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Journey of Hope TransAmerica

Day 53 - Terre Haute, IN

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 Johnathan Jianu | Iota Iota (Cal Poly Pomona) | Miles: 105 


I believe that today’s Friendship Visit with Happiness Bag was the most fun and energetic we’ve had, despite it following a century ride. It was a fun filled-dance fest that I am certain nobody will soon forget.  


Today is my birthday, and I’ve spent it like I’ve spent so many others before it- looking back and evaluating and redeveloping goals.  


That being said, the question I pondered the most is “What am I doing here?” 


This trip was designed as an avenue for developing leaders, specifically college aged males. Well, I do not necessarily fall into that category as I am past the median age for this trip. So what am I to gain? 


I certainly see the value in what we do each day. When others prefaced this trip to me, it was difficult to believe them, or even imagine that they were telling the truth. 


“The clients look forward to this each year.”  


“As soon as you leave, they start counting down until the next JOH.”  


“Everyone you meet appreciates every little thing to do.”  


“There will be tears.” 


Well, as a former non-believer, I assure you, I now understand; and the impact is still bigger. 


It’s easy to look at the money we give out in grants each year and think “that is not enough.” But really, I think the true impact we leave is not monetary, but the feelings and emotions we leave behind. As the saying goes, “people will not remember what you did or said, but will remember how you made them feel.” That, of course, is a paraphrase, but you get the point.  


It’s easy to push that aside, I know I did. How could frat boys really have an impact on the people they meet? I can only share an allegory.  


Upon arriving to a Friendship Visit, a client was sitting outside, not wanting to go in and participate. A couple of us approached him and started to talk to him. “Go away! I don’t want you here” he said as he started to cry.  

“What’s the matter,” we asked, “We’re here to hang out with you and have a good time.” 

“Well that’s why. It makes me so sad when you guys leave and I won’t see you again!” 


You could hear our hearts shatter.  


This was something that nobody warned us about. Everyone said we’d have that moment where it all clicks, but nobody said we’d have that moment where you begin to question everything in your life. We spend each day thinking about the next, and don’t necessarily live and enjoy every moment. The people we serve may not be able to have that foresight; their “ignorance” is their bliss- they have the pleasure of enjoying every moment of every day. Which is what leads me to more heartbreaking moments- when they say “See you tomorrow!” 


A million thoughts race through my head. Was it a slip on their part? Did we slip and lie- innocently- and return the phrase? Will they understand if we told them that we will not be there tomorrow? It is such a simple, daily phrase whose meaning intensifies in our usage. It takes otherwise simple conversations and turns them complex.  


I see why I didn’t understand the trip before; I mean fully understand it. I understood the fundraising and the grants, but the impact and complexity took everything I thought I knew about people and threw it out the window. I am struggling to put into words how I feel and what is going through my head. The true understanding and the true impact is just something you understand once you experience the trip. And while the experience is different for each person and each year, I believe that the reason Pi Alphas continue to come back and give is because they get it. They understood. I feel that while we are in the middle of the journey we are focused on irrelevant details, and our sponsors are gently encouraging us, “you’ll get there.” 


As for me, I wish the opportunity for this trip presented itself sooner. I believe that I would have learned some valuable life lessons earlier. What am I doing here? I am having the time of my life building connections, learning about myself, shifting my life goals, and helping others create their adventure. I am creating tangible experiences that I will cherish for an eternity. And I am bringing joy to so many along the way.  


So, how are you spending your birthdays? 

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Day 52 - Vandalia, IL

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Alexander Shrum | Omega (Purdue) | Miles: 70


Today we rode bikes!


We left from St. Louis this morning and rode 70 miles into Vandalia, IL!  Despite early morning reports of potential flooding and storms all day, we got real lucky with the weather.  The worst that happened was a 10-minute stretch of rain, and that only hit about half the pace lines today.  We started the ride taking a mile long pedestrian bridge across the Mississippi river.  The team decided to ride together since it was the start, so it was really cool taking over the bridge and riding across as a team…definitely one of those little moments I’ll look back on and cherish!


We had an arrival and friendship visit today with Fayco Enterprises and I met some of the happiest people I’ve seen all trip!  I talked to two clients in particular for a while that I quickly learned had just gotten engaged a few months ago.  They knew each other as kids, went to high school, together, and now are engaged.  I listened to their love story for a while and talked about a wide range of topics. The clients at this place also work here as well and many of them have jobs working in this shop where they sort out and organize various parts for shipping out (little metal brackets, nuts, screws, etc.), among other things.  


I particularly really enjoyed how the people there acted as we left.  Though I felt like the visit flew by, they were all so nice while leaving.  I must have given at least 10 hugs and received so many kind words that it just left me smiling riding out of there!  


We’ve only got about 19 days left on the trip and tomorrow ride into my home state of Indiana!  It’s very hard to fathom that I’ve biked from Seattle almost all the way home at this point and crazy to think that D.C. is so close.  Every ride, I make a point to tell myself and the pace line, “hey guys, we’re biking across the country!” I do it to remind others and myself just how crazy a concept this is, especially as it’s started to feel so routine to us. It’s something I don’t think I’ll be able to ever explain fully to my family and friends back home but I’m beyond excited to live out the impact it has had on me, especially as I get ready to see some of my home crew in Indy on Thursday!


