodging with their lights on and everything and kind of surrounded us. They saw a security camera of guys chugging from cans, walking around the sorority dorm, and stuff like that. so it was honestly pretty funny to show off our 15 cans of Sprite and 10 banana peels. One of the cops actually stayed after the others left and joked about how he would always drink cheap energy drinks when he was in service in Kuwait and how he ate so many Cliff bars there. So, we pretty much had a lot in common. The cops were fine with it though and left us alone after that.

Day 59 – Cleveland, OH day 2: The second day was a great day as well. We started with a visit to the Cleveland clinic to visit kids with chronic pain and  other various conditions. It was a 3 week program, but some kids had been there for well over a month. The last puppet show was here too and it was great. Jess was in town again so she bought Saurabh and I smoothies, which was awesome! Then, Jason’s family and grandma came up to see him as well! They met us at the smoothie shop and then, with the team, we went to Melt Bar and Grilled. Best grilled cheeses and maybe best restaurant I’ve been to on this trip. I had a banana, honey grilled cheese, which was awesome! They also had a 5 pound food challenge. Over 13 types and 3 pounds of cheese with fries and cole slaw. Our guys were 0/2.

Day 60 – Niles, OH: The ride into Niles was a fun 55 miles through farms, hills, and Amish country. It was an interesting ride because I rode with Chris and Jesus. jesus is a crew member but decided that today he would bike. Surprising he finished the day (the other two crew members attempting to ride that day didn’t finish). Given, we did have to stop at least three times up each hill for him to rest and there were times where Chris had to push him up a hill, which was entertaining to watch. The best part of the day was when we stopped in the middle of Amish country and Jesus lost balance and fell right into a ditch filled with dirty farm water! This probably happened in plain sight of a couple of Amish farmers and some carriage that was passing us! After making it to lodging we showered up and went to the gym where we had a friendship visit/dance. That night we went to olive garden where I wolfed down breadsticks and ate tons of pasta. Then we went to the mall just to kill time before going to bed.

Day 61 – Pittsburgh, PA: The ride into Pittsburgh was a difficult but enjoyable 80 miles. I rode with Blake and Matt and for the first half of the ride we went at a pretty average pace. But once we reached the Pennsylvania border we decided that we wanted to be the first paceline to finish (mostly to prevent Mike Jones from finishing first), and we picked up the pace a lot! There was a stretch of road for about 10 miles where us and another paceline joined forces and rode in a pelaton at no less that 23 mph. Then we reached some hills and Blake and Matt really pushed me to bike faster. As difficult as the ride was, it was awesome to push each other to bike faster and admire the beautiful countryside. So we reached Pittsburgh first, biking straight to the river, and coincidentally next to a penitentiary. There we ate lunch….. which was sponsored Chipotle! Luckily in Pitt we were able to stay in a hotel right outside of the University of Pittsburgh. After showering we went to a bowling alley for an hour or two of bowling and sponsored dinner by the parents of a past Pi Alpha. That was a really good time.

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Days 52 to 56: “Home” stretch

Day 52 – South Bend, IN: We woke up this morning to a weird feeling of knowing that we had 93 miles to bike to South Bend, the longest ride left on the trip. I rode the day with Michael Walton and Spencer Hayworth. Spencer is one of the crew members but trained the past couple weeks off and on to do a ride along with us one of the days. So we departed downtown right next to Lake Michigan and rode next to the lake for a good 10 miles, which was beautiful. But after leaving Chicago we rode into some pretty impoverished parts of the country that not many people drive through. But once we biked through the outskirts of Chicago and Gary, IN (where Michael Jackson was born), we reached some nice country roads. For lunch we stopped along the lake near some Sand Dunes where we had some sponsored subs and some time to explore the area. After eating we jumped into the freezing lake and quickly ran back out. It was awesome to look across the lake, into the horizon, and catch glimpses of the skyscrapers of Chicago, barely visible to the naked eye, and then trace it around the lake to where we were standing and realize visually how far we’ve come (about 45 miles). We explored some sand dunes, climbing up and then running back down and enjoying the burn in our hamstrings, knowing we were about to get back on the bike.  The rest of the bike to lodging was nice, but at about mile 70 Spencer really started cramping up. But with the support of Michael and me, and a lot of his own determination, he got back on the bike and finished the day strong. We stayed at a brand new high school called Saint Joseph’s and after arriving, quickly got ready for dinner at the Knights of Columbus. Then, following dinner Colin’s mom treated the team to ice cream at a local, old-fashion ice cream place, where I had a delicious brownie sundae.

Day 53 – Kalamazoo, MI: Today was a nice 65 mile ride through relatively easy terrain, except for the notoriously bad Michigan roads. I rode with Colin and we made pretty good pace until about 50 miles in I got a flat tire. It took me about 10 minutes to change it, and after 20 minutes back on the bike, it started to rain! The thrill of biking through the rain was awesome, and I couldn’t believe at the time how happy Colin was to be biking through the rain. It was a heavy rain and we were soaked to the bone, but when we reached lunch at about mile 60 we we were both smiling as we took our shoes off and watched water pour out. By then it had stopped raining and we sat down to enjoy a nice sponsored lunch from one of Spencer’s family friends. After talking for a short while after lunch, we departed for lodging at Western Michigan University. We stayed in the dorms and I roomed with Doug. After a delicious sponsored dinner, where half of what I ate was macaroni and cheese and the other half chocolate eclairs, a lot of us went to a local movie theatre where tickets were only $3! We saw Monsters U, which was hilarious by the way, and drove back to lodging for the night where we just hung out. At this point I could feel a cold coming on, and it sucked knowing that many of my other teammates were sick. So I took a couple Advil and went to bed.

Day 54 – East Lansing, MI: I woke up pretty miserable, with a terrible headache and a fever. What made it worse was that it was 50 degrees outside and raining. I really did not want to ride that day, but I went to the van, put on a rain jacket (which did absolutely nothing to keep me dry), took some more advil, and got back on the bike. The ride was a solid 85 miles, 60 of which were through rain. I rode that day with Kyle Marpe and Dan Jeong, Dan being another crew member who wanted to bike for the day. Even though he can do handstands and breakdance off the bike, on the bike his balance was pretty poor. But he was a pretty strong rider, and we rode at a solid 20 mph for the first 40 miles. Then we hit some hills and his energy died. But we biked, slow and steady, through the rain, all the way till the end. After arriving to the hotel we were sponsored to stay at for the night we were treated to an awesome lunch, after which I showered up and went to the bike shop to get some repairs. We also did a thing at lunch that was cool. People who rode 2 years ago had written letters and sealed them. Today, those letters were opened and we got to read some of them. In turn, we wrote letters for future JoH guys.

