Students to ride across America

BY BEN MARKS | MAY 12, 2015 5:00 AM

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This summer, Kyle Gacke, and Connor O’Neill will bike for 4,000 miles — 67-straight days — starting from San Francisco and ending up in Washington, D.C.

Gacke and O’Neill are two University of Iowa juniors participating in the bike ride, called the Journey of Hope, which is organized through the philanthropy their fraternity Pi Kappa Phi owns.

Pi Kappa Phi assistant communications director Jeremy Osborne said the Journey of Hope is entering its 28th year and is designed to raise awareness and donate money to organizations that work with people with mental and physical disabilities.

O’Neill, a UI civil engineering student, said he joined the fraternity his freshman year because of his sister, who has a learning disability.

“I wasn’t really into fraternities to begin with,” he said. “But one of the big selling points, especially for my parents, was the philanthropy and helping people with disabilities.”

Nursing student Gacke first became interested when he went on an alternative spring-break trip hosted by Pi Kappa Phi during his freshman year.

“I met Pi Kappa Phis from all over the nation who came to serve all over the nation, and I saw the impact we were able to have,” he said.

The pair’s journey will begin on June 3, when they fly to San Francisco to meet 24 other cyclists and 10 crewmembers.

From there, the group will travel through Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Nebraska, Iowa, and other states, averaging around 80 miles a day, with the longest being 125.

“I’m nervous about the mountains,” Gacke said. “Day 4 is 95 miles all uphill in the mountains, and everyone says besides the end, that’s the most emotional part of the trip.”

Neither Gacke nor Neill has extensive experience with biking before. However, both have participated in many sports in the past including hockey, football, tennis, baseball, and cross-country.

To prepare for the trip, they said they began to bike a little more and made sure to stay in shape.

“It’s an experience, and if you’re not going out there to live life and do things, there’s no point,” O’Neill said. “You’re just sitting there.”

To participate in the ride, each rider is required to raise a minimum of $5,500, something O’Neill said he did easily, having met his goal by Christmas. He has raised almost $9,000.

Gacke on the other hand, has not fared quite so well, and is still $300 short of the minimum goal.

“I think my first donation was like $50, and I was like, ‘Yeah. That’s so much money,’ ” he said. “It’s been a full-time task through this school year to try to raise this money.”

Most of the riders’ expenses are donated from various organizations, so almost all the money the riders raise goes toward grants they give away during the ride.

On most days after the team arrives in overnight towns, they will participate in a “friendship visit,” said Michael O’Connell, the logistics coordinator for the Journey of Hope.

These visits could be a giant dance party, sitting down and having dinner, a karaoke session, or even a puppet show that teaches younger students about not being afraid of people with disabilities.

Most of the organizations they work with will then receive a $500 to $1,000 grant from the group.
On their trip, the group will stop and have friendship visits in various Iowa cities, including Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, and Iowa City.

On July 14, the group will arrive in Iowa City to visit the Arc of Southeast Iowa, an organization for people with disabilities, O’Connell said. They will then gather at the Old Capitol Town Center to speak to the community.

“It is a bike trip, but the focus isn’t on the biking aspect,” Gacke said. “You don’t have to be a cyclist to do this … the point is service.”

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