Pedaling with a purpose — across a continent
On behalf of people with disabilities, Berkeley senior spends his summer cyling

By D. Lyn Hunter, Public Affairs


During their cross-country trek, Berkeley undergraduate Michael Barnes, top, and fellow riders made “friendship visits” to youngsters with disabilities. The annual trip, sponsored by Pi Kappa Phi fraternity, raises funds for and awareness of people with disabilities.

04 September 2002 | Traveling across the country is a classic summer vacation. But while most opt for the comfort of an air-conditioned car, Berkeley undergrad Michael Barnes chose a different mode of transportation for his recent trek: a bicycle.

And he made the 64-day, 4,340-mile trip with a special goal in mind — serving people with disabilities.

Barnes, a senior majoring in political economy of industrialized societies, was joined by 70 Pi Kappa Phi fraternity brothers from colleges and universities around the United States in a “Journey of Hope.” The ride started in San Francisco on June 2 and climaxed in Washington D.C. on Aug. 4.

The annual ride is a fundraiser for the fraternity’s “Push America” charity, which supports organizations that provide services to persons with disabilities, and construction projects that improve accessibility to public facilities.

Barnes hit up his parents and friends, as well as church members and Berkeley businesses, to scrape together the $4,000 minimum contribution required from each participant. (After deductions for traveling expenses, the remainder becomes part of a general donation to Push America.)

But the trip was about more than just raising money, says Barnes. It was a chance to interact with people with disabilities who live throughout America, and to raise public awareness about what life with a disability is really like.
After riding anywhere from 75 to 120 miles a day, participants arrived in a pre-selected town. Following a brief rest and shower — often at a local high school or church — the students made “friendship visits” to local disability-service providers and spent time with their clients, most of whom were children or young adults.

“We did all kinds of things, like go to ball games, water parks, dances, and barbecues,” says Barnes, who during the school year works as an attendant for a paraplegic. “The goal was to have a good time and focus on their abilities, not their disabilities.”

Participants made more than 40 such stops during the trip. And when they weren’t doing friendship visits, they put on educational puppet shows about people with disabilities for youngsters at local shopping malls, YMCAs, and other venues.

While these activities were an important part of the trip, most of the students’ time was spent on the hard, narrow seats of their bicycles, dealing with fatigue and a variety of natural obstacles. To get over the Sierra, for instance, the cyclists struggled up a 65-mile-long incline on Highway 88, pedaling from an elevation of 1,500 feet to the 7,000-foot summit in one day.

“Our quadriceps were burning the whole way,” says Barnes. “But when we finally got to the top, it was beautiful.”

In Arizona they were enveloped in stifling 120-degree heat and thick smoke from nearby forest fires. In New Mexico, Barnes narrowly missed colliding with a large elk that ran across the road. Later that day, a pack of vicious dogs chased the group.

After arduously propelling themselves through 12 states, the students finally arrived in the nation’s capital, greeted by nearly a thousand family members and friends. The momentous occasion brought tears to the eyes of the riders and their loved ones, Barnes recalls.

Though the trip set him back a bit financially (normally he works during June and July to save money for school), Barnes says it was well worth it. “It was the best summer I’ve ever spent. The journey was for a great cause, and it challenged me emotionally, physically and mentally. It’s a story I’ll be able to tell for the rest of my life.”


Information about Push America


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