Day 55 – Ann Arbor, MI: We woke up at around the normal wake up time of about 530 and departed to Ann Arbor, about 65 miles. I rode with Austin Shepard and Reggie Quaye. The ride was actually quite fun, mostly because we were at the front of the pack and turned the ride into a kind of race. For the second half of the ride we took quick turns pulling the paceline in order to stay ahead of the pacelines behind us. We arrived to Ann Arbor first and quickly ate lunch, which was Little Caesars Pizza. Then we went to the lodging for the night, which was a dorm on  north quad. After checking in and showering we quickly went to our friendship visit which was with PEAC. They work with local kids in 11 areas of the midwest to help them learn how to bike. For me, the most influential part of that hour was seeing a kid, who had been with PEAC for a couple years, finally start and stop a two wheel bike by himself. It was moving to see his mother jump in joy to see her son achieve the goal he had been working towards for so long. Our next friendship visit and dinner was with people who have suffered traumatic brain injuries. The main event that night was “mock rock” which featured performance of dancing, lip singing, and lots of air guitar. My favorite group was a group dressed up as kiss with the makeup and wigs and everything. After this we had some free time where Jason and I met up with one of our friends, Bobby, who lives in Ann Arbor. We got some food and hung out for the evening before calling it a night.

Day 56 – Toledo, OH: After waking up we were treated to a delicious breakfast of yogurt, fresh bagels, croissants, and fruit by the parents of a previous Pi Alpha. I rode with Beau as sweeps because we are both from the Toledo area and the ride was pretty straight forward, except for some pretty bad roads. Towards the border of OH, we ran into some terrible stretches of road and many of us had flat tires. Our stage up was on UT’s campus, also where we had our arrival. We rode in our double pacelines to a crowd of family and friends. It was nice riding up to my family and some family friends. After showering we split up and did a quick friendship visit. I went to the Sunshine home where we had a tour and met with some clients. Dinner was a special treat as well. We went to Outback Steakhouse and I had some pasta. The food was great, and it’s always nice to go back to a restaurant once in a while. Then, on top of a great dinner, we were treated to massages that evening. I had a 30 minute full body massage and it was incredible. I left feeling good, but I really just enjoyed the 30 minutes of relaxation during the massage. After the massage we all went to my house where we had some deserts in the back yard. I met a lot of my supporters and I had a great time talking to everyone and having a nice, relaxing evening.

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Days 40 to 51

Day 40 – Marshaltown: Breakfast was also sponsored by Dave at our lodging. We were racked for the first 15 miles of the ride because of some terrible traffic, lots of turns, and dangerous roads. We got our bikes back at Adventureland, just outside of the city, and had 45 miles left to ride to Marshaltown. I rode with Beau and Sanjeev, and it was a pretty boring ride. The challenge for the day was to eat a whole banana, peels and everything. From what I heard it didn’t taste too bad. After arriving we went directly to a really nice water park fitted with diving board, water slides, and a (not so lazy) lazy river! After playing around for a couple hours we got back in the vans and drove to lodging. A surprise to us, we were sponsored to stay in a hotel that night, the Comfort Inn. We quickly showered up and headed to our friendship visit, bowling with the ARC of Marshaltown. If you couldn’t tell by now, many of our friendship visits are with local ARCs, organizations that support local people with disabilities. Bowling was a lot of fun, and I bowled a career high of like 140ish. The two gentlemen Austin and I played with were pretty good and almost beat me on both games. We got back from bowling pretty late and we just hung out for a little bit before going to sleep for our 6am wake up the next day.

Day 41 – Cedar Rapids: So the days leading up to this ride, we were told by Kevin, the Iowa expert, that the city is big in cereal production, so it smelled like burnt cereal. The ride was a long 95 miles through lots of humidity and crappy roads with huge pot holes every 100 feet. But the ride went by smooth, I rode with Austin and Jason that day so we had some good conversations on the bike. We reached the city and rode straight to our lodging for the night, a nice ARC center which was right next to a YMCA that provided us with showers. Since the ARC was an office building we slept in conference rooms and hallways that night, which was a nice change of pace from echoing gym floors. Dinner was combined with a friendship visit right outside the ARC with clients of the organization. It was really fun, but really hot. You could clearly tell that some people, like Kyle, danced their hearts out because they were soaked in sweat by the end of the night.

Day 42 – Iowa City: The ride to Iowa City was a short 30 miles, and I made the ride with Sanjeev and Jeff. We rode hard the entire way and staged up at a park just outside the city. Some of the guys put on a mock puppet show/rap battle to kill time until the police escort showed up. When they arrived we got into our double pace lines and made our way to the old capitol building, since Iowa City is the “old capitol.”  There we were welcomed by some people from the local Arc and we hung out with them for a while. From there we biked over to a University of Iowa dining hall where we had a cafeteria lunch that reminded me of Miami a lot. After lunch we made our way to lodging which was at a community rec center. There some of us took a swim before heading out to a bike shop and then the Iowa Pi Kapp house to get a tour from Kevin. Unfortunately when I left my swim shorts in the locker room to dry they were stolen by a local guest, but that is my fault I guess for leaving it out. Our dinner was at the Arc where it was more laid back and we just talked with clients. After that we went and walked around town for a bit having fun and eating more food.

Day 43 – Davenport: Todays ride was a mere 60 miles through the same type of terrain and weather. We rolled up to our lodging, which was a sponsored hotel, and coincidentally met the mayor of the city outside. We were all sweaty sitting outside waiting for our room assignments and the mayor just walked outside about to leave from a function. We talked to him for a while, told him all about what we were doing, and he hooked us up with a couple of media interviews, which was pretty awesome. After showering and taking a quick nap, we went to our dinner which was at a local pool that was rented out by an organization like the Arc. There we spent the evening swimming and having fun with a range of people with all kinds of disabilities. It was a blast hanging out with them and just making jokes, jumping off diving boards, and having fun.

Day 44 – Dubuque (last day in Iowa!): Today was the start of a tough stretch for us, and was probably one of my harder days in a while. I rode with Doug and Mike Jones for the 100 miles and we kept on running into problems. The day was only charted to be 80 miles but 30 miles into the ride we ran into construction and had to do a re-route which added extra miles. On top of that the day was extremely humid with the steepest rolling hills we’ve seen yet. 40 miles into the ride I got a flat tire which set us back 15 minutes and put us in the back of the group. After catching back up Doug’s back wheel hit a big rock and bent, causing us another 25 minute delay just sitting in the sun waiting for a van to come pick him up. The last 30 miles was through pretty much mountains and 100 degree weather, so it really took a toll on us. But Mike and I pushed through and made it to lodging, Camp Albrecht, a summer camp for people with disabilities. There we were all exhausted, but after showering and eating dinner we dug deep and found the energy to have an another awesome dance with the clients. But in between showering and dinner we were actually taken to a team surprise. We all got in the vans and drove 30 minutes to the Field of Dreams movie site. The movie was shot in Iowa and the site was turned in to a tourist attraction. I’ve seen the movie but don’t remember much of it, yet it was still exciting getting on the field with a baseball bat, hitting a ball, and running the bases. After coming back, the camp provided us with dinner. Then we walked into the gym because we had a dance planned, and we were all talking about how exhausted we were and how little we wanted to dance, but as soon as we walked in we saw all the clients there and quickly dug out energy and had an amazing time.

