Looking Back: A Month After The Journey of Hope

Even now, over a month after finishing JOH, not a day goes by that I don’t think about what our team accomplished this summer.  3,651 miles, 14 states, and crossing three mountain ranges are just a few of the more tangible accolades that North Route 2013 achieved.  But, it wasn’t the miles ridden, the mountains conquered, or the states crossed that makes what we did this summer so special.  It was the people we touched every day through the friendship visits.  It is hard to change lives when you are moving to a new town every day, but we certainly made a difference in a lot of lives of the summer.  The clients we met were often waiting all year long for our visit.  No matter how tired or frustrated you may have been that day, you had to put that behind you.  You only have one chance to give these people that admire you your very best.  It just isn’t fair to the people you are serving to let any minor personal problems get in the way, especially keeping in mind what kind of challenges and difficulties they face every day. Image

After I finished the Journey of Hope, so many people thanked me for what I did, told me how amazing it was and how much I inspired them.  I must say, while I was thankful for the gratitude, I did not do the Journey of Hope for the praise of others.  Maybe that was a minor motivator when I signed up, but that faded away quickly.  You go into JOH thinking you will be the one changing people’s lives, but it’s the people who you are supposed to serve that end up changing you.  The people I met this summer face hardships that make any problems we encountered from the daily grind of the bike seem trivial.  Yet they approach life with such an enthusiastic and bright outlook, it makes you forget about any “problems” you might be dealing with.

I guess it works both ways.  We touch their lives while they change ours.  What I did this summer was the greatest accomplishment of my life so far, in so many ways.  I can confidentially say I am not the same man that crossed the Golden Gate Bridge on June 9th.  Thank you so much to all the friends and family who donated and to everyone who supported me along my ride, I could not have done it without all of you.  So that’s about it.  I guess I will leave you with what I would consider the quote of the summer, and a creed worth living by:

“The only disability in life is a bad attitude”


Goodbye for Now, but Not for Good – Washington D.C.

You wouldn’t believe just how hard it is to put the best day of your life into words.  All of the thoughts, feelings, and emotions that were running through me when I walked my bike across the lawn of the State Capitol is an experience I just don’t think I can adequately explain.  But, I will do my best.ImageImageImage

It seemed like I was asleep for no more than an hour.  The lights came on and the last morning playlist started blasting.  I rose off the mat and packed my things into my Thule for the last time.  I went to the bathroom, put on my brand new jersey that I had been saving all summer for this very occasion, and walked out of our last team lodging.  The team mood was happy at breakfast, but fairly quiet, the anticipation of arrival weighing on everyone.  When we circled up, it said very clearly on the board, “Day 67, Destination: Washington D.C”.  After an emotional and well-spoken prayer from Derek from TCU, we got into our 3-man pace lines for one last time.  Then, Mark released us one by one, and we started the last 10 miles of our Journey.

I rode with Jack and Austin.  For the first five miles, we didn’t say much.  I guess there wasn’t much to say.  By the time we caught up with the other pace lines, the mood lightened.  We made an effort to squeeze in every last inside joke and stupid story from the summer.  In no time, we made it to stage up, where we met up with South, Trans, and Build America.  We all had about an hour before we descended upon the Capitol.  As a team, we had no interest in attempting to socialize with the other routes on our last day together, so we walked down the street to get some coffee and kill some time.

Soon enough it was time to go.  The 90 cyclists all filed into double pace line formation for the last time of the summer.  I had asked Blake from TCU to ride with me, and I couldn’t be more honored to finish the Journey with a friend like Blake.  As soon as the vans started to move and we started to ride, the butterflies hit.  We rolled down Constitution Ave, passing the picturesque monuments and landmarks that make Washington so famous.

And then, looming in the distance was the Capitol building.  This is where everything became a blur.  As we got closer, the crowds of hundreds of people cheering, reaching out for their sons/brothers/boyfriends was thickening.  All of a sudden, I hear my name and I look to my right and there is a group of about 20 family members and friends, cheering and holding up signs.  I wanted to jump off my bike right there, but I couldn’t.  We dismounted and walked our bikes across the lawn of the capitol.  The song Beautiful Day by U2 was blaring from the speakers as we walked through a crowd of hundreds of people cheering for us.  I am not a very emotional guy, but I choked up at that moment.  When the road got tough over the summer, I would often imagine myself walking across the lawn of the capitol to keep myself motivated, and now here I was.  All the hard work, blood, sweat, tears, lack of sleep and comfort and everything else I had poured into this summer had come to a final culmination, and it was more special than I could have ever imagined.

