To start this blog I want to share a poem with everyone that was written by a Pi Alpha. This poem is called "My Fraternity" and thinking about it now, my team really is like a chapter, one that I wish was coming back to Tennessee with me.
For some, fraternity is a house. A structure of walls and rooms where men live and pass time.
But my fraternity has no walls, except perhaps the rock walls of Loveland Pass at the Continental Divide, or the walls of corn in Iowa, the skyscrapers in Chicago, the orange girders of the Golden Gate Bridge, the relentless climb of Kirkwood.
For some men, fraternity is a collection of photos on a wall.
But for me, it’s the photos taken by the disposable camera I keep in my back jersey pocket. It’s the photos taken in front of the welcome signs as we cross state borders. It’s the countless snapshots taken with clients with smiles so wide you can see every tooth and most of the gums.
It’s the fireworks on the Fourth of July in a corner of America I’ve never seen before.
It’s the stories in the newspapers, and answering the same reporter’s question, “Tell me what you guys are doing exactly?” for the hundredth time.
It’s shaving EVERY DAY, remembering to zip up my jersey, remove my sunglasses, tuck in my shirt, and smile for the photos that will hang in homes and offices for years after I leave this place.
For some men, fraternity is in the parties or in a cup of beer.
For me, it’s in the gallons and gallons of water that sustain me. It’s in spotting the support vehicle every five miles or so, where I can always count on a word of encouragement. It’s in the songs that play over and over on the FM radio stations that become the soundtrack of my summer.
It’s in the faces of the kids who talk to puppets like they are real people. It’s in preparing meals or shopping in different grocery stores every day so that my guys will stay healthy enough to ride tomorrow.It’s in the children asking for autographs, and kind, incredible strangers who reach out to thank me for coming, when really, they are the ones who should be thanked.
It’s in the cry of excitement I hear from the girl in the wheelchair as I ride up for the picnic.
For some men, fraternity is the pin on the shirt or the trophies in the case.
But my fraternity is in the proclamations in the dozens of small towns celebrating our arrival. It’s in the trucks that move one lane to the left and honk their horns to say hello. It’s in the spaghetti dinner prepared by people I’ve never met, or the grease mark that just won’t scrub off my leg. It’s in the gym floors where I sleep and the lump in my throat of the volunteer who says goodbye and “see you next summer.”
It’s maintaining my place in the pace line, making my way to the front, where the wind is stronger.
For some men, fraternity is in the party that ends in the early hours of the morning.
For my fraternity, it’s in the sunrises. It’s in those quiet hours in the Nevada desert or through the Ohio farmland when the world is asleep, and all you hear is the sound of a dog barking some distance away.
It’s in my t-shirt that desperately needed a wash two days ago, and now is simply disgusting. It’s in smiling my way through my second or third flat tire of the day.
For some men, fraternity is about impressing sororities.
But for me, it’s in the cards and packages that wait for me at the next mail drop, especially the ones with the stickers and magic marker hearts all over them. It’s about the volunteer in Nebraska who hugs me like she’s always known me. It’s about getting our butts kicked in wheelchair basketball. It’s in anticipating the look on my mom’s face as I ride on the grounds of the Capitol, and the pride in my dad’s voice while he waits patiently for mom to let go.
For some men, fraternity is about getting another event t-shirt.
But for me, fraternity is forgetting that I’m standing in front of a few thousand people in a baseball stadium, wearing Spandex. It’s riding next to Bruce Rogers into Denver, pinching myself because I’m riding next to the guy who started it all.
It’s in the phone calls from my girlfriend who understood how important this was to me. Or, in the admiration of my chapter brothers, and my real-life brother who thinks I’m cool.
It’s dancing with the young woman with the walker who makes me blush when she shamelessly hits on me.
For some men, fraternity is about pledge class unity, or leadership positions.
But for me, it’s glancing in my left rear view mirror for the first cyclist to appear as I wait alone on a roadside. It’s that moment when I realize that these guys riding beside me have become my family, and that soon this incredible journey will be a memory.
It’s about those times when we get off the bikes and just look out at a piece of scenery so breathtaking that no one says a word. Then, one guy turns away to wipe his eyes with his forearm and says, “Let’s get back on the bikes, fellas.
It’s about arriving at the end and wanting in some small way to turn around and do it again. Or in the relief in the eyes of the staff members and crew who have prayed every night for my safe return.
For some men, fraternity is about four years.
But my fraternity goes for miles and miles on two thin wheels.