Day 45 – Rockford, IL: The ride to Rockford was the 2nd day in our three day stretch of difficult riding. Not only did we have to ride at a fast pace to make rack point, but we also had to battle humidity and some steep climbs. This day I rode with Matt Do and Jeremy. It was a good ride, but unfortunately about 20 miles in I got another flat tire which like usual dropped us back making us fight to pick up ground again. But we fought through, made it to lunch, and kept on riding. When we reached rockford we didn’t have time to shower and went straight to an indoor sports complex to meet a group of summer campers. The kids there were from 12-21 years old and had a wide variety of disabilities, but we hung out with them and played a lot of games. First they had a mummy making contest and got to wrap us all up in toilet paper and judge who could make the best mummy. After that there were other relay competitions before we got to just hang out and talk. Dinner was at the local auto union center because of our 29 year old cyclists is actually in that union in Rockford. We had Chinese food, per team vote on Facebook a few days prior. Then, that night we watched Borat and everybody was out early! I could tell I was worn out, especially knowing that the next day was day 3 in our 3 day 300 mile stretch.

Day 46 – Waukesha, WI: I woke up and immediately knew I didn’t have the energy to make the ride, especially since all I had was white rice for dinner. I was exhausted and when I got on the bike it felt like I had already ridden 50 miles. Bad days on the bike are days that start with bad attitudes. Luckily I rode with Jack that day and he understood and told me to ride as much as I could. I started the day with the goal to just make it to the WI state border, but after getting there I told myself to ride another 10 miles and I used that mentality to get me all the way through the 95 miles. It helped that I was riding with Jack because he would just talk to me about random stuff I would bike next to him occasionally nodding my head until later on in the ride where I found more energy. Then we had a great conversation which brought us to lodging. Lodging was a nice church just outside the city where we would be staying for the next 3 days. Our event for the night was a trip to the mall. We met about 7 ladies there between the ages of 12 and probably 20 to go shopping with. Five of us went with Kate who actually had an almost identical twin but older sister Abigail. Cate couldn’t talk, and was confined to her wheel chair, but it was awesome when we were able to get a big smile out of her by reading her a book or trying on goofy sunglasses. We got her a rainbow build-a-bear that we named giggles because everytime we took Cate up or down the elevator she would start laughing. It’s crazy to think that these girls love our presence so much. I think that just goes to show that even something that seems simple to the average person can go such a long way. I’ve thought about that before, but it really hit hard tonight. Our two hours is literally something that they look forward to all year.

Day 47 – Milwaukee: The first day off in Milwaukee we were lucky enough to have a late wake up set at 1030! But because my body was so used to 530 am wake ups I still woke up at 8 and had two hours to kill. So I got some coffee and started blogging (which obviously didn’t help much because I am still 12 days behind, it is day 59 and I am in Cleveland right now). But after everyone got up we all got ready for lunch, which was sponsored by the “moms of hope,” who have been providing us with lunch for a while. From there we went to go bowling with a spina bifida group, which was a lot of fun. Unfortunately this time my bowling got worse and I only hit the 120s. Dinner was at a nice yacht club and was sponsored by the Davidson family, yes, Harley Davidson. The sponsor was either the grandson or the nephew of Harley Davidson and his son actually rode the Journey of Hope. Normally they would take us out on their yachts but unfortunately it was pouring rain so we decided to stay in.

Day 48 – Milwaukee (day off): Today we had an earlier wake up of 630 am. Even though today was a day off biking, the day was filled with programming and friendship visits. First we went to the Independence First office for breakfast from Panera after which we went to a school where they had a summer program for kids and showed them our puppet show. Of our three puppet show skits, everyone seems to enjoy the one about Mark, an Irish kid with Cerebral Palsy. It’s actually pretty funny. After that we visited another organization that served adults with disabilities. The rest of the day was especially unique. We first went to the US Hockey Olympic training center where we got to play wheelchair ice hockey against each other! This was a blast and is a lot harder than it sounds. It takes a lot of upper body strength to get the wheelchair going and much more skill to turn the wheelchair, hold the hockey stick, and play the puck at the same time. It took us all while to get the hang of it, but after we did we were having tons of fun (minus the blisters on our hands). We played over 21 vs under 21 and I’m proud to say that the unders won. After 2 hours of this, we loaded up the wheelchairs and went to a local high school where we had dinner, wheelchair basketball, and a friendship visit all set up. Wheelchair basketball was just as fun as wheelchair hockey, but also just as difficult. We not only played against each other, but we also played with a guy that played for Alabama’s national championship team. He was crazy good, but it was amazing playing with him. The day was incredibly exhausting so as soon as we had the chance, we went to bed. But it was also very rewarding, for reasons hard to explain. I know the message we are trying to convey is that we should focus on people’s abilities, but while playing wheelchair ice hockey and basketball we got another step closer towards that.

Day 49 – Northbrook, IL: Today we had an early wakeup…. 5 am. But the reason we woke up this early was to get everything packed up in time for an early morning “yoga” session. The YMCA we stayed at offered to get us a yoga instructor for the morning. And as good as the stretches she taught us were, I was pretty sore the next couple of days.

We had to drive 10 miles outside the city in order to avoid a lot of unnecessary turns and traffic. The ride went pretty well. I rode with Travis and Austin and we were the sweeps for the day, meaning we had to wear bright orange jereseys and stay behind the rest of the bikers. So we just rode at a casual pace and only had one flat tire. The YMCA we stayed at was pretty nice, equipped with a sauna, steam room, jacuzzi, and the whole works. After getting to the YMCA we showered up and Jason, Nick, Travis, and I went to starbucks to kill some time. Our friendship visit was a cookout just outside of the Y, and was pretty fun. We played dodge ball, ate some good burgers and chicken, and a lot of people took advantage of the animal/fun-balloon making lady that was there as well. After dinner, we had a short dance before concluding our visit! Then, after a team meeting that evening, we went to our sponsor from the Y’s house for a fire and smores! She had 4 kids all about college age, so in addition to at least one of her daughter’s being there, about 20 of her friends from the neighborhood came as well. It was a nice change of pace from what we were used to at least and fun talking to everybody. Also, four guys spent about an hour learning the single ladies dance in her garage and then performed that at the end of the night! It was funny watching those guys dance and everybody enjoyed that a lot. After that, we just went back and went to bed!

