On Aug. 15, six Boy Scouts dipped the front wheels of their bikes into the Atlantic Ocean at Wrightsville Beach, N.C., completing a 4,028-mile journey across the country.
From Chapel Hill’s Boy Scout Troop 845, seven boys – Sam Billings, Alex Broz (who left the trip early to attend school in Germany), Andrew de Figueiredo, David Margolies, Max Morgan, Will Owen, and Brian Richardson – began their 66-day trek in Florence, Oregon, with their back wheels in the Pacific Ocean.
The self-supported (no vehicle support) bike ride is a tradition in Troop 845. “It’s always the goal of the next-generation Scouts to go and do the trip,” Margolies said.
This year’s crew rode for the Be Loud! Sophie Foundation, which was founded in 2013 to honor the boys’ classmate, Sophie Steiner. Sophie was diagnosed with germ cell cancer in November 2012 and died 15 months later with a wish to provide teen cancer patients with opportunities to help retain the “teen” part of their lives.
As the BikeLoud website (bikeloud.org) puts it, “(Sophie) wanted to create something entirely new: support programs specifically designed to help patients her age hold on to their identity in the face of overwhelming illness.”
With this cause in mind, the Crew was formed. “We all chose to do it,” Margolies said. “We’ve been wanting to do the trip probably since we were in sixth grade, so it was a really big deal.”
“We heard all these great stories about the trip, and we wanted to witness it for ourselves,” added Will Owen.
Despite their enthusiasm, preparing for the trip was not easy; the boys had to train for nearly a year.
“They’d be up at 8 a.m., go out riding until midday, then oftentimes they would learn how to repair their bikes,” said Dale Baron, David’s mother. “You can’t just take off on a ride like this without being in the right physical and mental shape.”
The parents of the crew said goodbye at Raleigh-Durham International Airport in June. Besides news reports, Facebook updates, and the occasional phone call, they would neither see nor hear from their sons until August.
However, they had faith in the boys and in the adult leadership accompanying them. Leader Ed Billings completed the entire journey. Since Scout regulations required that two leaders be present at all times, other adult leaders joined the ride at points across the country.
The leaders also kept an online blog (which can be found on the BikeLoud website), updating it almost daily. The blog logged the miles traveled, current locations, things that happened each day, and photos.
The blog also frequently mentions instances of human kindness that the crew encountered across the country.
A blog post on Aug. 10 by Dean Broz, one of the adult leaders, entitled “A Cyclists Thanksgiving,” details a stop in Sebree, Kentucky, where the First Baptist Church hosted the cyclists and provided laundry, food, and shower facilities. There, a woman named Violet and her husband Bob, a retired minister, spent an afternoon preparing a feast for the BikeLoud crew and seven other bikers – 17 people total.
“We ate chicken and dumplings, biscuits, homemade pickles, and brownies with ice cream. I still can’t quite believe the warmth and generosity,” wrote Broz.
Other posts describe campsite owners who offered vacant apartments for the crew to shower, churches that opened their basements at night, and people who made dinner, paid for meals, and donated money to the Be Loud! Sophie cause.
“We got to meet hundreds of new people,” said Brian Richardson. “It blew us away how nice they were… We would pull into a new town, introduce ourselves, and they would buy us dinner or give us a place to stay. (It was) one of the best parts of the trip.”
Of course, there were times when the journey was hard. But remembering their cause helped keep the boys pedaling.
“I think everyone had a point in the trip when it was very difficult for them,” said Margolies. “But we kept going because we knew we were doing it for the Be Loud! Sophie Foundation, and we had worked so hard to get here that we didn’t want to give up.”
“We’d be down sometimes,” said Sam Billings. “But we’d think about what we were doing, about the cause, and it kept us going.”
When they crossed the finish line and dipped their wheels into the Atlantic, though, these difficulties seemed trivial.
“It was incredible,” Margolies said. “I can’t compare it to anything else.”
“It was one of the happiest moments of the year for me,” said Billings.