By Debbie Adams
Seventeen cyclists and six crew members on the 2022 “Journey of Hope” cross-country bicycle ride to raise disability awareness stopped at the Lancerlot Sports Complex in Vinton on August 7 for a couple of days rest. Arrangements for the stay at the Lancerlot had been made through a connection at Roanoke College. The group had spent the night before at Camp Easterseals UCP in New Castle.
The plan was to leave Vinton early on August 9 bound for their final destination – Washington, D. C., via Route 24 to Lynchburg.
Each year dozens of men who are members of the Pi Kappa Phi Fraternity, and part of its Ability Experience philanthropic initiative across the nation, embark on the 4,400-mile journey from the West Coast to the nation’s capital.
The Ability Experience was founded in 1977 with the purpose of “instilling lifelong service in our fraternity members and serving people with disabilities.” It all started out with designing a therapeutic play unit for children with severe disabilities.
“Together, we’re helping to change the way society views people with disabilities and views fraternities\” is the message on their website. “Because labels should not define us. We prefer to put our values into action, bringing our mission for a more inclusive community to life every single day.”
There are three different routes for the trip – the North Route, the TransAmerica Route, and the Southern Route. Two originate in California and one in Washington State. The TransAmerica Route group that visited Vinton started off officially in Seattle on June 8 after a few days of orientation. Their goal is to reach Washington, D.C., on August 13. The leader of the team is Harrison Covert, who drives one of the vans.
Their itinerary took them from Washington State to Washington, D.C. through Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia, and Virginia. They rested up for a couple of days in Spokane (Washington), Missoula (Montana), West Yellowstone (Montana), Jackson (Wyoming), Casper (Wyoming), Denver, Colorado Springs, Wichita, Olathe (Kansas), St. Louis, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, and Roanoke. Otherwise, they just kept pedaling day after day.
On the stopovers, the cyclists usually visit sponsors who are serving the disabled through employment centers which assist the disabled, assisted living facilities, organizations for the disabled, or plants where all of the employees might have disabilities. They also meet with disabled individuals themselves in what are often fun settings. In the Roanoke area the fraternity’s sponsor was the Down Syndrome Association of Roanoke, with a “friendship visit” and dinner scheduled at the Mill Mountain Zoo.
The rides vary in length each day; the longest trek was about 130 miles in Wyoming. They more typically average about 75 miles per day. This year they battled extreme heat and heavy storms at several points along the way.
Cyclists are required to raise $6,500 each to finance their trip. They supply their own bikes and accessories. Safety equipment and team uniforms are provided. They must be an associate, active, or alumni member of Pi Kappa Phi, and in good standing with their fraternity.
Cyclist Lukas Wiedemann talked about his experiences on the trip thus far. This is his second time around, having completed the Southern Route in 2019. He says he is the oldest man on the team. He was looking for a bike shop on Sunday, having broken his chain on the latest ride.
He just graduated from Rochester Institute of Technology in New York, majoring in Business Management Information Systems. He would like to work in the IT industry.
Wiedemann says his favorite part of the trip was near the beginning at Mount Rainier in Washington State, because that is where he is from and where he plans to return now that he has graduated from college. He says that particular ride was exhausting, but brought back childhood memories of seeing Mount Rainier in the distance from his home.
He says that the group had been scheduled to ride through Yellowstone National Park, but those plans had to be changed because of the extreme flooding and destruction of roads in the area. There was a memorable heat wave as they rode through Kansas, Nebraska, and Missouri. Fortunately, none of the cyclists suffered ill effects. The past week had been a little stormy but hadn’t significantly delayed their trip on any occasion.
Wiedemann says his motivation in signing up for the Journey of Hope was his desire to have a positive impact on the world and the disabled individuals he would meet on the trip. Fraternity brothers who had participated described it as “life-changing.” In addition, he was attracted to the physical challenge of the project, plus it was an opportunity to see the country.
He, and many others in the group, confess that they were not really “much of a cyclist” before undertaking the Journey of Hope. Wiedemann said he used to row, but that was about the sum total of his participation in athletics. Five of the team members were making their second cross-country ride with Pi Kappa Phi. The 27 members of the team represented all parts of the nation.
Wiedemann says the cyclists stick mainly to rural routes and back roads. Strangely enough, they were not much in favor of bike lanes, which collect dangerous debris and are sometimes ignored by motorists. They shared some tales about frightening encounters with drivers with little respect for bike riders.
On the journey, the cyclists travel in groups of three to five, riding single file in a paceline. They generally stop to rest every 10 miles.
The team arrived in Vinton around 11 a.m. on Sunday and were getting more rest than usual with time off that afternoon from 2 to 5 p.m. before leaving for the Down Syndrome Association event. Some headed off for lunch at nearby fast-food chains.
Others ate “real food” leftovers (mac and cheese) from a sponsor dinner the night before. There were questions about where to get a good breakfast in Vinton on Monday morning – especially a meal that involved eggs, a rare treat on the trip.
The team would be staying inside the offices on the second floor of the Lancerlot, overlooking the ice rink, with showers available in the ice hockey area. Team members travel with sleeping bags and camping equipment so they can stay most anywhere. Wiedemann says they usually stay in churches, high schools, and YMCAs.
Before they left for Lynchburg on Tuesday, they would need to complete a variety of errands in addition to some shopping, with some team members washing clothes, others getting water and ice for their coolers, some scouting out the upcoming route to be followed, others doing “sweeps” (cleaning up the area before they leave), along with individual bike maintenance.
Wiedemann says that once the teams reach Washington, D.C., and meet up on the Capitol Lawn, there will be a big celebration before they head home, richer for the journey and the people they met along the way.