The members of Carrboro’s Boy Scout Troop 845 dipped their rear wheels in the Pacific Ocean in Oregon and repeated their chosen mantra: bike loud. With the wind at their backs and passion in their pedals, they began riding east with everything they had.
The simple slogan helps to motivate seven scouts and two leaders as they bike across the country this summer from Florence, Oregon to Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina. The trip is 3,900 miles across 11 states along the Trans-American Trail.
But the opportunity to venture across the nation’s scenic bike routes isn't the only thing driving the troop forward. With each mountain climbed and mile passed, the bikers are raising money and awareness for a North Carolina charity, the Be Loud! Sophie Foundation.
The charity supports adolescent cancer patients and their families at UNC Hospitals. The organization is named after Sophie Steiner, a teenage girl from Chapel Hill who died from cancer in 2013. The money raised from the bike trip will go to the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.
The crew initially planned to raise $20,000, but has since changed gears, bumping up its goal to $100,000.
As they raise money, the cyclists will get to see some of this country's great sights: the Cascades of Colorado, the Hoosier Pass in the Rocky Mountains, and the gushing geysers of Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, to name just a few.
But the eagerness to see what scenery awaits around each corner isn't what keeps the bikers going. Instead, it's the people the riders are meeting along the way.
“We’ve been in a different town every night for more than a month now, and I’ve been shocked by how nice the people have been,” scout Brian Richardson, 15, said.
Richardson said he remembers a tough day in Baker City, OR. The crew was exhausted and was cycling around town for a place to stay when a family pulled up in a van, bought them dinner and offered a hot shower and housing for the night.
“They gave us a roof over our heads, which just blew us away. It went from one of the hardest days on the trip to one of the best moments,” Richardson said.
Ed Billings is biking with the scouts from start to finish as one of two leaders. He said they take the journey day-by-day, and “if you think too far into the future, you will lose your mind.” Billings said these acts of kindness have kept them going throughout the rigorous ride.
“I can’t tell you the number of times we have gone to pay the tab for a meal, but it’s already paid for and we don’t know who did it,” Billings said.
The scouts have been planning this trip for years, but Billings said it’s not just about fulfilling a dream of biking across the country.
“The charitable component allows you to participate in something bigger than yourself. The boys are realizing by doing something charitable, it opens avenues for them and provides the opportunity for people to be generous,” he said.
Below is a video of the bikers pedaling through the beautiful Hoosier Pass in Colorado, courtesy of David Hardy from UNC-TV.
Billings' moment to remember came in Guffey, CO, a town with a population of less than a hundred people. Billings called it a “living ghost town,” where the local diner hosts an annual Fourth of July town picture. He said the crew stopped at the diner to figure out their plan for that evening, when he sparked a conversation with a retired Marine, a “tough guy who looked solid as a rock.”
“We got to talking about the charity, and all of a sudden he looks at me with tears in his eyes and gives me 20 bucks and said, ‘This is for the cause,’” Billings said.
“He told me, ‘I am afraid of no man. I have beaten many and been beaten by a few, and when I hear a story like that about a child it breaks my heart.’ I tried to get his name but he said it was wasn’t about him, it was about the boys and their cause.
Richardson said Sophie Steiner went to the same high school as many of the boys, and they felt a personal connection to the foundation’s cause.
“The foundation provides activities for teens undergoing cancer treatment so they don’t lose those important times in their lives,” he said.
Billings added many times there are support services for pediatric cancer patients and services for adults with cancer, but for an adolescent cancer patient there is a tough gray area.
“Many times, teens have to decide which track they want to take. They have to ask, ‘Do I want to finger paint with the kids or knit with the grandmothers?’” Billings said.
The team is currently biking their way through Missouri. They are scheduled to dip their front wheels in the Atlantic Ocean at Wrightsville Beach on August 18, rounding out 66 days on the road of pedaling 70 miles a day.
Billings said every day he thinks about the moment riding into Wrightsville Beach with friends and family waiting at the finish line.
“It’ll be amazing,” he said. “We are a long ways out here, and it will just be amazing.”
For the scouts, Richardson said the accomplishment will be a big reward, but it will quickly be back to life's normal routine.
“We have to go back to school as soon as we get back,” he said. “I’ve been in contact with friends, and they say we should come back to Chapel Hill, but I would rather be out on the road.”
The crew is blogging about their experience along the way. Check out their stories here, where you can also donate to the cause.