We laid our bikes on the grass and then got into picture formation behind the podium.   From where the team was standing, we looked out over the entire crowd of people there to see us finish our journey and all the way down the Mall to the Washington Monument, a view I will never forget.  Speeches were read, and pictures were taken, and then we were finally released to go see our families.  Round two of the tears came back when I hugged my mom and my cousin Cory.  Having Cory at arrival was extremely special to me because he was such a major inspiration for what I did this summer.  Cory is Autistic and is one of the most amazing kids I have ever had the privilege of knowing.  Growing up, I served as sort of a big brother to him and this summer I dedicated my entire Journey to him.  Whenever I felt like just getting off the bike and giving up, I would think of Cory and the troubles he has to go through on a daily basis as motivation.  It meant so much to me that Cory and the rest of his family could be there for my arrival, and made this day just that much more special.

After hugs and some family pictures, I walked to the front of the lawn and hoisted my bike over my head with the Capitol in the background, a JOH tradition for those who have completed the Journey.  And then, it was all over, in what seemed to be no longer than a blink of an eye.  I went to lunch with family and friends, and then retreated to my hotel room to crash, exhausted from lack of sleep and emotion of the days events.  Later that night, we had the team banquet where North Route preformed its last team dance to “Every Time We Touch” by Cascada, a dance we had preformed at countless friendship visits over the summer.  After the banquet, we went out to dinner and then the guys had one last night out on the town.  The next morning, we all said our goodbyes and went our separate ways.  I told every single member of my team as we said our goodbyes, “Its goodbye for now, not for good.”

Nick and Spencer preached all summer it’s the little things that make a difference between a good team and a great team.  They told us we had the potential to be a great team, we just need to avoid complacency and constantly work to be better as an entire unit.  I can confidentially say that we were a great team.  The Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens be damned, WE were the best team in the United States of America.  If you ask any other member of the Varsity Route, they will tell you the exact same thing.  It was such an honor to be part of such a cohesive unit, and I can honestly say I have never been, or never will a part of as great of a team as the Journey of Hope North Route 2013.

The Last Frontier – Maryland

Maryland, the last state.  We made it.Image

On the morning of July 38th (actually August 7th) we rolled out of lodging in Uniontown and made our way to cross our last state line of the summer.  Ever since we exited the Rocky Mountains in Denver, it has been pretty flat.  However, we had been told there would be one more day of climbing somewhere in the Appalachians.  Well, that day was today.  The six guys who finished Kirkwood in first place mixed up our pace lines and decided to race.  I rode with Colin from Washington and Chris from Georgia Tech.  It was a 70-mile ride into Cumberland, Maryland.  While I wanted to beat the other pace line and come in first, I had my own personal goal that I wanted to achieve that was of the utmost importance.  I had yet to hit 50 miles an hour on the trip, and I promised myself I would break that barrier on today’s ride.

The ride started off with a brutal climb.  Unlike the Sierras and the Rockies, the roads through the Appalachians don’t switchback up the mountain.  So while the mountains may not be nearly as big, the roads are certainly steeper, which made this day quite the challenge.  However, it provided me with a lot of fast descents.  I was getting in my tuck, watching my computer on every downhill;


I just couldn’t quite seem to hit 50 mph.  Halfway through the day, we hit the Mason – Dixon line and the Maryland border.  This moment was probably one of the most surreal experiences I had on the trip so far.  For 18 years, Maryland was my home state.  I grew up here, went through high school here, and still have countless memories of summers spent on the Chesapeake Bay.  Ever since my family moved out to San Diego two years ago, I have flown back at least once a year to visit all my friends and family.  The fact that I rode my bike to Maryland this summer instead of flying is a concept I was having a tough time grasping in my head.  But it didn’t matter; I had finally made it home.

By the time we stopped for lunch, we were still in first, but brutally tired.  The hills were the steepest we had encountered over the entire summer, and we could all feel it in our legs.  We took off from lunch with only 20 miles to go.  We had a few more big descents after lunch, but I didn’t see the elusive 5-0 on my computer.  When we reached lodging, I checked my bike computer just in case.  Sure enough, when I pulled up top speed on the day’s ride, it listed 52.3.  I had done it, and just in time too.  I hit the showers feeling accomplished.  After some time to rest and nap after our last tough day of the trip, we headed over to a park where we would be eating dinner.  The Cumberland Rotary club treated us to a big dinner with all of your summertime favorites (fried chicken, burgers, potato salad; you know the drill).  As usual, all of the Rotary members were extremely interested in what we were doing and had nothing but praise and good wishes to offer us.  I’m not going to lie, I am going to miss the whole being famous thing a little bit.

By the time we were done with dinner, it was pouring rain.  So, we hustled back to the vans and drove back to lodging for the event of the night, gag gifts.  The exchange provided the team with tons of laughs and plenty of inappropriate jokes and humorous exploitation of various mistakes guys made over the summer.  I received some sunscreen (real shocker there) among a few other little things that I’ll keep a team secret.  All and all, it was a very funny night.

