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.
(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.