Local cyclists on cross-country trek for charity: Fundraising buys bikes for children of military
Jun 20, 2010 (The Baltimore Sun - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Paul Lebelle and Adam Burkowske have logged hundreds of miles westward on their bicycles, with the wind at their backs and their goal on the horizon.
The two local restaurant servers are on a four-month cross-county trek to San Diego, raising money for Bike Free. The nonprofit organization, which they founded, provides bikes to children whose parents are serving in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The goal: to donate 500 bicycles and helmets by Christmas.
"This is something that kind of represented the feeling you have when you got your first bike. That was a great time," said Burkowske, 29, of Catonsville, noting that he and Lebelle have relatives who have served in American wars.
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"We can't really emulate a lot of feelings kids have," he added, "but if it's their first bike or a new bike for them, with all the other things going on in the home it's great if we can put a smile on kids' faces."
The two set out on their journey this month, riding about 50 miles a day from Baltimore to Cumberland, along the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal to Pittsburgh and points north. They have pitched tents, stayed at hostels and slept in bunk beds at bicycling shops.
They hope to raise $50,000 to pay for the bikes and helmets. Funds have come through donations, pledges and fundraisers, including a charity beer dinner at Roy's restaurant in Baltimore, where the two work as servers. Burkowske said that additional fundraisers will be held at about 10 Roy's restaurants in California.
This is the longest either has ever ridden on a bike, so they're consuming 5,000 calories a day for energy. They've endured driving rains, including one day when Burkowske got a flat tire. And the thought of encountering a tornado when they reach the Midwest has Lebelle conjuring up images of the twister in the "Wizard of Oz."
Still, they've pressed on, headed for Chicago, St. Louis, Denver, portions of Yellowstone National Park and down California's coast to San Diego.
"It's going fantastic," said Lebelle, 34, of Charles Village, speaking by phone during a one-day stop on Thursday in Titusville, Pa., just outside Erie. "We've gone about 300 miles total."
The Bike Free effort comes at time when more than 200 cyclists are participating in a race that began on the West Coast and ends in Maryland. Race Across America, which also also provides a platform for fundraising for various charities, began this month in Oceanside, Calif. All cyclists must reach Annapolis by 5 p.m. Monday.
Lebelle said that during their trek, they've run into another cyclist riding for charity.
Raising money by cycling "does seem popular all of a sudden," he said. "The only thing I can think of is that it's a great mode of transportation, it's waste-free. It's fun to get around."
Indeed, the Maryland riders enjoy biking so much -- the passion began when they were youngsters -- that they sold their cars a few years ago and now bike around the Baltimore area.
"... After so many years of averaging a parking ticket a month, having my car broken into or a flat tire, it was such a hassle that I found myself on my bike all the time," Burkowske said as he prepared for the cross-country trip. "It was just sitting on the street, so I just sold it.
"Baltimore City is accessible from the west side on a bike. I can drive from Mount Vernon to Canton and beat someone driving by a minute, maybe more. They have to go through so many stop lights to get there."
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