When we woke up the next morning, the rain had finally stopped.  But the rain was replaced by a thick layer of fog, which hung low over the peaks of the Appalachians.  I formed a pace line with Luke from Purdue and Blake from TCU, two of my closest friends on the trip.  We decided that going fast was not an option on our second to last day of the trip, so we stepped up to sweep that day.  We started the day off with a pretty steep climb.  By the time we had reached the top, we were fully enveloped in the fog.  And when I say thick, I mean like you couldn’t see the cyclist 50 feet in front of you.  At first the descent was a little scary because the visibility was so poor, but soon we adjusted and realized just how cool this was.  It was essentially like we were cycling through a cloud, zipping through the fog at 40+ mph.

At the bottom of the descent, we found almost the entire team sitting at the crew stop, just waiting. As I said before, with the summer winding down, cyclists had begun to blatantly violate the rules and crew members would turn a blind eye.  It was all about having fun and living it up the last few days we had with each other.  Today the rule broken was a very important one, the peloton rule.  In P&P, it clearly states that cyclists are supposed to ride in pace lines of two to three people ONLY.  But today, the team decided that we make a peloton (a big group of cyclists riding together) out of the entire team.  I must say, it was quite a cool experience to be in the peloton.  Seeing a group of 20 cyclists fly down a hill as one unit, each cyclist mere inches off the back tire of the guy in front of him was a cool sight.  It made me feel like I was on a pro team, flying down the hills of the Alps in the Tour de France.

Sadly, the fun of the peloton did not last too long.  A few guys pulled some dangerous moves, and eventually someone got caught by our Crew Chief Mark, which brought a swift end to the peloton.  We rolled into lodging and were told to shower up quickly, we had to prepare for our friendship visit.  It was bittersweet, because it was our last friendship visit of the trip.  When the clients were ready we walked over to the building where they lived and then rolled them back to the gym where we would be having dinner.  Most of the clients at this friendship visit had severe developmental disabilities and could not talk.  I ended up taking care of a man named Dale.  He couldn’t feed himself, so I had to spoon-feed him his entire dinner.  Because he couldn’t talk, I wasn’t able to make the same kind of connection I would with most of the clients I interacted with over the summer, but I still did everything I could to entertain him.  I got a few smiles and claps out of him him, so I guess I accomplished my goal.

After the friendship visit, we went through initiation to officially become part of Pi Alpha (the men of Pi Kappa Phi who have completed the Journey of Hope).  By the time we were done, it was close to four in the morning and I was beyond tired.  But that didn’t matter.

I am a Pi Alpha.

We woke up the next morning and everyone was tired.  To make matters worse, I walked to my bike to find I had a front flat that happened over night.  But, being that this was the last day of our trip, lack of sleep and measly flat tire could not deter my mood.  My pace line for the day was comprised of Jack from Tennessee and David from Iowa.  We had chosen our pace line for this special day over a week before hand, and we had dubbed ourselves the Power Walkers.  I had come to know David and Jack probably about as well as any of my teammates through this trip from the frequent walks we took (hence the name the Power Walkers).  It became tradition that when we got some free time we would walk away from lodging to go hang out and enjoy some chewing tobacco, a bit of a de-stressor in what was essentially a sober summer (sorry mom and dad).  But the real reason we took these walks was to go sit somewhere and just talk.  Our families, school, our pasts, our futures, our troubles, what brought us to this point in our lives, literally anything was on the table for discussion.  So we decided that riding together one the last day would be sort of our last hurrah; our last walk, if you will.

We all knew that we were in absolutely no rush today.  In fact, we were in the opposite of a rush.  Reaching Bethesda meant the Journey was over, and we were going to prolong that as long as we possibly could.  At mile 20, we found a McDonalds and stopped with some of our other teammates to grab some breakfast and hang out on the side of the road for a bit.  For the rest of the day, we just took it easy on our bikes, talking about life after JOH, how we were going to keep in touch, and what it would be like not having your 34 best friends around at all hours of the day.  When we reached lodging in Bethesda, the Landon school, lunch was waiting for us there.  But, Jack, David and I took the time to make one last victory lap around the school campus.  We reached the team again, got off our bikes, and we were done.  The last real day of the trip, finished.  Hard to believe.

After we set up our beds and showered up, some people tried to nap.  But that wasn’t happening.  We were staying in the wrestling gym, so naturally a full free for all burst out and a giant team wrestling match ensued.  Soon, it was time to go to dinner where we would meet up with the two other JOH routes and Build America.  There were five other Buffs riding JOH this summer, four on South and one on Trans.  It was awesome getting to see my fellow chapter brothers at the dinner, everyone healthy and safe and full of stories and experiences from their summer.  On our way back to lodging, Cinco de Vaño had its rowdiest ride of the summer to commemorate all the great times we had.  We jammed out to all the summer classics and just “got ignant” as our Bay Area van member Colin would often say.  I know I’ll remember that van ride for the rest of my life.