Day 50 – Chicago!: The day I’ve been looking forward to since Denver! Finally, another big city that makes me feel close to home . The day began with an arrival at the Neuman Center in the city where we had lunch and hung out with the clients for an hour or so, playing basketball and talking to others in attendance. Before leaving we received a proclamation from the state (not city) of Illinois stating that the day was Push America Day.  After the friendship visit we drove downtown and had 4 hours of free time to roam the city before heading to our sponsored dinner. So Jack, Austin, Jeff, Blake, and I went quickly to Millennium Park before heading to a local sports bar for lunch.  From there we just walked around for a while before heading to a pasta place called Club Lago. After dinner, we went back to lodging, which was at a very nice resort called Eaglewood Resort & Spa, which was sponsored by one of our teammate’s parents. There was a beautiful golf course as well and I really wished I had time to play a round. That night at the hotel I met some family that lived in the area, the Jains. Sunit Fufasa, Sarina, Sahil, and Sanjana all came by to say hi and give me some much needed delicious food.

Day 51 – Chicago Day 2: Today started off early with a wake up at 700 am. We had a friendship visit at a place called Envision, an organization that provides opportunities for its clients to work. Part of the goal of this organization is to integrate its clients to the community, and we spent the morning talking to the clients and setting up a short obstacle course to help teach the clients to bike safely. For lunch we drove downtown and had some more free time in the city. Jason, Beau, Mark and I went to lunch with John Veltri, a chapter brother of ours from Miami. After that we had time to walk around, but Jason and I split off and decided to skip the tourist attractions and walk to the Northwestern Fienberg School of Medicine. We walked to security, who at first didn’t let us into the building. But he called the office of admissions and they let us in where we just looked around for a bit. Unfortunately we missed the dean by 30 minutes but I really liked the school. After that we walked back towards dinner but first stopped at a local smoothie/falafel place. Dinner was about an hour and a half after our snack at Gino’s East–famous for their deep dish pizza. It was an amazing meal provided by a member of the 2nd ever Journey of Hope. We also got to sign “JOH ’13” on the ceiling (all of the walls and some of the ceiling is covered in signatures).

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Days 32 to 39 – welcome to I-oh-waah

I’d like to start this blog off with a poem by T.J. Sullivan, a past Pi Alpha who has touched many lives in Pi Kappa Phi. The poem is called “My Fraternity,” and it was read to us last night. I find my self compelled to share this with whomever I can because it so accurately conveys what I, and my teammates, feel every day as we bike across the country. Hopefully this can break down some negative stereotypes and build better ones. It is nearly impossible to describe what we experience over this summer, but I hope you can read this long poem and maybe catch a glimpse.

MY FRATERNITY

(Remarks to the 2004 Journey of Hope Arrival Banquet, by T.J. Sullivan)

For some, fraternity is a house. A structure of walls and rooms where men live and pass time.

But my fraternity has no walls, except perhaps the rock walls of Loveland Pass at the Continental Divide, or the walls of corn in Iowa, the skyscrapers in Chicago, the orange girders of the Golden Gate Bridge, the relentless climb of Kirkwood.

For some men, fraternity is a collection of photos on a wall.

But for me, it’s the photos taken by the disposable camera I keep in my back jersey pocket. It’s the photos taken in front of the welcome signs as we cross state borders. It’s the countless snapshots taken with clients with smiles so wide you can see every tooth and most of the gums.

It’s the fireworks on the Fourth of July in a corner of America I’ve never seen before.

It’s the stories in the newspapers, and answering the same reporter’s question, “Tell me what you guys are doing exactly?” for the hundredth time.

It’s shaving EVERY DAY, remembering to zip up my jersey, remove my sunglasses, tuck in my shirt, and smile for the photos that will hang in homes and offices for years after I leave this place.

For some men, fraternity is in the parties or in a cup of beer.

For me, it’s in the gallons and gallons of water that sustain me. It’s in spotting the support vehicle every five miles or so, where I can always count on a word of encouragement. It’s in the songs that play over and over on the FM radio stations that become the soundtrack of my summer.

It’s in the faces of the kids who talk to puppets like they are real people. It’s in preparing meals or shopping in different grocery stores every day so that my guys will stay healthy enough to ride tomorrow.It’s in the children asking for autographs, and kind, incredible strangers who reach out to thank me for coming, when really, they are the ones who should be thanked.

It’s in the cry of excitement I hear from the girl in the wheelchair as I ride up for the picnic.

For some men, fraternity is the pin on the shirt or the trophies in the case.

But my fraternity is in the proclamations in the dozens of small towns celebrating our arrival. It’s in the trucks that move one lane to the left and honk their horns to say hello. It’s in the spaghetti dinner prepared by people I’ve never met, or the grease mark that just won’t scrub off my leg. It’s in the gym floors where I sleep and the lump in my throat of the volunteer who says goodbye and “see you next summer.”

It’s maintaining my place in the pace line, making my way to the front, where the wind is stronger.

For some men, fraternity is in the party that ends in the early hours of the morning.

For my fraternity, it’s in the sunrises. It’s in those quiet hours in the Nevada desert or through the Ohio farmland when the world is asleep, and all you hear is the sound of a dog barking some distance away.

It’s in my t-shirt that desperately needed a wash two days ago, and now is simply disgusting. It’s in smiling my way through my second or third flat tire of the day.

For some men, fraternity is about impressing sororities.

But for me, it’s in the cards and packages that wait for me at the next mail drop, especially the ones with the stickers and magic marker hearts all over them.  It’s about the volunteer in Nebraska who hugs me like she’s always known me. It’s about getting our butts kicked in wheelchair basketball. It’s in anticipating the look on my mom’s face as I ride on the grounds of the Capitol, and the pride in my dad’s voice while he waits patiently for mom to let go.

For some men, fraternity is about getting another event t-shirt.

But for me, fraternity is forgetting that I’m standing in front of a few thousand people in a baseball stadium, wearing Spandex. It’s riding next to Bruce Rogers into Denver, pinching myself because I’m riding next to the guy who started it all.

It’s in the phone calls from my girlfriend who understood how important this was to me. Or, in the admiration of my chapter brothers, and my real-life brother who thinks I’m cool.

It’s dancing with the young woman with the walker who makes me blush when she shamelessly hits on me.

For some men, fraternity is about pledge class unity, or leadership positions.

But for me, it’s glancing in my left rear view mirror for the first cyclist to appear as I wait alone on a roadside. It’s that moment when I realize that these guys riding beside me have become my family, and that soon this incredible journey will be a memory.

It’s about those times when we get off the bikes and just look out at a piece of scenery so breathtaking that no one says a word. Then, one guy turns away to wipe his eyes with his forearm and says, “Let’s get back on the bikes, fellas.

It’s about arriving at the end and wanting in some small way to turn around and do it again. Or in the relief in the eyes of the staff members and crew who have prayed every night for my safe return.

For some men, fraternity is about four years.

But my fraternity goes for miles and miles on two thin wheels.

I’m a Pi Kappa Phi, and I have learned the true meaning of fraternity.

I am a Pi Alpha.

I don’t know if I could’ve said any of this better myself. Sure the disposable cameras can be replaced by iPhones, but apart from that, everything is spot on.

