Cedarville seniors and 2014 graduates Erik Johnson, James Blackwell, Ben Tuttle, Greg Johnson and Ryan Gustafson are planning a cross-country bike trip for after graduation, but they have a bigger purpose in mind for the trip.
Blackwell is a senior nursing major and has been heavily involved in planning this trip. He and three others – Tuttle, Greg Johnson and Gustafson – will ride their bikes across the United States this summer, raising money and support for the Springfield, Ohio, women’s ministry, Safe Harbor House. The four will begin riding in Washington state on June 13, and they will finish in Long Island, N.Y., on Aug. 11. During these almost two months of riding, they will need to cover roughly 75 miles a day to reach their destination on schedule.
Blackwell outlined the highlights of their riding schedule: they will go through Glacier National Park in Montana, ride along the northern U.S. for a while and make a stop through Cedarville for a day before heading on to New York.
Erik Johnson is finishing his degree in journalism and public relations. Although he will not be joining the four others in the ride across the country, he has been planning their schedule and heading up the social media campaign for the project.
He said the idea for this project came when he and the other guys were sitting at lunch talking about taking a bike trip after graduation. They formed the idea to combine their bike trip with raising money for a ministry.
Erik Johnson said they immediately went to talk to Mark Weinstein, the head of the public relations department, who loved the idea and got them started on planning the trip. Erik said he was amazed by how the trip came together.
“I think the biggest thing that we learned is sometimes you just need to take that first step,” he said.
The initial plan was to ride from Washington state, the last place the sun sets in the continental United States, to Maine, the first place the sun rises.
Although they have changed their endpoint, this idea gave their project the name “Riding for a New Day,” because they want to raise both money and hope for the women of Safe Harbor House, Erik said.
Tuttle is a senior mechanical engineering student who plans to come back for a fifth year to get his masters in ministry. His hometown is on Long Island, New York, the final destination of the bike trip.
He said he has ridden to the end of Long Island before on his own, which is about 120 miles round trip from his own house. It’s an amazing route, he said, and he is excited to be ending the trip there.
Tuttle said he became seriously interested in this project when the group made it for a specific purpose. At first, he said, it was just a fun idea and almost logistically impossible, but he became involved and committed when it was dedicated to Safe Harbor House.
The other members of the group are Gustafson, a December 2014 graduate and geology major, and 2014 English graduate Greg Johnson.
Blackwell was most involved in choosing the ministry of Safe Harbor House to receive the money from their trip. Weinstein, whom the team members named as an incredible source of support and encouragement, gave Blackwell a few ministries to choose from, Erik said, and Safe Harbor House was ideal for them because of its connection to Cedarville in ministry and outreach events.
Erik said that Safe Harbor House has a great record financially and has proved to be a trustworthy organization, so the team is hoping to raise about $35,000 for this ministry. Blackwell said he met with Joy Fagan, the director of Safe Harbor House, and she was very open and honest about their ministry. He saw that Safe Harbor House was a well-founded and Biblical ministry with a passion for helping women.
“I don’t really have the resources myself to give a ton of money, but I have the time that I can take, be the rubber where it meets the road, and go do something and give people a reason to give support,” Blackwell said.
Safe Harbor House also has plans to raise a new house on a recently obtained plot of land, Erik said, so this money would help that cause. Erik said Fagan told him even if Safe Harbor House received no money, the fact that these men are taking this trip for them is a huge encouragement to the women at Safe Harbor House.
Support for this trip has been widespread and surprising, the team members said. Cops and Donuts, a business in Blackwell’s hometown, is purchasing the team’s bicycling jerseys and possibly giving additional donations, Blackwell said.
The team is asking Cedarville to sponsor them, and Jeff Beste has been contacting alumni along the bikers’ route to either meet up with the bikers or host them for a night. The team will be sending out support letters in the next few weeks to raise further support, but Blackwell said they have already received roughly $600 dollars in unrequested donations.
Tuttle said his family has been strongly supporting him in this, and his dad and brother want to be in the support van alongside the bikers. Blackwell said Grant Knight, the assistant soccer coach, has been encouraging him and supporting him to keep going and keep pursuing God, and nearly everyone Blackwell has talked to about the trip has wanted to help.
Blackwell also said that Jay Kinsinger, assistant professor of mechanical and biomedical engineering, and Tuttle have been working together to make this trip even more memorable. As a senior mechanical engineer, Tuttle is designing a wooden bike for his senior design project. Kinsinger is planning to make two more wooden bikes. Three of the four riders will use wooden bikes in their trek across the U.S.
For a trip that is so long and strenuous, the team must be in great condition, Blackwell said, but he is assured that they all are. All four riders and Erik, as well, are on Cedarville’s track team, and all except Blackwell are also on the cross country team.
Tuttle said the track team has helped out at Safe Harbor House doing some manual labor before, so they are fairly familiar with the ministry.
He said one of the most challenging parts during the trip will be getting sufficient sleep and nutrition. He said he is most excited to bike through the mountains and out West, especially. Tuttle has biked across a few states but never across the country, and cross-country biking is new to Blackwell.
“You have to want (to do the trip),” Blackwell said. “It’s way cooler to want it knowing I’m doing it for something bigger than myself.”
Erik said the biggest blessing for him in planning this trip has been working with the other guys and watching his friends grow.
“I don’t feel any older than I was as a freshman, but we’ve all grown up a little bit, and the fact that we can pull something like this off is kind of incredible,” Erik said. “I’ve been kind of amazed by that, and I’m really blessed to have these friends in my life.”
Tuttle said he is amazed by how the trip has come together so far.
“Just seeing God work and bring it all together and work in ways that we never thought would be possible,” Tuttle said.
Blackwell said he is also amazed by God’s provision.
“If God really puts it on your heart, then he will really make a way to do it,” he said.
Blackwell said he is looking forward to the whole trip. He said he has been most encouraged by the amount of support they have received and by the difference it will make for Safe Harbor House.
“It’s really humbling to be planning this trip and have people jump in and say, ‘Yeah, I want to help. I want to give to Safe Harbor,’” Blackwell said. “Just seeing the encouragement it might be to Safe Harbor House and the encouragement it might be to other students to say, ‘I can do something big. I can make a difference.’”
Kjersti Fry is a freshman pharmacy major and reporter for Cedars. She is from Cincinnati, Ohio, and she enjoys playing the piano, playing ultimate frisbee and spending time with friends and family.