Long-distance pedaling with a purpose

 

Wednesday, Aug 20, 2008

They endured 102-degree heat while crossing the desert, navigated frightening drop-offs while traversing the Rockies, and when they weren’t cycling their 80 miles a day, they were building and repairing homes.

For Summit resident Doug Stephens and eight other men from across the country, their 3,300-mile trek this summer had one purpose: to raise funds and awareness for the Fuller Center for Housing. 

The rapidly growing not-for-profit center, founded in 2005 by Millard Fuller, expands on Habitat for Humanity’s vision of eliminating substandard housing. The center, through an application and screening process, builds and rehabilitates homes for those in need.

"I really admire what Millard has done to eliminate poverty housing in the world," said Stephens, who worked with Fuller for several years at Habitat.

It was at a job site in West Virginia that Stephens met Ryan Iafiglioa, who coordinated the bike trip as a way to address the three needs of the organization that Fuller "relentlessly" stressed: spreading the word about the Fuller Center, raising money and starting local groups.

Their April meeting sparked Stephens’ interest, and he came home to his wife in Summit with the bike trip on his mind. "She was very supportive," he said. "She said it would be the adventure of a lifetime."

The last rider to join, Stephens signed up in mid-May, leaving little time for preparation for the cross-country journey. "I had done mostly recreational biking, but I hadn’t done anything as big as this," he said. With the little time he had before his sendoff on June 16 from La Jolla, Calif., Stephens would do 40- to 50-mile rides to get into better shape.

"It was toughest thing I have ever done over eight weeks," he said of the trip.

The group traveled through 11 mostly Southern states, riding approximately 80 miles per day, six days out of the week, and stopped to build and repair homes on the seventh day.

During the course of the ride, many supporters joined the group for part of the trip, but for those who couldn’t, Stephens felt as if they were riding through him. 

"Here we are riding for eight weeks so that people can afford a simple, decent place to live, but we understand that some people can’t just take eight weeks off of work," he said. "People would make donations and track our progress online."

For Stephens, the trip was almost like a triathlon. "In a triathlon you bike, swim, and run; here we would bike, then get off of our bikes and build homes, and then spread the word and get donations." 

Although exhausted mentally and physically, the 59-year-old was amazed by the warmth and generosity with which he and his comrades were received at each of more than 40 destinations.

"We brought tents along to sleep in case we didn’t have a place to stay," he said. But there was never a need.

"No matter where we went," Stephens said, "someone, or some church, always gave us a place to stay. Sometimes it would be late in the afternoon when we’d get the call, but it always came."

Each rider had a personal goal of raising $4,000 and a collective goal of raising $100,000. The riders sent fliers and literature about the ride to friends, family, coworkers and parishioners, and took donations on their website. The riders also had a trailer with supplies that rode behind them, which also accepted donations along the way.

The Fuller Center held press conferences along the route to raise awareness, and received a police escort at its final destination, the Fuller Center headquarters in Americus, Ga. The escort led Stephens and his group to Tybee Island, near Savannah, where they all dipped their front tires in the Atlantic Ocean.

"It signified the end of our trip, because we had dipped our rear tires in the Pacific when we started our trip in La Jolla."

In the end, the bikers raised $133,000, which will go toward funding for building more homes, he said.

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