Several cyclists stopped off in Mount Airy Sunday night on their way home following a 3,700-mile charity bicycle ride across the U.S.
The ride, a fundraiser for The Fuller Center for Housing, started in Ocean Beach, California (near San Diego), and traveled across the Southern part of the country winding up in Ocean City, New Jersey. Another ride across the Northern part of the United States went from Astoria, Oregon, to Portland, Maine. Riders made stops along the way to help with home building and repair projects sponsored by the organization.
The Fuller Center is a non-profit organization that seeks to eradicate poverty housing by promoting partnerships with individuals and community groups to build and rehabilitate homes for people in need.
The United Nations estimates that more than one billion people around the world live in substandard housing — including millions in the United States, according to information from The Fuller Center.
The Fuller Center operates on a model made famous by the better-known Habitat for Humanity.
It was, in fact, started after its founders parted ways with Habitat, filling some of the gaps where Habitat isn’t working, according to Joel Derksen, who was a trip leader and also worked in the Fuller Center offices prior to riding cross-country.
Derksen said the primary difference is that Habitat only builds new houses, and The Fuller Center does that, but also renovates and repairs sub-standard properties to bring them out of the category of poverty housing.
The cross-country bike ride had between 14 and 26 riders at any given point, each of which had raised a minimum of $4,500 in sponsorships.
The trip from ocean to ocean took 10 weeks, riding around 70 miles per day rain or shine for six days a week. Riders rested on Sunday, and also stopped and took a day to help with home-building projects at seven locations along the way.
“I joined a bike ride,” said Karl Trimmer of Atlanta, “but really, the families we interfaced with on the seven builds meant the most to me.”
“Karl was one of our strongest riders,” said Carlos Vega, of Mount Airy, who drove the support van known as “The Beast” for the trip, and urged Karl to tell his age.
“I’m 73,” said Trimmer, who said he only took up bike riding 11 years ago, at 62. “It was about the only thing left. I couldn’t run because my knees were shot. I was taking spinning classes at the YMCA, and someone suggested I get a real bike. So I did. I started with five miles, worked up from five to 10, then 20, and then 100. Eleven years later, I rode all the way across the country. It starts with small steps.”
“We were riding in California,” said David Johnson, of Atlanta, “and I was seeing the border wall for the first time. That really hits you. That’s what I’ll take from this ride.”
“I continue to be deeply amazed by our hosts,” said Joel Derksen. “They not only let us sleep in their churches, but we got a warm welcome and nine times out of ten, lots of food.”
Derksen was also involved with the pre-planning for the race, when cold calls were made to churches along the ride route where stops were planned.
“There’s always a church that says ‘yes’,” said Trimmer. “Sometimes, they’d ask, ‘How did you pick us?’ ‘Because you said yes,’ we’d tell them.”
It is not uncommon for churches who have hosted riders to later start a chapter of The Fuller Center, according to Derksen, who added that starting a chapter is simple. All that is required is five members for a board and to sign a 2-page agreement. The nearest chapter is located in Pilot Mountain.
Some riders signed up for and completed the full 10-week ride. Others did part of it. David Johnson did five weeks and still managed to ride through most of the major mountain ranges. Some folks signed on just for a day when the ride went through their town.
“It’s mostly young and old, with very few in between,” said Trimmer of the 10-week length of the ride. “A lot of teachers and retired folks.”
“Some quit their jobs,” said Carlos Vega. “I did. I was working as a structural engineer in Greensboro, and I needed to change jobs. At the last minute, they needed someone to drive the van. In a week, my life was completely different. Even though I served as a support staff member, I was given the chance to ride three times. On one of the rides I managed to cycle 70 miles. I’d definitely like to do this again but as a rider.”
Derksen who has done the ride twice, said he hopes he can do it again.
“My bucket list only said one time,” said Trimmer, as his riding buddies urged him to give it another go in the future. “Not knowing anything about The Fuller Center when I started, I can say now that my involvement with The Fuller Center will continue.”
Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699.