Out on the windy open road, the cross-country bicyclists who are part of the Journey of Hope look forward to arriving in places like Grand Island.
Not only do they get a great welcome and two days of rest, but they also get to sleep in a real bed.
Grand Island is one of only three or four cities along the way where they’re lodged in a motel. The other nights, they spend in gymnasium, churches and community centers.
“So we’re very grateful to be here,” said Jeff Michaud, who is coordinating the annual bike ride.
Twenty-two college men received their usual enthusiastic welcome Monday at the Ramada by Wyndham. Close to 80 people, some of them holding signs, gave the riders a hardy greeting and Mayor Roger Steele delivered a welcoming address.
The young men, who come from a variety of colleges, are all members of Pi Kappa Phi Fraternity. They are just about midway in their trip, which takes them from San Francisco (where they started June 4) to Washington, D.C., where they will finish Aug. 10.
The group traveling through Grand Island is one of three Journey of Hope teams currently traveling coast to coast. They are part of what’s known as The Ability Experience, which is the national philanthropy of Pi Kappa Phi. Each cyclist raises at least $6,000 for people with disabilities.
Steele said the city is proud to host the young men.
“We stand in awe of your ability to make such a huge trip on behalf of people with disabilities,” said the mayor, who issued a proclamation labeling Monday as Journey of Hope Day.
Audrey DeFrank of The Arc of Central Nebraska said she drove over the Rocky Mountains last week, and thought about the young men who would make the trip on bicycle.
Michaud made the cross-country trip himself a year ago. They were “honestly the best two months of my life,” he said. If he could, he would make the ride every summer the rest of his life, he said.
The mission of The Ability Experience is to support people with disabilities and develop the men of Pi Kappa Phi into servant leaders.
Michaud said it works. He’s glad to “lead these men on the same amazing experience that I had,” he said.
The riders says pedaling into the wind is grueling. “Also, the mosquitoes have been a huge pain the past few days,” Michaud said.
There’s also the small matter of the Rockies and the Sierra Nevadas.
“There are some tough rides on those days, going over the mountains. But these guys have shown pure grit and passion to be here,” Michaud said.
With a long day ahead of them, “we dedicate the ride in the morning to people we’ve met along the way,” Michaud said. “There’s this one individual we met in Salt Lake City who just inspired the whole team to really attack those Rocky Mountains. So whenever we’re feeling down on ourselves we just think of those individuals and we do it for them.”
They met those types of individuals in Grand Island. “We couldn’t do it without them, to be honest with you,” he said.
Knowing that they’ll be soon be meeting “wonderful people with disabilities” is what keeps the riders going, said Ryan Miller of the University of Connecticut. When they roll into a city like Grand Island, they feel like “rock stars,” said Will Pechous of the University of Wisconsin.
This year, Michaud is riding in one of the six vans that accompany the cyclists. The traveling party totals 29 people, including Michaud and six crew members.
This summer, the three groups will raise between $700,000 and $900,000, Michaud said.
The group’s first stop in Grand Island Monday was Green Line Equipment. The riders got a police escort to the hotel, led by Police Officer Eric Olson on a bicycle.
Meeting the riders for the 27th year in a row was Craig Siemon, 34. He said he enjoys meeting new friends every year. Also happy to see the riders were Ray McBride and his friend, Jamie Hoffman. McBride was wearing a shirt signed by past riders.
Many of the people welcoming the riders come from Goodwill, Mosaic, Mid-Nebraska Individual Services and Integrated Life Choices.
On Monday night, the riders and their friends gathered for a dinner and a dance at the Elks Club.
On Tuesday, the bicyclists will visit organizations that work with those with disabilities, such as Goodwill, Mosaic and Mid-Nebraska Individual Services.
They’ll also meet with Sen. Dan Quick and Edison McDonald of Lincoln, who is state director of The Arc.
The public is invited to a picnic, which begins at 11:30 a.m. at Ashley Park.
In the afternoon, a bowling party is slated for Westside Lanes, followed by a community picnic at 6 p.m. at Resurrection Catholic Church. The public is invited. “We just ask that everybody bring a dish to share,” DeFrank said.
The visit to Grand Island is supported by about 50 sponsors, DeFrank said. A big sponsor is Council 134 of United Commercial Travelers.