Robert Kiss

One America Charity Ride

3,200 Mile Update – April 25, 2017

When I last reported, I was just recovering from bruised ribs in Louisville.  I am happy to report that I am now feeling much better in Confluence, PA.  On the home stretch now.

Some of you have asked if there would be a way to join me during the last few days as I get closer to many of you.  We are hoping to arrive in Liberty State Park on Sunday May 6th.   For those who may wish to ride either Saturday May 5th or Sunday 6th, please send me an e-mail.  The Saturday ride will likely depart New Hope, PA at 9am and arrive in Bernardsville, NJ (40 miles).  The Sunday ride will likely depart Bernardsville at 7:00am to avoid as much traffic as possible.  We would hope to arrive at Liberty State Park by Noon (also 40 miles, but more treacherous roads).

For those interested, we have arranged for a picnic area at Liberty State Park for a short tailgate-type reception.   I hope to have placards of all the charities we have represented and would like to have those present be part of a group picture where we hold up all the placards.


Now for the report:

For those interested in the stats, I’ve pedaled for 3,273 miles and climbed 120,353 feet.  Thanks to the generosity of many of you we’ve raised over $66,000 plus received pledges of over $6.33 per mile.  We have 25 charities represented and received donations/pledges from 190 people.   For a more complete description of this segment with pictures, visit the website and see the Blog.

This report starts with my first ride since the fall and the bruised ribs, so I was not sure what to expect.  It was liberating to dispense with the saddle bags now that Sharon was back in the picture, but I was unsure how I would be able to breath sufficiently with the shallow breaths I’ve become accustomed to.

The ride for the next few days would be dedicated to two special charities helping young people.  Roots & Wings does what the name implies for kids who “age-out” of the foster care system.  It turns out the foster care system only subsidizes care until the age of 18.  In today’s economy, most kids need to continue to develop their education and social skills beyond the age of 18 in order to compete.  Roots & Wings provides this support.  Here is a need I had no idea existed.  This organization is to be commended for its impact.

The second charity is called Set Her Free.  Sometimes we need to be cognizant of the struggles of our worldwide neighbors.  Americans are blessed by being part of a country which offers opportunity.  According to Set Her Free Executive Director, Robin Nestler, it is not so in Uganda for young women.  Set Her Free equips Uganda’s most vulnerable girls and young women with the knowledge and skills that they need to lead self-determined lives, forever breaking the cycle of poverty.

The ride out of Hawesville began with a cool climb in the 40s, so it was a good early test of my breathing capacity with bruised ribs.  I found that rapid shallow breaths would be good for this day.  There was one problem with this tactic.  I’m sure anyone who has ridden a bicycle for an extended time can attest to the need to expectorate while riding.  It seems my expectorant output was compromised in such a way that each attempted lugie was insufficiently propelled.  Hence I soon became decorated with a number of them which only blew back onto my jacket and gloves.  Looks like laundry in the sink tonight.

The next few days would take us through rural southern Indiana, the morning air greeted us with the whiffs of earthy smoke as we learned there are still places where folks burn their leaves and rubbish.  The ride would have us over rolling hills of southern Indiana farms.

Eventually, we descended into the quaint town of New Albany, riding along the river past the boat building yards of Jeffersonville.  These towns are across the river from Louisville where we made our home base.  There we took in some of the sights including a tour of Churchill Downs as they prepared for next month’s Kentucky Derby.

The two days of riding east of Louisville took me up and over countless hills and valleys of the Kentucky landscape.  The roads were narrow but the motorists were very patient as I tried to ascend each hill.  The winds were extremely gusty these two days, with gusts sometimes measuring 40mph.  It was a bit of a struggle to keep the bike pointed in the right direction, especially when on the ridgelines where there was no topography or vegetation to block the winds.

It was during these two days that I decided to stop describing the dog encounters as there were simply too many.  I had probably six per day.  Many of the dogs are collarless, so the owners (if they came out to see what all the commotion was about) had little capability to control and retrieve their dogs.

Eventually, we dropped into Old Washington and then a further descent into Maysville.  Old Washington is a 1700’s village of shops, museums, and tours.  It was established in 1786, by the Virginia Legislature, six years before Kentucky became a state.  There are a number of museums, but most were still closed for the season including one which is an early antebellum home where Harriet Beecher Stowe (author “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”) visited and witnessed a slave auction in 1833.  Inspiration may come from anywhere.

Maysville sits right on the Ohio River, behind a formidable levy wall.  The old town is quaint, yet quiet, with a fair number of abandoned storefronts.  It is also purported to be a place where George Clooney grew up.

We entered Ohio on a rainy day.  However, it was not windy or too cold so I happily threaded my way through the southern Ohio hills and valleys amidst the well-fed gully washers sending the brisk waters downstream.   The April winter did not seem to want to let go of our throats as snow was in the forecast, so by the time we made it up near Dayton, it was time to take a day for an April Snow Day.  This day allowed me to get my bike checked out.  Good thing because the technician found that my rear wheel had cracks along all the entry points of the spokes.  This would have been bad if the spokes failed, so it was time for a new wheel.

I also was able to take the time to tour the Air Force Museum.  This is an astonishing display of Air Force planes over acres of indoor hangars.

We finally got some Spring-like weather so I enjoyed the next few days of riding along the Little Miami River as we passed the biker havens of Oregonia and Xenia.  I finally saw more bikers on the trail this day than all the prior days of the ride combined.  We passed through places where canoes can be rented to paddle the Little Miami, we passed much larger farms with a lot of equipment and small towns with enormous grain elevators.   I arrived in downtown Columbus having been directed there by following the many bike paths that Ohio has built.  I love Ohio and its bike paths!

