When these Chapel Hill Boy Scouts set out for a bike ride this summer, they weren't just going around the block.
They started pedaling in Aberdeen, Md., and didn't stop until they hit Anacortes, Wash., more than 10 weeks and 3,000 miles later.
They did it for fun and to test themselves. But most importantly, they did it to raise money for the Lineberger Cancer Center at UNC-Chapel Hill. Their ride has brought in $22,000 for the center so far, and donations are still coming in (see box for info on how to donate).
Some of the teens on the Cycle20Ten crew had never biked much before, and some hadn't even been away from home for more than a weekend. But they all made it across the country, and with some new skills and a lot of perspective because of it.
"It forces you to grow up fast," said Brian Burnham, an experienced cross-country rider who led the team and who also helps lead Troop 845. "You've got to get yourself up, get ready, get packed, make sure you're eating, drinking, all that kind of stuff. So you learn complete self-preservation and taking care of yourself on the road."
The team had a route in mind, sort of - there were a lot of adjustments made on the fly.
"We didn't even know what town we were going to on our first night," Burnham said. "We'd be sitting at lunch and parents would text 'So where are you guys gonna end up tonight?' And we'd be like 'We don't know yet' ... it's that fly-by-the-seat-of- your-pants."
They slept in tents at night and often relied on the kindness of strangers for showers and meals.
Aidan Kelley, 17, remembers his first taste of that kindness on the team's very first night out, when a woman who spotted the team getting snacks at a gas station invited them to eat breakfast at her house the next day.
"Every day wasn't like that, but time and time again people would talk to us and ask us what we were doing and then find some way to help out," he said.
But the ride wasn't always easy. The riders experienced extremes in weather and some monster hills, and all that time on a bike was "pretty tough on the backside, to be honest," Aidan said.
But sometimes, he added, "even the worst moments are great."
One day, he and another rider fell behind the rest of the group, who were already stopped for lunch, and found themselves stuck in a ferocious storm.
"We kind of just looked at each other as we were biking side by side and burst out laughing," Aidan said. "Even though we were just getting destroyed by a storm, we were out there in Montana and it was a pretty cool feeling, just being out there."
When times got tough, the riders had several motivations to turn to for a nudge. There was the rest of the team, for one. And, of course, there were iPods. But there was something larger, too.
"The cause was like a major part" of what pushed him up those monster hills, said Mark Flournoy, 16, who listed friends and family members touched by cancer.
In addition to the money raised for Lineberger, the journey had personal rewards for the riders.
"It really changes your appreciation for the country and, really, yourself," Mark said. "Everybody matured so much on the trip. You just really learn to live for yourself. You cook for yourself, you've got to learn how to manage your own money, you've got to know how to do what you need to do to take care of yourself."
The team returned to Chapel Hill last month with sore backsides and sunburns, but with something longer-lasting, too.
"Coming back, you have this sense of independence," Mark said.
Aidan had a hard time putting his finger on it, but said: "I feel like I've grown as a person over the trip. I feel just kind of older. I don't know if it's like wise or mature or what, but I definitely feel different now that I'm back."