Though armed with bicycles equipped for a cross-country journey, 26 young men left them in a dorm roof at Eastern New Mexico University and hopped in vans for a short ride to Portales’ Southside Church of Christ on Monday night.
They can be forgiven.
After riding bikes 95 miles in scorching heat from Roswell to Portales, the Journey of Hope cyclists stopped for a photo op and a little hobnobbing in front of the Roosevelt County Courthouse before being treated to dinner at the church.
It’s all in a day’s work for current and former members of the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity, who are hoping to raise $500,000 this summer for Push America — a group dedicated to supporting people with disabilities. The riders will end up pedaling 4,000 miles by the time the cross-country venture is over.
Naturally, many of the participants have a passion for bicycling. Consequently, they’re missing coverage of the world’s premier cycling event, the Tour de France. But Charlie Blackstock, 19, of the University of Colorado, said he likes the feeling of being on the road, as it gives him some semblance of an idea for what the professionals are facing.
“I’m a huge Lance Armstrong fan; he’s always been one of my idols because of how he’s been able to deal with what he’s been given,” said Blackstock, who only gets scattered information on the Tour’s progress. “It’s kind of like hearsay. Some of the kids have an iPhone, and we’ll get the Internet kind of scarcely throughout the ride — because we’re out in the middle of nowhere most of the time.”
The Journey of Hope is actually three journeys: a northern route through the United States, a path through the center of the country and a southern route, which includes Portales, that started in San Francisco on June 14 and will end in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 15.
Blackstock said the last few days in New Mexico have been easier than the miles through Nevada and Arizona in the middle of summer.
“It’s a lot harder than what people were anticipating. Going into it myself, I figured after a couple of weeks, I’d be in much better shape and it’d be easier,” he said. “But every day you have to push yourself, and every day seems as hard as the last day.”
Each rider had to raise $5,000 in order to participate, and that accounts for the bulk of the money being raised for Push America.
“It’s very, very hot,” said Jared Johnson, 22, a senior at Washington State University. “We would’ve loved to (have started in April), but most of the guys were taking classes.”