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Bikers ride so others can live

On July 8, 20 bikers on the Fuller Center Bicycle Adventure stopped by Lawton, one of 50 rest stops on their 3,600-mile, cross-country journey from San Francisco to Savannah.

The bikers woke up at 4:30 a.m. Saturday in Hollis, then rode 93 miles to Lawton, where they set up camp at First Christian Church. On Monday, the bikers hit the road for a 78-mile trip to Pauls Valley. 

During the first week of August, after riding an average of 75 miles a day over the course of the journey, the riders will arrive in Savannah, the final destination. 

The riders, ranging from millennials to baby boomers, have a passion for not only biking but also for improving the conditions of families living in poverty. Participants were required to raise one dollar for each mile they planned to ride, and the proceeds will fund efforts to combat poverty by financing the building and repairing of homes internationally.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the non-profit organization's efforts, and the goal is to raise a record $400,000 this summer, which pushes the ride's all-time, to-date fundraising total over $2 million.

In conjunction with riding miles upon miles and raising funds to do so, the bikers have completed volunteer projects, which consisted of building or repairing homes in the cities through which they rode. 

Henry Downes, the trooper leader who works for the Fuller Center headquarters in Americus, Ga., said he has been riding his bike, along with coordinating the adventure. 

Downes decided to work for the Fuller Center after he rode for the first time from Seattle to Washington, D.C., last summer.

Along the way, he developed a love for the Fuller Center's mission, so he stopped attending graduate school and began working for the Fuller Center.

"We (Fuller Center) are very efficient at turning fundraising dollars into bricks and mortar for people in need," Downes said. "Ninety-seven cents of the one dollar that we bring in for fundraising for the bike adventure goes out the door to help the housing projects."

By working at the headquarters, Downes is able to see the concrete results of donors' dollars, so bikers can follow-up with donors about the impact they made on someone else's life, whether at home or abroad. Downes thinks of the ride as the bikers building a neighborhood together, he said.

"Internationally, we can build a house in some developing countries for less than $5,000," Downes said. "Each rider who raises $4,000 (is) ... basically representing a house."

Austin, Texas, resident Becky Mitchell, the Fuller Center media and support intern, said she remains amazed by the bikers' service to the Fuller Center.

"One of our riders  this is his fourth year doing it  and his goal was $4,000, and he's raised over $20,000," Mitchell said. "It's pretty phenomenal what can happen when you ask your friends and family and God to support this amazing mission."

Those biking across the United States range drastically in age, with the oldest rider at age 77, Becky Mitchell said. During a typical ride day, the bikers ride 20 miles before reaching a rest stop.

"We provide food and water and set up shade tents (at the rest stop)," she said. "We set up for them to get eight hours of sleep a night, and we have lots of Powerade and Gatorade and prayer, honestly."

Although each biker must raise one dollar for every mile ridden, a biker is not required to travel the entire distance from San Francisco to Savannah, which takes a total of nine weeks to complete, according to Downes. 

Those who work jobs without flexible schedules may choose to travel a portion of the distance and raise a pro-rated amount based on the miles ridden, Downes said.

Those who ride for the entire nine weeks become a community after biking together day after day and eating, sleeping and doing chores such as laundry, dinner preparation and site clean-up alongside one another, he said.

"Every rider is placed on a chore team. ... The morning is just a flurry of activity with people pitching in, doing what they can to help. We're like this little self-sufficient, traveling family," Downes said. "By the end of the trip, and we do laundry, and we put all the laundry on the tables and sort it out by genre of clothing. ... I know what everyone is wearing."

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