Let me do a recap of the past week. Day 32, the ride to McCook, NE was 95 miles through hot, humid farmland. I made the ride with Alberto, and we held a good pace all the way to the end. Lunch was at a lake, which was quite pretty, but some guys decided to jump in. It turned out that the lake was filled with algae and disgusting water and I am so glad that I was too tired to take up that offer. We stayed at a church that night and dinner was sponsored by a group of ladies that made some delicious lasagna. One of our teammate’s parents sponsored us with movie tickets to one of two movies, Despicable Me 2 or White House Down. Thankfully we went to the first option, which was hilarious!

The next day, Day 33 , we rode another 90 miles to Minden, NE. I rode the day strong with Travis and Kyle Marpe. The ride was pretty miserable, especially for the first half. It was our first real experience of a strong headwind and rolling hills. The thing with rolling hills is that you take the momentum of the downhill to take you up most of the uphill, but with the headwind, trying to gain speed downhill was near impossible. The first 40 miles were pretty draining mentally, but like always we pushed through! Once we reached lunch the wind died down and the land became much flatter. Unfortunately right after we left the lunch stop, Kyle’s spoke on the wheel broke and he had to be racked for the day. There was no friendship visit for the day but we had a 5v5 basketball tournament in the gym we were staying in, (2nd place!) which was a blast.

Days 34 and 35, Grand Island, NE. These were probably some of my favorite days so far on this trip in terms of friendship visits and hospitality. There is long history that the Journey of Hope has in the town. As soon as we arrived, with police escorts may I add, a city council member spoke and announced a proclamation that the mayor had signed, making the day July 8, 2013 officially Push America Day in Grand Island! I thought that this was pretty awesome, and it definitely made me feel proud. Dinne was sponsored by the Elks Club, followed by an amazing dance! The next day, a day off, was filled with scheduling. Breakfast was at a local diner Tommy’s, and like always, was delicious. After that we went to a local park with a nice section costumed to those kids with disabilities and partly provided by a grant by Push America. At the park we hung out with kids that had a variety of disabilities and we had a blast on the swings, playing wiffle ball, etc! After the park, our team split up to go to various local employment centers for people with disabilities. The first place we went was ILC, which provided a place for people to do arts and crafts, other activities, and socialize. They had some really good products for sale and they gave us all cool bracelets. After being there for about an hour, we went to a goodwill warehouse/distribution center. A number of people with disabilities work there doing things like sorting clothes, packaging products for shipment, and other things.

The next thing we had on the schedule was dinner at a park. However, it was so hot that we had it moved to a church to stay cool. Dinner featured burgers, fried chicken, and some delicious looking hot dogs. After dinner, we played some ladder golf and kickball in the comfort of the shade. It was hilarious when Stephen tried to kick the ball as hard as he could at Mike Jones, but instead hit Jamie (cool guy with disability) in the head. Jamie was fine, and the ball even bounced up in the air and it was caught for the out. After that we did the puppet show being departing!

The final event for the day was a quick trip to the same park we were at earlier for lunch. “The Grand Island Ladies” met us there to talk about some of the history between grand island and Push America. Going back about 20 years, these ladies formed a group because they all had children with disabilities and wanted to raise funds to benefit all kids with special needs. So, they raised about 100 thousand dollars for the construction of parts of the park we were at. I didn’t even realize it was handicap friendly equipment until that night actually because it was mainly like any other playground. But it was cool to see because Push America donated a lot of money towards the project and Build America helped the construction of it almost 20 years ago. They also told a story about a cyclist who developed a special relationship with one of their children. His name was Jason, and he had been planning on coming back to visit with the JoH team several years after he met the family. However, he unexpectedly died in an accident the spring before. So, they planted a plum tree in his honor where it remains in the park.

Day 36 was a long ride to Lincoln, NE (105 miles). The ride ended up only being around 80 miles though because of construction that forced us to put our bikes on vans to avoid being hit by trucks. We arrived at Lincoln, a really cool college town, and went straight to a restaurant Raising Cane’s, which was provided completely by the owner of the place for us. Then, we rode to lodging which was at a huge church pretty close to Raising Cane’s. I was surprised that Lincoln actually had bike lanes, considering how quickly the bike culture declined immediately after leaving Denver. But, I guess in a big college town and many cities that should be expected. After showering and playing a little bit of basketball, some of us went to Red Mango for frozen yogurt and then went for a walk around campus. We dropped by the Pi Kapp house on campus and were actually greeted by their president who had literally just walked in the door from work. He gave us a tour of the house and we just talked for about 30 minutes. The fraternity and sorority houses on campus were pretty nice overall, and the Pi Kapp house was alright. It was definitely an older house, but the chapter, which is a new chapter and the nu chapter, seemed alright. There were only 2 people at the house when we were there, so I didn’t get a very good feel for there chapter, but the president was really nice. Dinner was at a local park sponsored by the Sertoma Club. At our dinners, we almost always do introductions with name, major, college, hometown and then something like, “what is your favorite part about the trip” or “what inspired you to do the trip” or just give a fun fact about ourselves. However, this time, we had to say was has been most inspirational to us on the trip. I talked about how much we learn about our selves, and our limits (or lack there of), while biking endless miles and tolerating endless pain. Anyway, this was almost an unfortunate topic because it was a very lengthy response from everybody… and we were 20 minutes late for our dance that night. It ended up being fine though. Actually, the dance was great and one of the most energetic dances yet again.

Day 37 was to Omaha, Ne, the last full day in Nebraska. The ride was a pretty simple 55 miles and we rode straight to a center for disabled veterans where we spent the afternoon with children with Spina Bifida, a permanent birth defect where the spinal column does not close all the way. At the center we performed our puppet show and helped out with a carnival for the kids and their families. After that we went over to the church we were sleeping at and were welcomed by a Pi Alpha who announced another proclamation for Push America day in the city of Omaha. For dinner we met with a local organization that supports people with disabilities for a nice dance. Like every dance, we brought all our energy and had a blast.

Day 38, AKA MY BIRTHDAY, we had another 55 mile ride to Griswold, IA (rode with Alex). We arrived at a retreat house right outside the city. As soon as we arrived we all took a nap for an hour, after eating a delicious lunch of course, and woke up to a surprise. My family decided to come surprise me! It was a little shocking, especially after waking up, but nice none the less. We drove to a local quarry/watering hole and spent a good hour swimming around a jumping off diving boards and rope swings. After that we ate some cupcakes and brownies. For dinner we went to the house of a Pi Alphas parents, who has been providing dinner for us for the past 10 years.

Day 39, a long, “healthy” 95 miles to Des Moines, IA through nothing but rolling hills and wind, through farms and farms. I rode with Sanjeev and Chris and we had a good time on the bike talking, making time go by some what faster. At mile 75ish my parents were waiting with snacks (pizza and cookies) for all of us, which was a nice break. We finished the ride at the church we are staying at. I spent a couple hours at the hotel where my family was staying at before going to dinner and having a great time there.