So, tomorrow is the day.  I have been thinking about this day ever since I signed up for JOH over a year ago.  Close to 4,000 miles on the summer, and all I’ve got is 10 left.  It is immensely bittersweet.  While I am very excited to see my family and friends waiting for me on the lawn of the Capitol building tomorrow, when I stand in front of the building and lift my bike over my head, its all over.  After tomorrow, chances are our entire team of 35 will never be together as a single unit ever again.  However, as I learned this summer, its all about your attitude and the mindset with which you approach a situation.  I could look at is as the best summer of my life coming to end tomorrow, or I could look forward to what is going to be the best day of my life so far.  I think I’ll take the latter.

The Home Stretch – Pennsylvania

The second to last state.  Wow, that is weird to say.  To think almost 2 months ago, I was in San Francisco, both worried and excited at the journey I had ahead of me.  In what seems like a blink of an eye and an eternity at the same time (if that makes any sense) I am less than a week away from DC.  With six days left, the guys are doing whatever we can to make the most of our remaining days with each other.  In denial that the trip is almost over, we have refused to admit that it is currently the month of August.  So, on the morning of July 35th, the team rode 75 miles into Pittsburg, Pennsylvania.  The Steel City.  I rode with Sanjeev from FIU and Reggie from Iona.  We kept a good pace all day, not too slow but we weren’t aiming for first either.  This ride brought us into the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, as we hit some formidable hills on our way into the city.

            We stopped at our stage up point along a bike bath where we were treated to a much-welcomed Chipotle lunch. After we had our fill of burritos, we hopped back on our bikes and rode along the bike path to our arrival.  The path took us along the city’s waterline, past the Pirates and Steelers stadium and then to our friendship visit of the day at the Three Rivers Association, a group that helps people with disabilities learn to row.   After the friendship visit was over, we headed to lodging at a hotel nearby Pittsburg University.  We only had 20 minutes to get four guys showered and changed before we had to leave, but at this point in the summer this was no problem for us.  We then hopped back in the vans and we were taken to team event.  We had been bowling quite a few times over the summer for various friendship visits, but this time we were going so that we could just have some time to relax and hang out as a team.  We split up into teams and decided to battle it out on total score, with ice cream on the line.  My team was comprised of Luke from Purdue, Saurabh from Miami, and Derek and Blake from TCU.  We were facing off against Jack from Tennessee, Kyle from Purdue, Jason from Miami, Reggie from Iona, and Austin from Florida State.  It was never a contest.  Jack, Kyle, and Jason just could not miss, and by the end we owed a round of ice cream. 

After bowling, we were taken back to the hotel and given the night off as we had a day off the bike the next morning.  I was pretty tired, as I had been making a habit of staying up late with my friends to do whatever stupid things we could think of, so I laid down for a quick nap.  When I woke up, it was 10:30 pm.  I was supposed to go out with Jack and meet a chapter brother of his who was working in Pittsburg for the summer, but at that point I was too tired to get dressed and go out, so I just went back to sleep.  Clearly I needed to catch up.  I woke up the next morning feeling refreshed and rested.  We walked down to the restaurant lobby where we treated to breakfast by a few of sorority girls from the Pittsburg University.  One of our crew members Dan attended the University of Pittsburg and he had asked his friends to sponsor breakfast for the team and they graciously provided. 

Once we had our fill of breakfast, we had two hours to kill before our friendship visit, so we were allowed to go back to our rooms.  We turned on the TV and Anchorman just so happened to be starting, so we piled four people to a bed in my hotel room and just hung out and watched the movie.  Next thing we knew, the movie was over and it was time to head to our friendship visit for the day.  The visit was with the United Cerebral Palsy Organization.   I ate lunch with a man named Craig, who explained to me what pierogis were and what it was like to live in Steeler-town.  After lunch, a couple of the guys went up front and spoke about the trip and certain inspiring stories we had from our time on the road.  After the speeches, we all filed outside to take a big group pictures.  The, we helped all the clients back inside, said our goodbyes, and walked back to the hotel. 

After a little bit of downtime, we were off to our second friendship visit of the day at Woodlands Camp.   For the second time of the trip, we crossed paths with Build America, who were staying at the camp for the remaining days of their trip.  We ate dinner with all of the campers and Build America.  The camp had this tradition where if you got caught with your elbows on the table, they would start a chant.  If you were lucky enough to get called out you had to do a lap around the building and then were soaked with water upon your return.  Naturally, I was the first caught with my elbows on the table.  I was quite confused at first but got a big cheer when I got the water dumped on my when I got back.  

