By Heather Johns
LEWISBURG, Pa. — They pedaled between 60 and 85 miles a day. They triumphed over challenging landscapes, experienced their first cycler's high and discovered a nation they realized they barely knew.
Over two months and more than 3,200 miles, a group of Bucknellians bonded with each other, their common goals, and the University that connects them.
Six college students, five of whom are from Bucknell University, crossed the nation from California to New York City on the Bicycles Against Poverty (BAP) Pedal for Purpose tour. Nicole Adler, Ziev Basson, Kaitlin Callahan, Kate Rolfes, Alex Sandoval and Colin Woolford left San Jose on June 8 and ended in New York City on Aug. 8, acting as agents of BAP, an organization that was started at Bucknell in 2008.
"It was a true pleasure to work with them throughout the spring and summer to make this tour a success," said Molly Burke '10, BAP executive director. "We couldn't have found a more resourceful, passionate, and bright group of students to represent the organization." || Read the riders' blog.
BAP is a nonprofit organization that distributes bicycles to individuals in Africa who pay back for the bikes in monthly installments. It has distributed 663 bicycles and reaches more than 2,000 individuals on a weekly basis. It received nonprofit status in early 2013 and is now a registered 501(c)3 organization.
"The trip is meant to inspire long lasting support from people who get to know about BAP through students cycling across the country," said BAP founder Muyambi Muyambi '12. "It not only supports the work we do in Uganda, but it also gives students the time of their life — literally."
In 2012, Muyambi and two other community members took a month-long coast-to-coast bike ride to raise money. The trip was the first of its kind for BAP, and inspired a letter of encouragement from President Obama. Muyambi hopes to garner enough support and corporate sponsorship this year to be able to run this trip annually.
BAP's message clearly resonates with the riders. "I am in Bucknell's Managing for Sustainability program, so I truly appreciate BAP's unique approach to helping a community through sustainable aid rather than simply charity," said Nicole Adler '15, Pedal for Purpose tour manager.
"BAP provides access to opportunity with a simple, low-cost piece of technology: the bike," said Kaitlin Callahan '15. "I'm inspired by BAP's micro finance model, which allows the recipients of the bikes to earn financial responsibility and appreciate the value of the bicycle."
Long and winding road
Pedal for Purpose taught the students about reaching and pushing beyond their limits, both physical and mental.
"Throughout the trip I learned a lot about my fellow Bucknellians," said Kate Rolfes '16. "They're a group that can effectively problem-solve through the most difficult situations in moments of stress — and that really says something not only for them, but what we've been taught at Bucknell."
The change they hope to make in the world was mirrored in the changes they saw in themselves as they crossed a country that was, in many ways, a strange land to them. "The U.S. is huge, and this is just one country," said Alex Sandoval '15, media and outreach coordinator. "Seeing it this way broadened my perspective on how to think."
Navigating the sometimes-difficult landscape instilled a new, bone-deep understanding of the terrain they crossed — and sometimes cursed. "I will remember the challenges of this trip the most — whether it's the physical challenges brought on by the Rockies, the scorching desert heat of the Mojave, or the mental challenges from the monotonous Nebraska plains," said Callahan. "The challenges kept me entertained on the trip and taught me the value of persistence."
The riders were raising money and awareness for a program that helps people in Africa, but in many ways, the summer-long ride deepened their connection to and appreciation for Bucknell.
"This trip enforced the idea that I love what I am studying," said Ziev Basson' 16. "Someone who really inspired me was a Bucknell bioengineering alumna. One of the projects she took on was cycling and numbness of the hands. I think it would be cool to tackle some of the engineering disadvantages of the bicycle, specifically, the comfort of the seat, and put to work what I now know about cycling and strain."
"My course curriculum has begun to parallel what BAP is representing and aiming for, so the Managing for Sustainability program will prove very helpful in understanding my work and furthering my passion for influencing change," said Adler.
A few days before ending their trip in New York City, the Pedal for Purpose crew rested their wheels at the Barnes & Noble Bookstore in Lewisburg. They were greeted by an enthusiastic crowd of Bucknell students, faculty and staff, including President John Bravman.
The moment — like the ride — was something special.
"Being supported by Bucknell students and community always reminds me of what a god-given opportunity getting to Bucknell was," said Muyambi. "At BAP, we are always astonished by what Bucknell University, the alumni, faculty and staff do for us. I know that with such support, love, energy and commitment, BAP can accomplish anything."