I’ll stop here, finally caught up on the blog. Sorry for the lack of detail, I will try to start writing more often.IMG_1559 IMG_1560 IMG_1561 IMG_1564 IMG_1565 IMG_1567 IMG_1569 IMG_1574 IMG_1573 IMG_1576 IMG_1577 IMG_1578 979920_10152978112880456_231689840_o 1072555_10152978112870456_338599809_o

Days 25 to 31 – onto the sweet smell of manure

From Breckenridge we had an easy day to get to Empire, CO. Well easy is relative. The first 25 miles was alllllll uphill. We actually biked up to the highest paved road in the continent at an elevation of nearly 12,000 feet. At the top of the mountain pass called Loveland Pass it was freezing but the views were amazing. You could walk on snow as the wind was whipping away your body head, leaving you shivering and huddled around each other trying to admire the view. At the top of the mountain we met the Build America team which is another Push America summer event where they stay at different camps across the country for weeks at a time doing construction during the day, like making a wheelchair accessible trail up a mountain, and then making long lasting bonds with the campers at night.
After spending some time at the top of the mountain we were all ready for a long treacherous decent. We could have easily hit 50 miles an hour down the mountain but the switchbacks and sharp turns made us slow down drastically. I do have videos but I won’t be able to put them up for a while because the Internet is down.
After the ride we reached Rocky Mountain Village, a camp devoted to summer camps for people with disabilities. We stayed there for two days during the week devoted to people with developmental disabilities. The theme of the camp was zombieland where we, the bikers, would dress up as zombies and take part in there evening activities. Some of the campers scare easily, so instead of being threatening we walked around in a stupor and were “scared” away when the campers started dancing. The camp itself was very well maintained and equipped. There was a pond where the campers could try to catch fish, a pool where they could go swimming, a rock climbing wall and zip line, a cafeteria with awesome food, trails in a beautiful mountain, an arts and crafts center, and much more that made me think that as I child I would’ve loved to attend a camp like that. It makes me proud to realize that Push America along with other organizations and people can come together to support the development of such a camp that in turn is able to help people with disabilities finally have such a deserving and fun summer.

After the second day in Empire we left to bike to Denver, CO. This was another relatively easy day with an amazing downhill bike through Lookout Mountain that took us right into the city. The bike ended at Mile High Stadium where the Denver Broncos Play. At the stadium we were treated to a tour and taken onto the field to take some pictures. More than anything I was pretty honored that we had that privilege. After the tour we, wait for it…. Had Chipotle! We were sponsored by a past biker on the Journey of Hope to food that I have probably been missing the most. I almost forgot, at the stadium we met up with the Trans-America team of Journey of Hope. They started in Seattle, WA and their route crossed ours in Denver. From the stadium we all biked to the Capitol building in double pacelines with a police escort. Much to my chagrin as soon as I picked up my bike from the parking lot I realized I had a nail in my bake tire giving me a flat and not allowing me to make the short ride to the capitol. But at the capitol we were greeted by fans, supporters, and family of some of the bikers. There pictures were taken, speeches were given, and ice cream was eaten. In Denver we were sponsored to stay at the Marriott hotel on 16th st mall, a nice shopping area with great restaurant There we had some free time to shower up and grab some food before going to a sponsored baseball game, Rockies vs. Dodgers. The game was nice and relaxing, I believe the Rockies were destroyed by the Dodgers 8-0. After the game I went to my favorite place to eat, the Cheesecake Factory for some late night food.

The next day we could sleep in, not having to wake up until 730! We went to the KRG headquarters for a sponsored breakfast. Nothing beats having a sponsored breakfast on a day off because we just eat as much as we can without having to worry about biking. There we learned some more about KRG Capital and what they do, pretty much investing in successful smaller companies and making them more marketable and therefore profitable. After breakfast we had free time until 4, and some of us watched a movie. After that I bought a book called The Emperor of all Maladies, which is pretty much a biography of cancer. At 4 we all met up and headed over to an event at a park called Pedal for Pennies. This is an annual fundraising even where people a part of the Special Olympics of Colorado partner up with some of our bikers and take a lap around a lake to raise money for their events. This was a really fun event, I was a able to count the laps and cheer on one of their riders Willie. After the biking we had dinner sponsored by the event and then had a sweet dance party put on by a local DJ. Our JOH team put on a one of our cliche, semi-choreographed dance to Every time we Touch by Cascada that started it off and brought a lot of the special olympics participants out of their shells. It is really fun to just step back and take in everything that goes on around us. During the dancing it is amazing to see how much fun we all have with each other, all ABLE to have fun with one another. The Journey of Hope is more than raising awareness for people with disabilities, it is also praising the abilities that everyone shares.

At this time I’d like to take a minute to thanks both Bruce Rogers, KRG (he is the R in KRG), and its employees. I don’t think it is possible for us to show our gratitude to these people who take so much time out of their lives to ride with us the past couple days, sponsor many of our amazing meals, and most importantly show us what being philanthropic really means. They do not just give us money, though they are our title sponsor, but their employees do so much for our team. Bruce Rogers, who started the Journey of Hope, is an extremely humble person who respectes everyone. He hates talking about himself and doesn’t like being put on the pedestal for his achievements. But anyways, that was just a quick thank you.

After the two days in Denver we started our 4 day spree of long riding. Yesterday we had a near 100 mile day to Ft. Morgan, CO (I rode with Derek and Sanjeev) and today we had a near 90 mile day to Wray, CO (I rode with Mike Jones and Jeff). Pretty much from here on out we are biking through farmland. Nothing changes, not even the smell of manure in the air. In Ft. Morgan we stayed at a local church and had to take showers at a truckstop a couple miles away (yuck). There dinner, and breakfast the next day, was sponsored by the Orders of the Elks Club, another local charitable organization much like the other organizations that have gratefully sponsored us. After dinner we drove 15 minutes to another town to watch the 4th of July fireworks show! The show was surprisingly nice but unfortunately took a while and like usual, we all ended up with close to 6 hours of sleep. That has been the theme for the past couple days.

The ride today was tough, especially on me because we held a really fast pace. We averaged 20 mph the entire ride, which really killed my legs but I am extremely happy that I was able to hold that fast pace, it was a real morale booster. I can physically see all of us getting stronger day by day, but also darker day by day with sharper tan lines as the sun constantly beats down on us. After reaching lodging, the Wray Recreation and Rehabilitation Center at around 12, 3 hours ahead of schedule, we had lunch and headed to a local pool for a little bit. Jumping into the pool, even for just 15 minutes was really refreshing. Dinner today was put on by the Boy and Girl Scouts of Wray, a group of young, extremely hyper, but extremely respectful kids. They went around and offered drinks to all of us and took away our plates when we were done eating, all in a respectful manner. After dinner we did out puppet show and hung out with them, just routine stuff for us at this point, but still tons of fun. Tomorrow we are headed to Nebraska!

