On the Road
from the August 22-28, 1997 issue of the South County Times-Story by Jay Nies

Go to the Journey of Hope Homepage

At the Golden Gate Bridge, June 1997

Practicing with the Kids on the Block Puppets in Carson City

Entering Parker, AZ

Braving a tunnel near Globe, AZ

The majestic Salt River Canyon, AZ

Cycling towards Muleshoe, TX

Entering North Carolina, just south of Charlotte

The homestretch with both teams together again and the Capitol looming in the distance

Lining up at the Capitol Steps

The end of a great journey

Go to the Push America Homepage
Concord Village resident John Sebben was one of 23 young men to cycle across the country as part of a "Journey of Hope" to benefit children with disabilities.
Concord Village resident John Sebben recently got back from a 63-day Journey of Hope.

Sebben and 23 of his fraternity brothers rode bicycles from the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco to the steps of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.

Through the lengthy trek, sponsored by the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity and its philanthropic arm, PUSH America, each cyclist raised $4,000 for children with disabilites.

Sebben is a senior studying business and computer science at Truman State University in Kirksville, MO.

The group disembarked from San Francisco on June 8 and arrived in Washington August 9. Intermediate destinations included Carson City, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Dallas, Birmingham, Atlanta, and Charlotte.

The cyclists spent 54 of those 63 days riding. The other days were spent giving talks to groups and spending time with children.

"We would visit large groups of people with disabilities and do presentations for other groups," Sebben said. "Some days, we would give a presentation and then spend a day at an amusement park or a water park with another group. Each cyclist would be paired up with a child with a disability and would spend the day with him."

Pi Kappa Phi is the only national fraternity that has its own charitable organization that created, Sebben said.

"That's one of the things that attracted me to the Pi Kapps," he said. "Out of all the projects we have, the Journey of Hope seemed to me like the one I could best use my time to help others in need, as well as help the fraternity."

After being accepted on the Journey of Hope team, Sebben began raising money and training for the long ride. In Kirksville and later in St. Louis, he set a goal of riding 50 miles per day.

There were two groups in the team. One took a northern route via Denver and Chicago. Sebben's group head through the Old South.

"But there really is no training that would be sufficient in preparing you to bike across the country aside from biking across the country to begin with," he said. "The first week was really hard. We went through the Sierra Nevada. You won't find conditions like that in Missouri -- or just about anywhere else."

Riding through the mountains proved to be the most difficult.

"I feel that as the trip went on, it became apparent how much the team had improved over the first couple days," he said. "You could see how much our bodies had changed when we got our photos back."

Pi Kappa Phi member Thomas Sayre founded PUSH America in 1977 to raise money for exercise equipment for children with disabilities. In the years that followed, the organization added volunteer opportunities. For instance, Sebben and several other members were able through a spring break program to help repair hurricane damage and build a fishing and boating dock in Alabama.

Members also put on puppet shows that help children with and without disabilities learn to interact better.

The Journey of Hope started out in 1987 with one member riding from Oregon to Virginia.

"From that it grew to the 66-man ride it is today," Sebben said.

Programs like these help to change people's negative perceptions about fraternities, he said.

Overall, at the places we stopped, when people saw the Journey of Hope and that it was fraternity people, they were pleasantly surprised," he said. "There are fraternities that want to be service organizations as well as social settings."

On the fourth day, the group took a 65-mile trek up an 8,000 foot elevations. They broke open the champagne to celebrate when the last two cyclists made it to the top of the mountain.

One of Sebben's most potent recollections from the trip was in the small town of Muleshoe, TX. The town's chamber of commerce provided a steak dinner.

"One of the daughters of a chamber of commerce member was a 34-year-old woman who had Down's Syndrome," Sebben said. "She was very articulate, very outgoing. We played pool and ping pong with her."

They also helped her celebrate her 35th birthday, two days in advance.

"Our team cook prepared a cake for her," Sebben said. "He brought it out after dinner, and we all sang 'Happy Birthday.' She started crying tears of joy. She thanked up and told us we are her best friends in the world. She came around to every single one of us and gave us a great big hug. There was not a dry eye in the house. It was an incredible feeling."

The temperature was 117 degrees -- the hottest temperature in the country that day -- when they rode through Bullhead City, AZ. They rode 100 miles into a 40 mph head wind.

"It took us about 12 hours," he said. "We were going down a 7-percent grade hill, and we still had to pedal. That's how bad the head wind was."

The bank signs in Las Vegas registered 106 degrees at 9 a.m.

"Once we got into Texas, it was a little cooler," he said. "But the humidity kicked in in Louisiana. By the time we hit the Carolinas, it would be only 65 degrees at sunrise."

Near the end of the journey, when they went through Charleston, S.C., they crossed the campus where the fraternity was founded in 1904. There was a Pi Kappa Phi national conference taking place there.

"We turned a corner, and there we were in front of the College of Charleston, and about a thousand Pi Kapps cheering up on," he said. "We were right at the administration hall of the campus. It's a columned building with a clock that the fraternity donated to the campus for Pi Kappa Phi's 50th anniversary. And here we were riding our bikes up to it with a thousand people clapping for us."

The cyclists entered the District of Columbia from the site of the Battle of Bull run in Manassas, VA. They headed to Francis Scott Key Bridge, and waited for a police escort at Washington Circle. At 11:45 a.m., they headed down Pennsylvania Avenue past the White House, the Smithsonian, and the Washington Monument.

The two teams formed a 67-member brigade through Washington.

"Because of all the buildings, we could not see the Capitol until we hit the corner of Pennsylvania and Constitution," he said. "Then, it was right there in front of us. It was only three blocks away. We could see a huge crowd of people waiting at the bottom of the hill, and police everywhere.

"It was an incredible adrenaline rush to see the families mobbing their sons," he said. "Part of us wanted the moment to last forever. Part of us just wanted to get in there and see our families for the first time in two months. And part of us wanted to turn around and start over again. We had such a great time, we couldn't believe it was over."

Sebben has been accepted to ride in the journey again next summer. He said he has to think about it before accepting. He went out cruising on four of the six days following his return.

"I won't be doing 75 miles a day again, but I have come to rely on the bike as a nice way to get around," he said.