Mike Anderer and Matt Camuso were both approaching graduation from an Ivy League university, but they found themselves wanting to do more with their lives before settling into careers.
The two young men, members of the crew team at Princeton University, played out their desire when they donned bicycle gear in July and began a cross-country bike ride in the name of literacy.
Anderer postponed his career as a secondary school science teacher and Camuso held off entering medical school so they could organize and implement Ride for Reading, a 47-day, 4,100-mile bike ride from Seattle to Boston. They passed through Baltimore Friday en route to their destination, which they hope to reach Friday.
The project, under the guidance of Literacy Volunteers of America, is intended to raise money as well as inspire others to combat illiteracy. Literacy Volunteers of America is a national organization that create programs and provide support for individuals who need help with reading, writing or communication skills.
Anderer and Camuso rode into "The City That Reads" on Friday, the 40th day of their trip, before heading into Pennsylvania over the weekend.
Anderer, a 23-year old native of Doylestown, Pa., said it was while attending Princeton that he realized the horrible situation in which illiteracy leaves people.
"I was at a local deli one day, and the man in front of me didn't have enough money. The cashier kindly asked him to write his name and address down," Anderer said. "The man wrote his name with ease, but he couldn't write his address for the life of him."
At that point, Anderer realized that illiteracy can be found even in a small college town such as Princeton, N.J.
"I volunteered for a legal aid society that assisted inmates," said Camuso, 22, of Boston. "While working with the inmates, I learned that some of these men were victims of circumstance. They were illiterate people unable to help in their own defense because they were unable to communicate effectively."
Camuso stressed that literacy involves more than the ability to read and write, but also to adequately communicate one's thoughts and ideas.
L Anderer and Camuso began their journey on July 1 in Seattle.
Their typical day begins at 6 a.m.
They take down their tents, cook their usual breakfast of oatmeal, prepare an on-the-go lunch of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, pack the rest of their 50 pounds of gear on their bikes and start out on the road by 7 a.m.
Depending on the weather and the terrain, said Camuso, they ride about 100 miles a day and then go to dinner at a local restaurant.
They usually go to sleep around 10 p.m. to get eight hours of rest each night. Camuso said they can go days without taking a shower.
The pair pitches their tents in forests, parks "or any place with nice grass," Anderer said.
They stop at towns that have local Literacy Volunteers of America affiliates so they can publicize their undertaking and recruit more volunteers to help combat illiteracy.
"It amazes me that the people that we least expect to befriend us, actually turn out to be our best supporters," Camuso said.
He fondly recalls the time that three menacing-looking men on Harley-Davidsons approached the two of them in a West Virginia coal mining town.
"They warmed up to us pretty quickly. They escorted us through town, showed us the best places to eat and sleep and, before they left us, one of the guys gave us all of the money he had in his pocket," Camuso said.
The recent graduates solicited support from six corporations and 12 honorary board members, including U.S. Sen. James R. Sasser, D-Tenn., and Paul Tagliabue, commissioner of the National Football League.
"The national Literacy Volunteers of America get 10 percent of the money we raise," said Anderer. "But the rest of the funds will be given directly to the 15 literacy centers we will visit by Aug. 15. We think that is the best way to distribute the money," he said.
Anderer said they will not know how much money the project will bring in until the end of the bike ride. They collected pledges from the corporate sponsors as well as donations from individuals along the route.