While many cyclists sign up for the Fuller Center Bicycle Adventure thinking it will be a one-time experience or bucket-list item to check off, many of them wind up returning for multiple Adventures.
In fact, on this year’s 3,600-mile summer ride from Atlantic City, New Jersey, to Astoria, Oregon, more than 30 percent of the riders are veterans of past rides.
“So many riders join their first Bike Adventure to accomplish their dream of biking across the country — or biking farther than they’ve ever biked before,” said Adventure leader Melissa Merrill, herself a veteran of the 2009, 2010 and 2011 rides before leaving her engineering job to accept the volunteer position as leader in the fall of 2012. “But after a few days on the ride, they realize it’s about so much more than that.
“After accomplishing their cycling goals, I think they come back again for the awesome community that’s created on the ride and the sense of accomplishment and meaning we all get from being a part of something bigger than ourselves,” she added.
The summer Bicycle Adventure was founded in 2008 by Ryan Iafigliola — who is now The Fuller Center for Housing’s Director of International Field Operations — and was inspired by Millard and Linda Fuller’s fundraising and awareness walks of the 1980s. Since that first ride in 2008, the event has raised more than $900,000 for the fight against poverty housing and is poised to go over the $1 million mark this year.
Among those riders on the first Adventure was Dani Schenk, an Elon University student who rode the entire way from San Diego, California, to Tybee Island, Georgia, just outside Savannah. This year, she will rejoin the Adventure for the entire 3,600 miles through 15 states. She is the only cyclist from the 2008 ride making the full cross-country trip — though Iafigliola will ride from Atlantic City to Cleveland, Ohio, and 2008 vets Doug Stephens and Josh Rothstein plan to join the ride for a bit when it comes through Philadelphia.
“For me, it was an incredible experience to see the country,” said Schenk, who was an 18-year-old freshman when Millard Fuller spoke at Elon, inspiring her to get involved. “Before then, I had never been on a road bicycle before, I had never heard of The Fuller Center or done any kind of volunteering.”
She said the trip changed her life. After graduating from Elon in 2010, she enlisted in the Peace Corps and spent two years working in Guatemala. In the fall, she will begin pursuing a master’s degree in Public Health at Elon.
“When Dani joined the ride as a college student in 2008, the ride was in its infancy and its name Bicycle Adventure was all-too-earned,” Iafigliola recalled. “Since that time, she’s grown up and so have we. She’s already served a full term in the Peace Corps and we’ve grown from 16 riders to more than 60. She’s going to be amazed at the changes and have a blast.”
Schenk hopes some things will not have changed — including the hospitality seen along the route and the camaraderie among the riders that lasts long after the journey is complete.
“One of my favorite things about it was meeting people in all the churches that we stayed at and how gracious they were to feed us and put us up and help us on our way,” Schenk recalled. “And working on the build sites was incredible. … The riders who went all the way with me that year, I’m still in touch with all of them. We always periodically email so we get updates on each others’ lives. There are just so many incredible aspects of the Bicycle Adventure.”
The 2008 trip impacted her in other ways, as well.
“Honestly, I still talk about the first trip all the time with people because I think it really opened up my eyes, especially spiritually,” she said. “I was not a very religious person at all. One of the beautiful things for me was that when we stopped at the churches, we would go to the services and that was eye-opening for me. And, obviously, I support the Fuller Center’s mission of affordable housing.”