University of Maryland architecture student Duncan Graham had a goal this summer: to explore the country from coast to coast.
But after recruiting three friends to ride their bikes from San Francisco to Ocean City, they decided two months in the saddle should generate more than a sore backside.
The group, all touched by cancer in some way, decided to raise money for cyclist Lance Armstrong's Live Strong Foundation — and they've produced more than a dollar for every one of the 3,000-plus miles along their route.
Family and friends kicked in, but much of the funding has come from strangers they've met on the road, many of whom also offered contributions in the form of meals, beds, laundry and showers in their homes and even in a Kansas Pizza Hut and an Indiana fire station.
"The people we've met have been awesome," said Graham, just before the start Sunday of the last leg of the journey near his parent's home in Annapolis. "Ninety-nine percent of people are good."
Agreeing were his fellow bikers, all age 20: Reed Perry, a political science major at Wake Forest, and Peter Krause, an aspiring writer at Goucher College, both childhood friends of Graham; and Steven Rockwood, a mechanical engineering major at Maryland and Graham's college roommate.
Each has supported the others along the way. Rockwood was even able to use his special engineering know-how to jury-rig soda can pieces to make a new part fit properly on Graham's bike. But mainly, they relied on others.
When they met Jim Kirstein of Folsom, Calif., in a store outside Sacramento, he offered to guide them in their climb over Carson's Pass and expressed his support for the group on a blog the bikers set up. But Kirstein, who was coping with a loss to cancer, didn't end his generosity there.
He made a big enough donation to put the riders over the top of their $3,500 fundraising goal and, to the bikers' delight, he also flew to Annapolis to ride on the last leg of the trip.
"I really started rooting for these guys," said Kirstein, 69. "I was happy to have run into them. They really renewed my faith in humanity."
On the negative side, there have been a few scrapes, some aches, food poisoning in Las Vegas and exhaustion after one 200-mile, 20-hour day. And on the C&O Canal Towpath from Cumberland, they suffered six flat tires. Their Cannondale, Surly and Trek road bikes weren't made for that unpaved trail.
But the bikers' families say they've been relieved the adventure has gone as smoothly as it has.
Graham's 16-year-old sister, Rachel, said she was so proud of her brother that she borrowed a bike to join the last two days of the ride, which would mean 40 to 45 miles each day. Their father, Scott Graham, and Perry's father, Reed Perry Sr., were also among those riding.
"I wouldn't have even thought of saying no," said Beth Graham, Graham's mother, who joined the other riders' mothers, some grandparents and others in driving support cars to the oceanfront.
Now that the end is near, the bikers say they're ready to plan some other rides across the country and even in Europe. Though, for now they are looking forward to "knowing where we will be sleeping and where the water will come from," said Duncan Graham.
The next adventure will be a shorter distance and without wheels. The foursome plan to run the Walt Disney World Marathon in January. But before then, the crew had two more days of riding.
With temperatures in the 90s, the now-experienced Perry advised his biking cohort, "Don't conserve water. We'll be able to find more."
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