It’s not about the bike
SUMMIT COUNTY – For Justin Barnes, riding across America is not about the cycling.
“The cycling is just to get attention,” said Barnes, a Georgia native. “It’s all about the mission.”
Will Kramer of Fort Collins agreed and doubts many of the cyclists participating in the trip are interested in becoming serious or competitive about the sport.
“That’s not really what the trip is all about,” Kramer said.
The young men are among 70 Pi Kappa Phi fraternity brothers from schools across the nation who are a part of this year’s Push America – an annual two-wheeled trans-America trek known as the Journey of Hope. The Pi Kappa Phi outreach project raises money and awareness for people with disabilities.
Prospective riders must complete a lengthy application process before being accepted to the team. Then they must raise $4,000 in pledges before their trip.
The 70 cyclists travel across the county in two teams from San Francisco to Washington D.C., one crossing the country on a northern route and the second travelling across the South.
On Sunday – the 22nd day of the trip – Barnes, Kramer and the northern team completed a 115-mile day from Steamboat Springs to Breckenridge. It was one of their longest days on the bike.
“The cycling gets really hard,” Barnes said, adding that their longest day was 120 miles in Nevada. And he’s feeling the effects of Colorado’s altitude, “especially being from Atlanta.”
The group is riding 3,500 miles with only nine rest days dispersed throughout the 55 days on the bike. The rest days aren’t what most cyclists would consider rest, as the riders spend them visiting local groups that serve people with disabilities and spreading awareness.
In Breckenridge, the men ended their day with a barbecue at the Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center (BOEC) – an organization they’ve supported over the years.
“Every summer, the BOEC looks forward to hosting the Push America cyclists,” said Kim Porter, BOEC grants and contributions manager. “Our missions are very similar and they do a wonderful service of raising funds and awareness for people with disabilities.”
Push America media coordinator Justin Morin said the BOEC will receive a $500 cycling grant for hosting the team, and another $5,000 in the fall for a Push weekend – an awareness weekend created to teach children that everyone is the same, whether they have disabilities or not.
Last year, the two teams raised $319,000 in donations. This year, they hope to raise $350,000, Morin said.
“Their cross-country ride is awe-inspiring,” Porter said.
Despite the long hours in the saddle, busy rest days and the length of the men’s cycling journey, Barnes and Kramer are surprisingly humble.
Barnes said the best part of the trip is “hanging out with the people we’re doing this for and seeing the smiles on their faces.”
“It’s non-stop all the time,” Kramer said. “We have a blast (but) it’s hard, too.”
Though the cycling can be difficult, Barnes said it’s the best thing he’s ever done.
“It’s a life-changing experience,” he said. “I don’t want it to ever end.”
Today, the group will ride 50 miles over Loveland Pass to Empire. The cyclists are scheduled to finish their ride with the southern team in Washington D.C. on Aug. 4.
For more information on Push America, visit the Web site at http://www.pushamerica.org.
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