I’m a Pi Kappa Phi, and I have learned the true meaning of fraternity.
I am a Pi Alpha.
That poem is the best way I can think of to try to describe my summer to someone who has never done it. The memories that we create on a day to day basis are ones that I will never forget, and being able to say I am a Pi Alpha is one of the greatest accomplishments of my life, and I know that without my team there with me, it wouldn't have been the same. I am writing this post from my apartment in Tennessee, because to be honest I have been putting off writing this post for a few days. I know that the trip ended on the 10th, but a little part of me felt like I could keep it going until I submitted this final post.
We woke up to start our day into D.C. and although it was going to be very hard to end this summer, I was very excited to ride to the steps of the Capitol Lawn with my teammates. We ate breakfast together at the high school and then got ready to ride to the stage up location which was about 9 miles away. We were told to ride with our best friends on the trip, so David Iles and I rode together. David and I have created so many memories together this summer, and when I had to leave him, it was one of the more difficult goodbyes I have made in a long time. After we ate we did our morning circle up, and it was not easy to hear Nick tell us what we would be doing today. He told us that the 9 miles was pretty much all down hill and that we would be meeting up with the other teams to get in our double pace line formation. After that he told us how proud he was to be our Project Manager, and how honored he is to be able to arrive onto the Capitol Lawn with us. Looking around everyone pretty much had the same emotions, and from what I saw I wasn't the only person with tears rolling down my face. We decided as a team we would ride for everyone we had talked about this summer, from our family members, to clients we met a long the way, as well as all the people who have influenced or impacted our lives.
David and I were some of the last guys to leave the parking lot, and when we did we rolled out of the gate together, towards D.C. We didn't talk as much in the beginning as I had thought. I rode in front of him, and I had a lot running through my mind. I was pretty teary eyed the whole way there, and from what I gathered, David was just as emotional as I was. We got a big enough shoulder so we would ride next to each other and we took it slow. Being able to take in those last few miles with David meant a lot to me, and I can now say he is one of my best friends I have ever had. We arrived at the stage up location at George Washington University and met the other teams. Every one hung out for a little while until we got the call to get into our formation. Everyone there circled up together and one of the Trans guys said an amazing prayer, asking for us to stay safe, and to always remember the amazing memories we have made this summer. We got into our double pace line formation and I was upset. David looked at me and I can remember him telling me to cheer up, and to enjoy what was about to happen. The ride to the Capitol was only about 2 miles, and I don't think I had ever been that nervous. I was happy, scared, sad, and excited all at the same time, and once we made the corner and saw the dome of the Capitol building, tears of joy and sadness kicked in. I looked to my right and knew that David and I were sharing the same emotions. We rode up to the lawn as a team and I couldn't have been more proud of what we had all accomplished. Seeing my family in the crowd was such a great feeling, and I was very happy that they were there to share that moment with me.
The four teams got into formation on the capitol lawn and Chad Coltrane gave a speak along with the four project managers. When Nick gave his speech, he absolutely blew the other PM's out of the water, and I am so proud to say that he was on my team. After group pictures, families were allowed to come up to us and it was like releasing bulls. My mom was the first one to come up to me and seeing everyone put the cherry on top of what was the best summer of my entire life.
My team and I reached the steps of the Capitol building after spending 64 days on the road. 3700 miles, 13 states, 250 hours in the saddle, 150,000 feet of climbing, hundreds of lives touched, and 35 lifelong brothers. The feeling of embracing my team on the lawn of the Capitol is one I will always remember. There are simply no words to describe the Journey of Hope. Family and friends will ask me about it. They'll ask me for my favorite moment, and I'll respond with a blank stare, as memories flood my mind. They'll ask if I'm glad to have my own room and to sleep in my bed again. They'll ask if I'm happy I don't have to wake up at 5:30 every morning and spend the next six hours on my bike. The truth is, I'll take a sleeping bag on a hard gym floor surrounded by my teammates any day. I'll take the heat and the endless desert in Utah over the comforts of home. I'll take the peaks of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado over the skyscrapers of the city. Our team pushed through heat, fatigue, and pain, as we rode for those who couldn't. We walked into countless friendship visits expecting to interact with people with disabilities, but left sharing stories about their amazing abilities. Many say we "sacrificed" our summer to do this. To sacrifice is to give up or lose. We may have given up time and sweat, but what we got in return is intangible. This summer was the experience of a lifetime. Our team had a motto which we now live by: The only disability in life is a bad attitude. Proud to be a Pi Alpha.