While the idea of riding a bicycle across the country may sound like a feat only attempted in the Guiness Book of World Records, Engineering sophomore Ben Luster views the trek as “the experience of a lifetime.”
After biking an average of 75 miles a day since leaving San Francisco this past June, Luster returned to Ann Arbor last Monday. As a team member of the Journey of Hope cycling excursion, which raises money for people with disabilities, Luster visited the Eisenhower Center, a rehabilitation facility for individuals with acquired brain injuries.
JOH is one of the events sponsored by Push America, a nonprofit organization founded by the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity.
Luster was introduced to JOH through Jerry Kozak, one of his brothers in Pi Kappa Phi, and fell in love with the idea soon after.
The three Journey of Hope cycling teams consist entirely of Pi Kappa Phi fraternity members from schools around the country.
Luster will have cycled more than 3,500 miles when he and his 34 teammates reach Washington D.C. this Saturday.
Before the riders mounted their bikes, they each raised $5,000 for the event. Luster chose to write letters to his family and friends, informing them of his plan and asking for support. He was quickly on his way to San Francisco, having received an incredible response.
The money raised by the riders is typically given away in the form of $1,000 grants to facilities for individuals suffering from a variety of disabilities.
To show their appreciation, the staff and clients at the Eisenhower Center arranged a Las Vegas-themed party and dinner.
As far as training for the event, Luster said he and most other participants in JOH have little to no previous cycling experience.
Luster said his motivation for the ride stems from the team’s stops at facilities such as the Eisenhower Center, where he and his teammates can witness how their efforts touch people’s lives.
“It makes you forget about the miles you just rode,” Luster said.
He said he also enjoys watching the scenery change as he passes from state to state, especially the passageways through Colorado and Iowa.
And although Nevada may be the inspiration for Saturday’s party at the Eisenhower Center for biking, Luster says, “not so much.”
According to Luster, the ride’s greatest challenge is taking care of himself because the “body wears down after a while.”
Luster’s mother said she has encountered a few skeptics about his capacity to complete the ride.
They ask, “How can this kid from Michigan, where it’s flat, climb these hills?” but she said he “climbs like there’s no tomorrow.”
She said she never questioned her son’s safety because of his ability and judgment on the road. Having met some of the Pi Kappa
Phi members, she said she is comforted by he way they all look out for each other. She said she hopes her son’s energy from this year pushes at least two more members to participate in JOH next year.
JOH is one of the events sponsored by Push America, a non-profit organization founded by Pi Kappa Phi.
Aside from JOH, Pi Kappa Phi members at the University also participate in other fund-raising events focusing on cycling and construction, including Build America and Gear-up Florida.
When asked about the philanthropic ideals Pi Kappa Phi seems to hold, Luster smiled. “Yeah, we try and break the stereotype.”