 After dinner we filed into the auditorium.  The purpose of the assembly was for some of the guys to get up and speak to the kids about times on the trip when they had faced adversity or challenges and how they overcame it.  Most of the kids were in their late teens and had their 21st birthday not far around the corner.  The significance of the 21st birthday for people with disabilities is that many of the services and support that they had at their disposal evaporate once they turn twenty-one.  The idea was that our stories would help inspire the kids and let them know that everyone faces challenges in their life. At times the challenges might seem unsurpassable, but they have the ability to overcome these challenges with determination and the help from family and friends. 

Once the guys had given their speeches and told their stories, we headed back to lodging to get some rest.  The entire summer I had been sharing a hotel room with the same four guys, Michael, Luke, and Sanjeev, and tonight was our last night in a hotel together.  We stayed up for at least two hours joking around, telling stories, and just doing stupid stuff.  I wouldn’t have rather shared a hotel room with any other guys.

The next morning, we set off for Uniontown, a 55-mile ride with some solid hills.  I rode in a two-man pace line with Saurabh (Saw-rub, in case you few religious readers have been wanting to know how to pronounce his name) from Miami.  It was a short ride, so we decided to take it easy and enjoy ourselves.  At this point, the team was doing anything they could to slow down the clock ticking down to our arrival in DC.  We ended up meeting up with some of the other pace lines at the top of this huge hill and decided to ride the whole way into town together.  Normally, we wouldn’t have rode in a big group like this because it is a clear violation of P&P, but we were so close to the end that having fun took precedent over the rules.  Soon enough we reached our lodging for the night at the Uniontown YMCA.  We had a big lunch waiting for us there, put together by a few of the ladies in town.  It was perfect fuel for our big afternoon activity: white water rafting.

We then put on our bathing suits and drove down to the river.  I assembled the best possible raft: Jack from Tennessee, Colin from Washington, Blake from TCU, Austin from Florida State, and Saurabh.  We dubbed ourselves the Trailblazers because we always took our own unique path down the rapids.  Our creativity and ingenuity served us well, we aced all the tough rapids down the river and never even came close to flipping the raft.  When we weren’t in the rapids, we would just kick back, take turns paddling, and enjoy the sun.  It was an extremely fun and relaxing afternoon, however, slightly bittersweet.  It was our last big team event.  At least it was a good one. 

After we got to the end, we loaded the boats, changed into our team tucks and went to dinner at a park on the outskirts of town.  The local Lions Club President had prepared us an awesome feast, and we all ate our fill after a long afternoon on the river.  After we were finished with dinner, we gathered the troops and got a volleyball game going.  It was a beautiful evening, and we had the bright orange setting sun behind as we played.  Definitely an afternoon and evening I will remember for a long time. 

O-H, I-NO!!!!!! – Ohio

Let me preface this blog post by saying that the people of Ohio love their state.  A lot.  It seems as soon as some of the guys from Ohio re-entered their state, it was literally all they could talk about.  The guys from Ohio were so excited to get back into their home state, the rest of us were sick of Ohio before we even crossed the border from Michigan.  But, come to think of it, the team probably thought the same thing about me when we rode into Colorado.  At least we have mountains….

Whatever.  I woke up in my University of Michigan dorm room bed, and I knew I had finally kicked my cold.  I put on my cycling gear, packed up my bag, and headed down the elevator, where the vans took us to breakfast at the Pi Kapp chapter on campus.  When the sun first came up, it was cloudy and was threatening rain, but the clouds quickly broke and the sun came out.  I was not 100% back to health, but I felt significantly better than the days before, and knowing it wasn’t going to be pouring rain on me all day definitely helped my outlook on the day.  Since I wasn’t sure if I was going to be riding that day, I had not set up a pace line previously, which left me scrambling after breakfast to find somebody to ride with.  I ended up settling into a two man pace line of myself and Alex from Georgia Tech.  During circle up, Nick told us we had really hard rack points they would be enforcing because we had a major arrival ceremony in Toledo.  Every time I have ridden with Alex so far, it has just been the two of us and both times we finished first, so even though I wasn’t feeling my best that day, I was confident we would finish.

We got off to a strong start, but were red flagged after about 20 miles.  We were there for only 15 minutes, but that ended up making a major difference in the day.  After we were released, we quickly passed the pace line of Matt and Michael from Houston and Mike from UMBC.  Alex was riding strong, and pulling at about 24 mph. Thinking we had left the other pace line in the dust, we looked back to see that they were still right on our tail.  Apparently, they had put quite a sizable gap between themselves and the rest of the team earlier that morning, and they didn’t take too kindly to us passing them after they had been red flagged for so long.  Alex and I decided we were up for the challenge, and that  the only way they were going to take back first was if they earned it.  The awkward part about this whole situation was that after we decided to race, we hit city roads, which meant we were stopping every mile or less.  So we both pushed as hard as we could, only to have our progress halted just as soon as we got up to  speed.