I also really am taking to heart some of these little moments that are happening on the trip, too; it almost seems to be a theme for the day.  I can remember at some point in my past someone telling me to find inspiration in the little things, this day is a good example of that. Whether it is the little victory of making a tough rack point on the bike, or realizing the appreciation of our mission directly from the clients, I am becoming truly inspired by this trip more and more each day.

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Day 51 - St. Louis, MO

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 Pat Lynch | Iota Omicron (Iona College) | Miles: 0


Have you ever slept on a cloud before? Is that even humanly possible? Anyways, forget physics/nature/basic science for a second, and pretend we as beings could physically lie on clouds. Wouldn’t that be incredible! Well, let me tell you, the mattresses in the St. Louis Union Station Hotel will be the closest you’ll get to sleeping on a cloud. Talk about comfort!


So now that we’re all on the same page, let’s talk about Day 51 in St. Louis. After waking up in that beautiful hotel bed,  Rudy and I got ready and walked (really more of a sprint actually) down to the hotel breakfast buffet (uh-huh, who wouldn’t run for that?). Let’s just say, we were huge fans. From eggs, to bacon, to omelettes, to smoothies served in little glasses (they were so cute!), the whole team was very thankful for breakfast.


After breakfast, we made our way over to a friendship visit with Lifebridge, a center that works with people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. It was nice to spend a solid three hours at the center, from participating with the clients in scavenger hunts and pseudo-olympic game events, to helping the staff serve food. Everyone had a great time and it was a pleasure getting the opportunity to learn more about the organization and the incredible people they serve. We spoke to Pat, their director, a bit about their big golf outing type fundraiser coming up in August, and we wish them the best of luck!


Following our visit the team was given a bit of free time to relax, take a nap, and get ready for dinner. I decided to clear my mind by going for a run on the treadmill. I guess I don’t really understand the concept of a rest day?


Dinner was incredible. If dinner was rated on a scale from 1 to hospitality, the Stuckel family’s amazing dinner would break the scale. From a thanksgiving dinner like spread, to more desserts on the table than miles we cycled this summer, the Stuckel family got us well prepared and ready for our ride into Vandalia the following day. Huge thanks to the Stuckels for not only the great meal,  but also the fantastic conversation!


Today was indeed a great day, as always. ODH.

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Day 50 - St. Louis, MO

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 True Loan | Gamma (Berkeley) | Miles: 55


The ride into St. Louis was a pretty quick one. Even though the roads were wrought with cracks and rocks we made it in classic JOH style to our meet up point with the county Police. The first 38 miles were absolutely worth our 15-mile police escort all the way to the outskirts of St. Louis where we arrived at a Golf Course for a sponsored lunch by the Foerstel Family, Subway and tons of fruit, DEEEEELLLLIIIISSSSHHHEEESSS!


From here the team racked into St. Louis to our grand lodging at the Union Station Hotel, swanky and pomp as could be, the team loved it. We were blessed with enough rooms for everyone to sleep 2 in a room.


We were again treated to dinner by the Foerstel family at Cecil Whitakers were we enjoyed an all you can eat pizza buffet with our new found favorite, toasted Ravioli. After eating our fill we headed over to City Museum (which to our shock was far from a Museum but more junkyard playground) and it was fantastic. I know at least I got dripping sweaty from climbing in and around all the cool nooks and crannies.

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Day 49 - Union, MO

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 Scott Jobe | Delta Eta (Morehead State University) | Miles: 100


Today started out promising. The Kappa Delta Chapter provided us a delicious, hardy breakfast. It was supposed to be 100 degrees Fahrenheit with a heat index of 110 but a cloud cover came in that morning. That cloud cover took a turn for the worse when it started pouring on us. I don’t mean a little sprinkle; I mean Forrest Gump fat rain that came in like hail. It absolutely was one of the harder rides of the trip for unexpected reasons. Our 3000 mile marker was on this day. The roads were a little rough, and my tires were worn from 3000 miles of riding. So, naturally, they decided to give out on me. I got three flats in less than one mile. At that point I couldn’t keep running through tubes so I decided it was best to rack myself. That was 49 miles into the ride. I rode with our crewmember, Josh, for the rest of the day. I spent it patching my poor tubes and writing in my journal I’m keeping for myself about the trip. I was longing to be back on the road the entire day. This was the first time I had to rack myself for a reason like too many flats. We had lunch provided by a group of generous Pi Alphas from Theta Lamba Chapter. It was some DELICIOUS sandwiches. Definitely a great break from two meat one cheese.  I finally got to lodging, obviously before almost everyone else. So I prepped myself for dinner. It was provided by Imo’s Pizza here in Union. Afterward we got an opportunity to go to the bike shop. I desperately needed new tires. Luckily, Revolution Cycles was able to help us out. The rest of the day consisted of fixing and cleaning bikes from the rain new had that day.

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