As college-aged cyclists pedal across the valleys and mountain passes of the Great Basin for the Journey of Hope, they said the experience of helping others and the encouragement received from their own families serve as lessons to help others who have mental and physical disabilities.
Every year in early June, a group of about 25 cyclists and six crew members begin a trip of a lifetime, setting out from San Francisco and then riding across the United States to Washington, D.C. where their ride will end. The riders and crewmembers belong to Pi Kappa Phi Fraternity with their focus on visiting communities across the United States as part of Journey of Hope, a program of the Ability Experience that raises funds and awareness for people with various disabilities.
According to Ability Experience, each rider raises at least $5,500 and with their individual efforts, corporate sponsorships and the Journey of Hope, three teams representing different routes will raise more than a half-million dollars for their cause. When all teams arrive in Washington, D.C., the cyclists will have ridden through 32 states and crossed 12,000 combined miles.
According to Josh Hunter, public relations coordinator for the North Team, the cyclists arrived Friday in Nevada for the Father’s Day weekend to attend events in Carson City and Fallon. The Governor’s Council of Developmental Disabilities sponsored an event on the first day at Western Nevada College. On Saturday, the cyclists pedaled 65 miles to Fallon on U.S. Highway 50 arriving shortly before 1 p.m. Now, the Journey of Hoper riders arrive in Ely today after stopping for the night in Austin and Eureka earlier this week and will bed down in Baker, the gateway to the Great Basin National Park, before crossing the border into Utah on Thursday.
Hunter said many cyclists on the North team are first-time program participants and know the importance of their mission in helping people with their disabilities and to educate others.
“They’re gaining a better understanding of the lives people with disabilities live every day,” Hunter said during their stop at Churchill County High School’s gym.
Later that evening, they dined with the Northern Nevada Human Services, which does business as the Blue Sky Thrift Store. The local group has hosted the riders since 2012, but before then, other organizations under different names broke bread with the cyclists.
While the trip is barely two weeks old after their departure from San Francisco Bay Area, Hunter said the cyclists travel different distances each day depending on roads and weather.
“We’re adjusting, but it’ll be interesting to show how we progress,” Hunter said.
Hunter, as well as three other fraternity brothers, said his father encouraged him to be part of Journey of Hope.
“All the way through, he encouraged me to do the trip.” Hunter recalled. “He said, “‘In your youth, you should travel as much as you can.’”
Hunter, who will be a senior at Iona College in New Rochelle, N.Y., said he has never traveled to the West Coast — much less Nevada — in his lifetime.
“Every single day I like being at a new place, meeting new people and being impactful,” Hunter said, adding his father wanted him to use energy in a positive manner to help others.
This is the second time across the United States for Patrick Carlson and Grey Sheibley. Carson, who will be a senior at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, took photos of the journey last year, but he’s serving as project manager for the 2018 year’s ride. He began his training in January to plan the logistics for this year’s trip and to offer his expertise to the new group of riders.
“I definitely tell them to take it all in and be patient,” he said. “Don’t get caught up with all the miles.”
Carlson ensures the vans, which serve as rest stops for the cyclists, are parked strategically along the highway at various intervals. He said crews provide water and ensure the riders don’t have any injuries. Carlson’s experience with the route is also beneficial since he experienced Nevada last year. While the climb over the Sierra Nevada was a “gut-buster” for the cyclists, he said reaching the top of the 12,000-foot Loveland Pass in Colorado is another biking experience.
Carlson said his father, who attended college in Denver, is accomplished driven and told him before his first trip, “you have to do it — the experience — because no one else will experience it.”
After last year’s team arrived in the nation’s capital, Carlson remembers the advice directed toward him and others is the trip will teach them what’s important in life and what’s not.
Sheibley, a student at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, rode the route in 2017 as a cyclist, but this year, he’s a crew chief. The tour brings back memories for Sheibley. He remembers their stops where the riders stretched their legs after a difficult climb or passed some of the area’s landmarks such as Lahontan Reservoir. On the ride east of Dayton, Sheibley said he saw a herd of wild horses eating grass in the distance.
“When I was a cyclist, I was worried more about the cycling, and I really didn’t look around much to see the scenery,” the Huntsville, Ala., native said. “But now riding in a van, I have more time to look around and get a new perspective.”
As a crew chief, he ensures the vans are spaced out accordingly and the entire crew is fed during the day. He also coaches riders and offers them advice about the terrain or braking, experienced he picked up last year.
Both Sheibley’s father and grandfather have influenced his participation with Journey of Hope.
“My father is super supporting of the trip and a big influence in my life,” Sheibley explained. “A lot more influence came from my grandfather. He was a paraplegic and passed away about six years ago, and he’s really the reason I got involved with the Ability Experience and Journey of Hope.”
Ethan Norman graduated from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and recently earned his master’s. Through his master’s program, he became interested in Journey of Hope and he also saw the end of the journey.
“I saw the expression on the guys’ faces,” he said. “I was inspired.”
Norman’s friends have participated in the ride, and they told him he should do the journey if he has the time. He did, and is one of the team’s 25 cyclists, learning how to ride in a bigger group. He moaned a little describing his journey across the Sierra.
“We don’t have mountains like that in North Carolina,” he said over the laughter from the other three cyclists.
Norman said his family participates in high adventure activities, and his father was most supportive, not only for the long journey but also for helping others.
“You have to try it for the high-adventure experience,” Norman said of his father’s advice.