Their pace line was drawing in closer and closer and seemed to be poised to make a pass, when we barely made it through a light which they got caught behind.  We rolled into stage up first, and they came in not 5 minutes behind us.  They were not particularly happy about the outcome, and I can’t blame them.  They rode stronger and deserved to beat us that day, but sometimes things just don’t work out in your favor.  However, the disappointment of defeat was soon replaced by relief because we were told we were the only two pace lines that weren’t racked that day.  If we hadn’t been racing, literally giving that day everything we had, we probably would have been racked as well.  It was an awesome feeling to get back on the bike after four days off and have such a strong ride, and I have Alex, Matt, Michael, and Mike to thank for that.

Soon after we finished, the rest of the team was shuttled in by the vans and we filed into double pace line formation and rode to a big ceremony on the University of Toledo campus.  We were treated to a Chick-fil-a lunch and then rode back to the dorms where we were staying, showered up and headed off to friendship visits.  The team split up into two groups and went to separate visits, I was lucky enough to go with the puppet show group.  Kids on the Block had become something the team always looked forward to because the guys who preformed it brought so much life and humor to the act.  Kyle from Purdue was the main character Mark, a gregarious, red headed boy with cerebral palsy.  The way Kyle would slip in jokes and how he fielded question from curious kids just kept us laughing the entire skit.  This was the last time the group would do KOB on the trip, so it was awesome to be able to see their last performance.

The sponsor for the day in Toledo was a regional governor (a major position with the national fraternity) and he made it clear to us he wanted Toledo to be the best stop of the trip.  He certainly did a good job at treating the team that night.  After the friendship visit was finished, we headed to Outback Steakhouse, where the entire team was treated to a steak dinner.  After a summer of two meat, one cheese at lunch, you can say the steak was much appreciated.  But the special treatment didn’t stop there.  The team was then shuttled over to a local massage school where we were all given massages.  Some guys on the team had gotten wind of this early in the trip and were literally counting down the days until they got a massage.  Finally, to cap off the wonderful day, we were invited over to Saurabh’s (who was from Miami of Ohio) house, as he lived in town.  There, his family had a big display of deserts and treats set up in their backyard for the whole team.  After we had our fill of deserts, we mingled with Saurabh’s family and friends and then found our way to his basketball hoop, where we played a few spirited rounds of knockout.

The following day we had a 60-mile into the town of Sandusky, Ohio.  I rode with Derek from TCU and Travis from Georgia Tech.  The first part of the ride was not very enjoyable.  We were on trucking roads and so it was too loud talk, and on top of that, we were all getting over being sick, so none of us felt too hot.  Eventually, we turned off the major road and were on much quieter country roads and we had some great conversations.  Travis and I had a long conversation about how everything that happens to you in life has an effect on where you go and what you do in the future.  We talked about what brought us to our current situation in life and how we came to ride JOH.  I realized just how lucky I am to have joined Pi Kappa Phi and to have the bravery to sign for an event like this. Even though something may seem like a terrible at the time, you never know what doors it might open or where it will lead you in life, and that was certainly the case with me rushing Pi Kapp.

By the time we had reached stage up, we were all in high spirits.  After all the other pace lines arrived, we got in double pace line formation and rolled into our friendship visit for the day.  It was a big lunch followed by a dance with a group called Ability Works.  All the clients were so excited when we arrived, I could tell this would be a fun friendship visit.  After getting my lunch, I sat down at the same table as my friend Blake from TCU and he introduced me to a man named Jeff.  Jeff had a developmental disability and was in a wheelchair, but Blake and I had a great conversation with him using some broken sign language to communicate when we couldn’t portray our message vocally.  After we had finished lunch, we asked Jeff if he wanted to go join the rest of the group on the dance floor.  So we wheeled him out and put him right in the middle.  He couldn’t stand up, but he was giving it all from his chair.  By the end, he had a huge smile on his face.  When it was time to go, it was tough for me to say goodbye to Jeff.  I had made a connection with him unlike any other person so far on the trip.  But, this was the usual course of the day, we must say our goodbyes and then move along to the next activity scheduled for us.  Later that day, I was talking to Nick about Jeff because he had seen me with him for most of the friendship visit.  Nick told me the year before that Jeff was not in a wheelchair and was the life of the party on the dance floor.  Nick said one of the tough things about doing the trip twice is that you the same people a year later.  Sometimes, he would see improvement in people from the year before, but a lot of the time he would see regression in some way and that was certainly the case with Jeff. However, as far as I could see, he did not let the wheelchair get in his way or complain about his situation in life, he just kept trying to live his life to the fullest.  Jeff was definitely an inspiration to me and I vowed to ride for him and to keep him in my thoughts in the remaining days to DC.

