SALYERSVILLE – On Friday, July 13 a group of young men from Western Kentucky University stopped in Salyersville while biking from coast to coast to bring awareness to Alzheimer’s.
The group of 13 Phi Gamma Deltas drove from Bowling Green to San Francisco, California, starting their journey on May 14, and from there got on their bikes and headed for the east coast.
Since leaving San Francisco on May 18, they have stopped in towns along the way, holding events and fundraisers for Alzheimer’s research and hearing people’s stories.
This is the sixth ride for the Bike4Alz crew, first starting the ride in 2010 when one of their fraternity brothers’ grandfather passed away due to Alzheimer’s.
After his grandfather’s death, Tyler Jury, from Elizabethtown, wrote a bucket list, which included biking across the country. He gathered several of his buddies and they headed for the coast. Since then, the fraternity has kept up the tradition, using the journey to spread awareness to the disease and fundraising for research, averaging around $50,000 each ride.
The 13 men sat down with the Independent on Friday while eating at the Hornet’s Nest and before heading out to the Koinonia Mission Center (the former Salyer Elementary School owned by the Licking River Baptist Church) for the night.
The group said they had only 10 more days to go until reaching their endpoint at Virginia Beach, Virginia, slated for July 23.
They said for the most part they’ve had great weather, with only a few bad days.
“The wind has been the biggest challenge,” one said. “I wasn’t prepared for how bad the wind could be. Wind on flat land is much harder to deal with than just biking uphill.”
They’ve encountered some characters along the way, as well.
“Around the Fourth of July we saw a lady standing on her front porch, and she just starts waving flags,” Matthew Crawford said. “She was being so supportive and we found out later that she had seen us on the news. We do a dedication every day and we got a message from her, saying she really appreciated what we were doing and she had just been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s, so we were able to dedicate a day to her.”
The group averages around 67 miles a day, though they said some days are harder than others.
“I was surprised I was able to make it a few days and didn’t try too hard, but on the fifth day, we hit the Rocky Mountains and that’s 6,000 feet elevation,” Seth Chaney said. “I didn’t think I could make it on those days. The Sierra Nevada and Rocky Mountains kicked our butts, but the views up there were the best.”
Of the 13 men, all of them have been touched by Alzheimer’s.
“What we’re trying to do is catch people’s interest,” Crawford explained. “We’re biking across the country and we’re not doing it for fun. We’re actually waking up every morning and biking every day.”
“But it is fun!” Jeremy Latham interjected, explaining they still find ways to enjoy their trip. “Being around the guys, all the places we get to see and hearing the stories – everyone has a connection. We get into the cause and it’s a passion to fight Alzheimer’s disease.”
They often depend on past riders’ connections to local people, with many churches providing a roof over their heads.
“We camped once or twice, but then our tent died,” Crawford said.
On their rest days, they try to take in the sights, especially enjoying Colorado. The five days they spent in Kansas were some of the longest days due to little to see or do other than ride, but they said they did get to see the world’s largest ball of twine.
“The people are really nice in Kansas, though,” one of the guys noted.
Of all the states they’ve biked through, Chaney said he was most excited to be back in Kentucky.
“We’ve been away from our family and friends for so long and we’ve had our bigger events here, so it’s been great to be back in the state and be almost done with the ride,” Chaney said. “After biking for two months, 10 days seems like nothing.”
The group has a website, Bike4Alz.org, where people can learn more about their cause, donate to Alzheimer’s research, or dedicate a day to a loved one affected by Alzheimer’s. They also have Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, where they post daily dedications and updates.
As of Friday, July 13, they had raised roughly $45,000, and while the average amount raised per ride is $50,000, they said their goal is $75,000.