Imagine riding 3,900 miles from Los Angeles to New York City to raise money for charity.
For nine weeks, it’s just you, your bike and more than 200 other bikers. You sleep in tents in schoolyards, wash your clothes in five-gallon buckets, ride in extreme heat and over mountains, and it changes your life.
First-year student Eric Versluis and his dad, Chad Versluis, rode the Sea to Sea 2013 Bike Tour in the summer. The two raised more than $20,000, which will be divided between World Renew, RCA World Missions, Partners Worldwide and local programs that assist people in need.
Chad Versluis read about the tour online and suggested it as a summer activity. Father and son trained together, riding 50 miles during the week and 30-70 miles on the weekend, each racking up more than 900 miles in only a few months prior to the race.
Their ride started at Newport Beach in Los Angeles. From there, they rode to Phoenix, Colorado Springs, Iowa City, Grand Rapids and Montreal, and finished on Staten Island in New York City.
Of the 220 riders who started the race, about 85 (including Versluis) rode the entire length.
“The first three weeks were pretty tough,” Versluis said. “We were going through Arizona during a big heat wave and our thermometers on our bikes read between 110-120 degrees, sometimes more because of the heat reflecting off the road. The first Thursday of the trip, I had to change a flat tire and later I noticed that my cleats were melting. It was that hot.”
When they arrived in New York City on August 23, they received a police escort across Staten Island to the closing ceremonies. For those who rode the whole tour, they officially ended their ride by dipping their front tire in the Atlantic Ocean. Sea to Sea then hosted a celebration dinner and families from around the nation flew in to celebrate with their riders.
Versluis said the daily ride would begin before 8 a.m. Riders would pack their tents and load them into one of two semi trucks that traveled with the tour.
They would arrive at the next stop around 3 p.m., where they would unpack, pitch a tent and shower (if there was one). Volunteers who drove along with the riders would prepare dinner and then the riders were free to explore the town for the rest of the evening.
“The hardest part of the tour was waking up every morning in a tent, knowing you have 75-100 miles to ride that day. But, once you get going, you get into a good rhythm for the rest of the day,” said Versluis.
The day after the race ended, Versluis flew back to Grand Rapids where he unpacked from his trip and repacked for college.
“This is one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences,” said Versluis. “The trip made me realize how hard it must be for people not fortunate enough to have a place to call home. I got a taste of what it’s like to always be moving from place to place, the only difference is at the end of the day, I knew I would eventually get to go back to my warm bed when the tour was over, unlike so many impoverished people all around the world.”
To learn more about Sea to Sea, visit www.seatosea.org.