After a nap at lodging, we were taken to the main attraction of the small town of Sandusky, Cedar Point amusement park.  Cedar Point is one of the biggest and most famous amusement parks in not only the country, but the world as well.  I was with a large group of friends, but eventually people had different plans of attack when it came to the rides they wanted to wait for, and so I ended up splitting off from the group with my friend Jack from Tennessee.  Jack was one of the guys on the trip I had come to know the best, so it was nice to have some time to just hang out and talk about our lives back at school and plans to visit each other and the rest of our friends after the trip.  Eventually, it was time to leave, so we walked back to the vans and headed back to lodging.  That night we had our second to last team meeting of the trip, a wake up call to just how quickly our amazing journey would be coming to end.

The next day was a 70-mile ride to the city of Cleveland.  However, none of us would be riding that full 70 miles because after a sponsored breakfast and a later start than usual, we had to make it to the Indians ball park by 1 pm for a baseball game.  Nick told us no one would be finishing today, but we should try to push it and see how far we can make it before we get racked.  I was riding with Luke and Kyle from Purdue, and we decided today was a better day than any to push the pace.  We were doing 1 mile pulls, which kept the guy at the front of the pace line fresh and strong the whole time.  At times, we were holding a 26-27 mph pace.  We flew.  By the time we were racked, we had made it 35 miles and were the second furthest pace line on the team.  Considering our performance of the day, we decided to give our pace line a fitting name and dubbed ourselves Team Garmin (a major pro cycling team).  After showering up at our lodging, the Case Western Delta Gamma house, we quickly went downtown to catch the remaining innings of the Indians game.  The Indians were victorious and we then headed back to the DG house for some rest before dinner.

Dinner that night was provided by a local family, who were parents of a past Pi Alpha.  After we had eaten we headed back to lodging and had a free night to do what we pleased, as we had a day off the following day.  The next morning we had a friendship visit at the Cleveland Clinic.  The Cleveland Clinic is a hospital for children with all kind of mental and physical disabilities, as well as children with serious illnesses.  We got to tour around the facilities in groups, trying our best to brighten the day of the kids in each ward.  After the tour, we had lunch with all of the patients outside, played basketball and whatever other games the kids wanted to play.  It was an awesome friendship visit, and it felt good to make a difference in the kid’s day, even it was just a little bit.

After our day off, we left Cleveland and headed for the little town of Niles, Ohio.  I rode with Michael from TCU and Beau from Miami of Ohio.  It was a beautiful 55-mile ride along country roads through Amish territory.  I must say passing a horse drawn carriage is a pretty cool feeling.  Michael, born and raised in Dallas, Texas, was shocked by the site of Amish people, as he had never seen them before.  Beau and I took about an hour of the ride just explaining to him how the Amish people lived and some of their customs.  Next thing we knew, we rolled into lodging and had a fried chicken lunch waiting for us.

After lunch, the school we were staying at began to fill up with clients, and we migrated to the gym for our last big dance of the summer.  The DJ was a local guy with a disability who was able to buy his equipment with the money from a grant from Push America.  He then started his own DJ business and explained to us how his business had taken off and how busy he had been with work lately.  Everyone had a great time, and the DJ finished off the dance with a five-song tribute to the stars and stripes, culminating with “Proud to Be an American”.  Everyone circled up, arms around each other and one of the guys on the team even ran and grabbed the giant American flag and ran to the middle of the circle where he began waving it.

After the dance was over, we headed to Olive Garden for a sponsored dinner and then to the local mall.  Recently, we had drawn names out of a hat for a gag gift exchange, so we were at the mall to pick out our gifts.  I was pretty happy with what I came up with.  That’s all for Ohio, on to Pennsylvania tomorrow!

Van Life – Michigan

The first people started getting sick sometime before Wisconsin.  Headache, coughing, sore throat, the usual cold symptoms were what they described.  Given the close proximity in which we were living our lives, the sickness quickly started running its way through the entire team.  By the time we were leaving Chicago, the sickness was in full swing.

The morning after our day off, we racked our bikes on the van and drove back into the city where we had a sponsored breakfast.  While I was sitting in the park waiting for breakfast, I was weighing my options for the day.  I felt terrible, and with DC just two weeks away, the last thing I wanted to do was drag into Washington sick as a dog.  It was almost on queue that Mother Nature made up her mind for me as it started to rain.  That’s when I decided it wasn’t worth it, and I racked my bike on my van and hopped in the back.  While I felt bad for racking myself, I was not alone; three other guys were too sick to ride as well.  I slept all day in the van, and then was told to skip the friendship visit that evening in South Bend, Indiana to get some more rest.

