County teenagers show heart on cross-country charity ride
BRUSH VALLEY — Many times teens take the summer as a chance to kick back and relax, but this year, Calvin White and Isaac Grove decided to try something a little different: kick things into high gear and ride their bikes across the U.S.
The undertaking was not only for the sake of adventure, but also for a good cause — to raise money for the American Heart Association.
Grove, 18, and White, 17, flew to Florence, Ore., on June 8 to begin their Bike for Heart Health tour at the start of the TransAmerica Bicycle Trail.
On Aug. 8, the two ended a 60-day journey from the Pacific Coast to the Atlantic in Yorktown, Va., where they met with friends and family.
All told, they crossed 10 states, racking up more than 4,200 miles and raising about $4,300 for the American Heart Association.
Grove and White traveled alone with about 30 pounds of gear in their backpacks, including camping equipment, tools they might need to repair their bikes and two days’ worth of food.
Outside of trips to the beach and places like Disney World, the two said, they hadn’t traveled much before.
Though his own uncle had completed a similar cycling adventure in the ’80s, White had never been an avid bike rider. Neither had Grove.
Both were “average, active teens” who just decided the best way to see the country was by bike, White said.
He was preparing to enter his senior year at United High School. Grove had just graduated from the same school with plans to attend the University of Pittsburgh in the fall.
When White approached Grove about a cross-country bike trip, they decided there was no time like the present.
“After that, we decided we could probably raise some money, do something for a good cause while we were at it,” White said.
Many of the donations came through a system they devised in which individuals could sponsor a day of the trip. Facebook posts kept followers up-to-date, and let them know which donors were supporting a particular day.
In addition to money for the American Heart Association, the two also collected money to help with trip-related costs.
White estimates they ended up with about 30 sponsors, from local businesses to sportsman’s clubs.
More than 600 people followed their journey on Facebook.
Riding typically five to eight hours per day, they averaged about 75 miles a day on their trip.
The farthest they rode in one day was 117 miles in Wyoming, Grove said.
Along the way, they weathered nearly every kind of climate found in the continental U.S.
Not long after leaving the Rocky Mountains for the Plains states, a thunderstorm and a dust storm slowed their pace to “only” 60 miles.
The trail took the two through a number of the country’s celebrated natural sites, among them, the Cascade mountain range, Yellowstone Park and the Grand Tetons.
“There wasn’t much that we missed,” said White.
“A lot of the things you hear about,” he said, “the trail brings you close to.”
Seeing the U.S. by bike allowed for the opportunity to connect in other ways, as well, particularly with strangers that they met in their travels.
‘There are truly a lot of good people left out there,” White said.
Friends and family had been concerned that the two would meet an unsavory element on the trail, he said. Turns out, their experience was just the opposite.
“The best way to restore your faith in humanity is to get on your bike and tour the U.S.,” he said. “You meet a lot of great people.”
Many of those they met offered Grove and White a place to stay. They would camp in people’s yards or at places like fire stations and churches.
Upon learning their story, many offered to cook meals for the travelers or picked up their tabs at diners.
They did, however, encounter some less than pleasant surprises along the way.
On the day they passed through it, “hot, dry Hell’s Canyon turned out to be cold, windy and rainy,” Grove said of the 10-mile canyon bordering Oregon, Washington and Idaho.
The cyclists also had to be wary of logging trucks crowding them out of their path and dogs in the backwoods of Kentucky notorious for chasing bicyclists.
When the dust storm and thunderstorm in the Great Plains hit, they even had to take shelter in an abandoned house.
Through it all, the two kept in touch with family and friends daily.
“We were really blessed to have a group back home,” Grove said.
Schoolmates showed their support Friday during a United High School pep rally. At the beginning of that event, school officials recognized Grove and White and presented them with plaques.
The two credit all the support, as well as their own self-determination, with making the trip a success.
“There were really low points, but it never crossed our minds to quit — it wasn’t an option for us,” White said.
PHOTO: Calvin White, left, and Isaac Grove returned to Indiana County earlier this month. (JAMIE EMPFIELD/Gazette)