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Days 21, 22, 23, 24, 25 –

Sorry about the delay in blogging but the past 5 days have been pretty hectic. Getting out of the desert finally opens up our evenings to friendship visits. I’ll start with Day 21, the ride to Duchesne, UT (85 miles). The ride was through the desert, some long uphills, and a hot sun. Nothing too exciting about the ride, but there was a reporter that followed us around and took pictures of us on the bike. The most interesting part of the day, however, was that we broke 1000 miles total! As a reward we were taken to a local reservoir, a man made lake called Starvation Lake, and we went tubing! I do have a GoPro video of me flying off the tube and I will try to put that up on a later date. It takes at least 3 hours for me to get a video from IMovie to Youtube. We had a great time on the lake but we also got exhausted.

The next day we rode into the small town of Dinosaur, CO, into another state! I rode with Sanjeev and Travis, a pretty typical ride just like the day before. That is one thing that makes every day of biking worthwhile. You push others and they motivate you back. The things we do on the bike to help the time go by fast – say our life stories, play games, count road kill, sing random songs, etc. One of my favorites though is the Car game. Each person in the paceline picks two car companies, one domestic and one foreign, and we get points for each car that comes by that we picked.

Another 90 mile day into Craig, CO…. This ride was miserable for me. At this point in the trip, a 90 mile day on rolling hills isn’t logistically hard but it was a combination of the heat, a smallish dinner, and a fast pace that made the last half of the ride miserable. But I was riding with Michael Walton and Doug Meenan and they did a good job pushing me through the day. We arrived and went straight to the boys and girls club where we hung out with the kids for a couple hours. We did our routine puppet show Kids on the Block where we helped the kids understand and feel more comfortable around other kids with disabilities. After that we had some ice cream with them and hung out. I talked to one of the kids Gustavo randomly about our adventures with snakes (apparently he caught a rattle snake with his dad the other day) while also talking to two other girls about their horses.

Finally, and easy day!…. not. A 45 mile day to Steamboat Springs, CO. The ride actually wasn’t that bad. It was a lot of up hill but we flew through the ride in 2.5 hours. Steamboat Springs is a ski resort time, and is actually pretty nice. It has a river (that smelled like sulfur) running right off of the bike shop where I got some repairs done. For lunch we had something other than peanut butter and jelly sandwiches! There was a nice local burrito shop that some of us went to. So, one thing I forgot to mention. Today, and the days following it, the starter of JOH Bruce Rogers and his son rode along with us. He’s a pretty awesome guy, and successful, being a cofounder to KRG and partners, a private equity firm. The company pretty much invests in/buys smaller successful companies and helps them get bigger or get bought out. Im not really a business person so I don’t know exactly. But anyways he got us all ice cream and candy that night, not much more needs to be said about that.

So now, the ride that means the most of these past couple days. 105 miles to Breckenridge, CO, another popular ski town. This ride was hyped up to be the second hardest ride of the trip, but also one of the most beautiful. Though the ride was hard, it meant a lot to us. I took the ride very personally because I could really see the progress we had made over the past 20 some days of biking. We fought through pain without second thought and finished the ride through a thunderstorm the last 15 miles. The ride started with a 12 mile, 4000 foot climb called Rabbit Ears Pass through a mosquito infested ride. I rode with Reggie and Austin and we took the climb steady and made it up without a problem. If anything the mosquitos motivated us to bike faster. (Btw right now we are having a contest to see who can sneeze first, its ridiculous and it exemplifies what we do when we are bored. The memories we make). The top of the pass was beautiful. It honestly may have been the most beautiful view I have ever seen. It was probably a combination of the energy and emotion that it took to get there combined with the right amount of accomplishment that made it seem so. The perfect clouds and the crystal blue sky seemed to be the inspiration to painters and for some reason reminded me of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. The snow capped Rocky Mountains could be seen for miles and miles in the horizon. If I could become a hermit and live somewhere it would be on those green pastures on the mountains. Even the lazed cows sitting in the shade of trees seemed mesmerized by the beauty. Up until this day I was pretty sick of all the biking, but for some reason this bike ride pushed me back into having a positive attitude. Days and days of 90+ mile rides add up and take a toll on our bodies and minds, but its the little things that keep us going. For dinner at Steamboat Springs we had dinner with a local organization that supports people with disabilities. No matter how exhausted we were, none of us can deny the joy that came out of the water balloon fight we had after dinner with everyone. But more than that, our team has become so appreciative of all of our sponsors. Every city we go to we are welcomed with such hospitality that I feel guilty for taking up their time. It is so hard to show how much we appreciate every home cooked meal, but we definitely use it as motivation on the bike. The relationships that the Journey of Hope has built with each town and each sponsor is clear, and we have a heavy burden going into every dinner, every friendship visit, to make sure that we live up to our expectations. “It’s the detail work,” as our project manager tells us almost every day.

Over the next couple days we are making our way to Denver. Tomorrow we are actually making our way to 12,000 feet of elevation on the highest interstate in the continent. It’ll be a hard climb but a thrilling downhill ride. I will be sure to GoPro that.

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Days 17,18,19,20 – Finally getting in the swing of things

From Delta, we rode 80 miles to Payson, UT. That day, I rode with Jason and Kyle Marpe. The day was particularly tough because we had to make it to Payson by a certain time and most of the ride was uphill. Most days, this wouldn’t be much of a challenge but we were slowed down today not only because Kyle had a flat tire but also because he tackled the hills particularly slow. Most days we are given a certain milage we have to reach by a certain time to ensure we have enough time remaining to bike to our destination. The next day it was 60 miles by 11 am, which gave us only 4.5 hours. When we were at about the 40 mile mark we knew we probably were not going to make it in time but we kept on biking up the hills, which were actually pretty scenic. When we reached the 60 mile mark we were told by one of the crew members that we, and all the bikers in pace lines behind us had to rack our bikes on the vans and be driven to our destination. This was the first time that most of us were unable to finish a day. It was slightly upsetting because I wanted to finish each day no matter the conditions, but we have to stick to our schedule to please our sponsors and people that host us. So were taken by the vans to a park a couple miles from the City Center hall where we were staying. A couple minutes later, I find out that we have a ride along. A young girl named Natalie, her parents, and some other cyclists from the Challenged Athletes Foundation were going to ride the last couple miles with us. Natalie has cerebral palsy and epilepsy, making it dangerous for her to ride the bicycles we are used to seeing. Natalie was able to get a bike custom made for her. It had three wheels (don’t confuse it with a tricycle, it actually looks like one of the hand cycles in the pictures below), was low to the ground, and had a steering mechanism safe for her to use since one side of her body was stronger than the other. When we reached our destination, the father of Natalie told us how proud he was of what we are doing and how much it means to his daughter. We took pictures and said our goodbyes and the next day Natalie was who we were riding for.