The next three days were similar to the first.  I rode the next day to Kalamazoo, Michigan, but I jumped the gun in getting back on the bike, and I spent the following two days back in the van.  We have been extremely blessed so far in terms of the weather.  However, Michigan turned out to be quite rainy and cold, and so the rides to Lansing and Ann Arbor were both characterized by bad weather.  Thankfully I wasn’t missing much during my days off the bike, but for some reason I still felt guilty.  But, at this point, all I could do was sit in the van and wait out the rain and my cold.

The Windy City – Chicago

After leaving Milwaukee, we dropped back into Illinois and rode 70 miles into Glenview, a suburb of Chicago. Our lodging for the night was at a YMCA, provided to us by our sponsor Barb. I must say, Barb treated us well while we were in Glenview. We started off the night with a friendship visit at the Y, a cookout dinner in the grassy field behind the building. We played dodgeball with some of the kids and, as usual, mobbed the dance floor. After the cookout was over, we went back to the room where we were sleeping and had a team meeting and then were free for the night. Many of us took advantage of the facilities to play basketball and use the gym. Afterwards, Barb had invited us all over to her house to for a bonfire and s’mores. Barb had three kids in college and a lot of their friends were there, so it was nice to interact with per people our age.

The next morning, we woke up and instead of getting on the bike, we went back out to the field where we had the cookout and did yoga. Barb and her daughter came out that morning to join in and we all gave yoga a try. Certain poses resulted in a chorus of groans from all of the guys, but afterwards we all felt loose and relaxed. After giving Barb and emphatic thank you and goodbye, we racked our bikes and drove the remaining 20 miles into the city of Chicago. We waited in a Target parking lot until it was time to go to our friendship visit, and then we hopped on our bikes and rode in double pace line formation to the Nuemann Family Services Center for lunch and a friendship visit. When we arrived, there was a huge group if people waiting for us. After meeting all of the clients and eating lunch with them, we were told to mingle with all of the people there. I quickly noticed a group of guys standing around a basketball hoop just shooting, so I grabbed my friend David from Iowa and we walked over and started up a game of five on five. I think had just as much fun, if not more fun, than the clients I was playing with. I made a good connection with a guy on my team named Donald, and we were racking up points left and right.  After three games, it was time to go, so I said goodbye to my friends and we loaded back into the vans.

We were told to change in the vans, and then they dropped us off in downtown Chicago and gave us a few hours to explore the city. After we had walked around, seen some sights, and ate some food, it was time to go to dinner. Dinner was at a little Italian restaurant downtown and was provided by a Pi Alpha from the first JOH named Jon Schumaker. Once we had our fill of pasta, we drove to our hotel for the night. All of the guys went out to a movie or a nearby bar, but I decided to stay in as I could feel sickness coming on.

The next morning, we drove back into the city for another friendship visit with Envision. Their mission is: “to provide services that promote choice, independence and community integration to people with developmental disabilities and other special needs.”  Prior to our arrival, they had bought a few bicycles, so we set up a course mimicking the path of our own journey around the facility.  When all the clients came out, we helped them ride the bike “across the country” just as we were doing.  Many of the clients had never ridden a bike before, so we got to see some extra wide smiles and excitement during this friendship visit.  After the visit was over, we headed back into the city, where we were given an afternoon of free time to explore.

Nick and I split off from the group to go meet a chapter brother of mine that was working in Chicago, who rode with Nick on JOH in 2012 .  It was good to see him and hear stories about the year prior.  After lunch, Nick and I walked around Chicago for a few hours.  We talked about our families, what we wanted to do after JOH and college, and everything else in between.  I really enjoyed the one on one time with Nick.  As Project Manager, he is not only busy all hours of the day, but he is required to be the ambassador to both JOH and Push America as an organization at all times.  It was nice to get to hang out with Nick when he had the ability to step out of the responsibility of his leadership position.

Eventually, we ran into another group of guys on the pier.  We hopped on the ferris wheel, which provided us an amazing view of the city’s skyline against Lake Michigan, followed by what has become an almost daily JOH tradition of getting ice cream.  Then, Nick and I, now joined by Luke and Kyle from Purdue split off again to walk around.  We ended up just hanging out in a Starbucks shooting the breeze until it was time to go to dinner.

Dinner was sponsored by a Pi Alpha from the first group ride.  He took us to Gino’s Pizzeria so we could eat some real Chicago-style deep dish pizza.  I have never been to Chicago, so this was my first taste of the real deal.  Needless to say it didn’t disappoint.  After we said our thank you and took the group picture we headed back to lodging.  Towards the end of dinner, I was starting to feel the sickness finally take hold, so I immediately went to bed when we got back to the hotel.  Off to Michigan tomorrow!