Prior to my arrival in Columbus, I reached out to a friend, Greg who suggested I look into a charity called Pelotonia.  I am glad I did.  Ten years ago, with the knowledge that government funding for cancer research through the NIH might be in jeopardy, some forward-looking folks in Columbus conceived an organization to help raise research money for the James Center at Ohio State University.  They arrange for a weekend of bike rides in August where entrants commit to raising money.  They developed an interesting community based model which has impressively raised over $157 million for this research over the past 10 years.  All the ride-derived money goes to research as Pelotonia has some civic minded local corporate sponsors who underwrite their operating and fundraising expenses.  I stopped in to see the folks at Pelotonia and just happened to be in town for the kick-off meeting for Team Bexley held at one of the member’s homes.  There we heard from some of the researchers what this funding has done for them.   Yet another example of the Generosity of the American Spirit.

Our Friends Dave and JoAnne Babbitt joined us for the next two days of riding from Columbus to Zanesville, Ohio. Dave was riding with me to help with fundraising and awareness for the foundation he and his wife started called the John Taylor Babbitt Foundation, fondly known as JTB among our friends.  The JTB was established after the sad passing of Dave and JoAnne’s son John who died after collapsing while playing basketball from sudden cardiac arrest.  The JTB has made great strides in helping to prevent sudden cardiac death. `

The many specific goals of  JTB include (i)  Installing defibrillators in schools, athletic venues, and public gathering places (ii) Establishing JTB Heart Clubs in high schools and universities to raise awareness and save lives, (iii) Supporting research on genetic cardiac disorders that increase risk of Sudden Cardiac Death and (iv) Proposing legislation and lobbying for state level laws on defibrillators.  JTB also works on municipal policies and procedures to support the purchase and maintenance of defibrillators as well as sponsoring local training programs in CPR/ AED.  Through the One America Charity Ride, we were able to raise some awareness and raise nearly $4,000 for JTB.

On the way to Zanesville, we rendezvoused with Tom, an old college buddy.  It was great to see him again because sadly, I had only seen a few times since graduation.  Tom joined Dave and me on the remaining ride to Zanesville, but his tires did not co-operate.  After two flats, his bike was in Sharon’s car and off to the brewery they went.   We found a micro-brew named Weasel-Boy and enjoyed our company the way we used to, over a few beers.

One of the charities I was riding for this week also included Foundation for Peace.   The Foundation for Peace believes the greatest transformations happen when we do God’s work together—hand in hand.  Their projects are done through short-term mission teams supported by permanent in-country staff, and focus on four main areas: body, mind, spirit and community.  As a result, FFP mission teams build medical clinics and water purification facilities to improve health of the body. They build schools to increase knowledge and create economic opportunities. They build churches for spiritual growth. And they provide community outreach programs to build better places to live.  I was inspired to add this charity as a result of two young women from Chatham who spent time building schools in Haiti.

Once Dave departed, I was on my own again for the ride into Wheeling, WV.  This particular ride was notable in a few respects.  It was clearly a long ride, (92 miles) but it was also the most climbing I’ve ever done in one day.  There were so many hills and valleys, I could not count them all.  But my garmin measured over 6,200 feet of climbing that day.

Traversing this portion of eastern Ohio included many small villages each which seemed to have a few churches and just a few more houses.  Places like Rix Mills, Claysville, Derwent to name a few.  Despite this being a pleasant Sunday, I saw no other bicyclists on the roads, zero.  I suppose cycling is not as popular in eastern Ohio as it is around Xenia.

The next stop was Pittsburgh where I would be able to make a grant on behalf of the Challenged Athletes Foundation, made possible by the generous donations of folks like you who gave to the CAF through the One America Charity Ride.  I would be taking the Pan-Handle trail for most of the day.  So named because it traversed that skinny northwestern pan-handle of West Virginia.  The portion of the trail which was not on the bike path was memorable in that it took me up into the hills which surround the riverfront.  Between Follensbee and Colliers, I went up over and around climbing 500 feet in a little more than a mile.

My timing on entering Pittsburgh was not exact as I ended up having to negotiate Noblestown Road during rush hour.  West Carson Street was also really busy for a half mile, but I eventually got on the bike path along the river.  Finally on the river trail again, I could take in the majesty of a cityscape once again. \

We took an extra day in Pittsburgh in order to make the CAF grant.  I was able to meet Ekow and his mom Marianne.   Ekow is an eleven year old Pittsburgh boy who has cerebral palsy. He is a multiple sport athlete enjoying basketball, sled hockey and his favorite sport track and field.   We met Ekow and his mom along with the CAF ambassador, Eric at a Red Robin restaurant where we could present the grant which will provide the funds for him to compete in the National Junior Disabilities Championship held this Summer.  CAF arranged for some news crews to arrive and they were able to get some publicity on the local news.

Afterwards, we enjoyed dinner where we got to know each other better.  Eric is a former marine officer who lost a leg in Afghanistan and now thanks to CAF is a triathlete.  Ekow is also a gifted math student who wants to attend Carnegie Mellon University to become a computer engineer in order to use technology to help physically disadvantaged people.  Thinking of young people like Ekow inspires one to be their best self every day.

That’s the report for now.  I hope to send another one before the finish.

Thanks for all your support,