Another 80 mile day to Salt Lake City. The ride offered some amazing views but also threw at us some pretty harsh head winds. I rode with Alex Eplan from Georgia Tech and Colin Schwartz from UWashington, two of the stronger riders on the team, and they were sure to ride fast the entire time and made sure I kept pace. The ride easily wore me out but definitely made me stronger. We rode straight to lunch hosted by the Children’s Tumor Foundation which supports research for and families affected by Neurofibromatosis (NF). At the lunch was a family affected by NF. The child with NF was Travis. Still in kindergarten he does his best to live a normal life but is deeply weakened by benign rumors in his left leg that runs in his bones from his hip to his ankles, making his bones brittle. He fights the pain and walks around with an adapted brace to protect the fragile bones, but still enjoyed playing basketball with me. During the delicious homegrown salad and pasta, the mother of Travis (and the local president of the Children’s Tumor Foundation), talked to us about NF and how the foundation works to assist the families affected by it. She talked about the struggles Travis has gone through, like the compound fractures he has had and his difficult walking. The one thing she said that really relates to not only the struggles with biking across the country, but life in general. Travis struggles everyday with pain, yet he fights hard to live what we call a normal life. To him, overcoming struggles is a daily routine yet still we let the little things in life let us down. Whether its the pain of biking up mountains or the struggle to get out of bed in the morning, we take normalcy for granted when at any instance our lives can be turned upside down. I will never forget how Travis’ brother, a couple years older than him, told me that at first he didn’t like having to do the extra work to take care of his brother but now learns from how much effort Travis puts into his daily life and still has the energy to appreciate it and smile.

Dinner was sponsored by a 5 time Pi Alpha Jeff at a local restaurant called Iggy’s with some pretty good food and a killer lemonade. Jeff rode with us to Salt Lake City and half way to Park City. The morning of the ride to Park City, we had a friendship visit with program called TRAILS. The organization works to help physically disabled individuals perform recreational activities. In this instance, we were introduced to handcycle (seen in picture below). We rode around a park with their clients who have participated in handcycle races. The ride to Park City was a short 30 miles but was pretty much all uphill for the first 15 miles. We went through Emigration Pass which took us to an incredible peak over a sharp blue lake. After arriving to Park City we quickly checked in, showered, and went to dinner at Wasatch Pub on Main St. Like usual, the food was absolutely delicious and their homemade Root Beer was phenomenal.

The next day, today the 24th, we had a day off. We still had to wake up early at 7 and go to our sponsored breakfast at Whole Foods. For once we were able to stuff our stomachs without having to worry about throwing it all up biking! After breakfast we went to Olympic Park where the 2002 winter olympics were held and hung out there for a couple hours. While there we went tobogganing down the mountainside on metal tracks, unfortunately my GoPro died before I got on. After that we went to lunch at a local deli and had some fresh sandwiches and fresh ice cream. I know it sounds like we are stuffing ourselves full of food, and even though this is true we need the calories! Post lunch we went to our friendship visit at National Abilities Center. There I hung out with Max and Luke and biked around with them. I was able to try out different types of bikes costumed to the disabilities they had. The Center provides all sorts of recreational activities for people with disabilities, from horseback riding to swimming programs.

Here is a link to a video of a couple downhills that I captured, I just bought a helmet mount so maybe I can get some better footage. http://youtu.be/i6RMQmar2Zw

Sorry I have to cut this short but we have to wake up at 5 tomorrow and bike 80 some miles, I could use the sleep!

 

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Days 12,13,14,15,16

So on day 12 we did our first centennial (112) miles to be exact. I rode with Doug and Reggie that day, and boy was it a long day. It took us 7.5 hours on the bike and probably 8.5-9 hours total. By the end of the ride, through burning wind, we were slightly delusional because of heat. Reggie in particular had salt crusted on his jersey and face, a dangerous sign of dehydration. At the end of the ride he started crying, and to this day Im not sure if it was joyous or because of his pain. The day took us to Austin, NV where we stayed in a small church an were fed by the Austin Ladies, a group of women who sponsored us for upwards of 15 years. The dinner was delicious, and I’m slightly surprised at how accommodating all our sponsors have been to me being vegetarian.
From there we biked 70 miles to Eureka, NV. The ride was actually quite difficult because we battled a strong head wind and crosswind. It was actually really scary with the crosswinds, especially going down hill because a strong gust of wind can knock you off balance and either throw you into the lane or make you fall completely. So riding into town we were all pretty drained but we were sponsored by the local Lion’s Club where we had some pretty good spaghetti and home made sauce. The town of Eureka isn’t that populated, with maybe only 600 residents, but because of the high prices of gold and the money the town gets from it, they were able to invest in nice public facilities. For example they only had 8 people on their football team yet still built a 2 million dollar turf football field and are in the process of building a 3 million dollar gym.
The next day (the 19th), we biked 60 miles to Baker, NV where we nearly doubled the population of the town. The ride in was actually quite scenic with two big climbs and two steep declines. We passed a wind farm, a cow farm, a dried out farm, and a bunch of dead snakes on the road. After reaching the town we were driven a couple miles to a truck stop to take showers. Ugh I get the shivers thinking I showered in the same shower as hundreds of truckers…. But after that we were taken on a tour to the Lehman Caves in the Great Basin National Park. Our tour guide said something about science, more science, and compared the caves to soda… I still don’t quite understand what she meant but the tour was pretty cool. For dinner we were hosted by the lovely residents of Baker and I actually enjoyed getting to know them and share stories. The main topic a lot of the residents tried to convey was the legal battle over water. Apparently Las Vegas is trying to gain rights to the water reserves in Baker to meet some short term needs. The people of Baker formed an organization to stop the pipeline from being built in hope to create a precedent around the world and to convey an urgency in conservation of the resource. There is a lot of effort going into this, and the town has made progress battling the money hands of Vegas, but I really respect the effort they put into the battle. (Oh the best part of baker, we all had to check our shoes for scorpions in the morning).
So today, we biked 100 miles to Delta, UT. A new state! Actually the ride was supposed to be 96 miles, but for some reason we decided it would be worth biking an extra 4 miles just to break 100. The ride was actually a lot better than I though it would be. I rode with Jack and Derek and for 75% of the time Jack was just giving us his life story. It pretty much got us 70 miles to lunch and he still had more stories to spill. But it’s amazing how much faster the day goes by having conversations on the bike. Those are the things I’ll remember most about biking, not necessarily the distance I go or the speed I bike at. After lunch there was a car that sped by us and blared his horn. That startled us and jack lost balance, clipped the back wheel of Derek, and fell. Thankfully he fell onto the shoulder and not onto the road. He wasn’t hurt badly and his bike was fine, but it’s still scary thinking about all the risk biking just feet from cars whizzing by.
But in a more exciting note, this is definitely becoming the summer of a life time. The people I meet along the way, the relationships I build with my teammates, and the challenges I come across on the road all reiterate that.
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