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Passing through

Caitlin Nearhood • Jun 20, 2014 at 8:43 PM


Sleeping bags littered the floor of a church basement, the latest rest stop for a group of weary travelers. 

Riders with Bicycle Adventure, a fundraiser for the Americus, Ga.-based Fuller Center, stopped in Sandusky Thursday, welcomed overnight by the Sandusky Community Church of the Nazarene on Milan Road after their journey from Cleveland to Sandusky. The group arrived in the early afternoon, pedaling in on Milan Road.

Bicycle Adventure is a 3,600 mile cycling event that began in Atlantic City, N.J., on June 5 and will end August 10 in Astoria, Ore., passing through 15 states during the coast-to-coast expedition. 

The trip is led by Melissa Merrill, whose dedication to the Fuller Center extends back to her first ride in 2009.  After graduating from the University of Akron and working in the tire engineering business, she quit her job as a mechanical engineer to lead the ride and become coordinator for the student builders and Bike Adventure.

Each rider has a chore to do—whether it's doing laundry, cooking, or something else—so a larger staff isn’t needed, which also cuts costs.

“It’s a unique community aspect where they are depending on each other,” she said of the bicyclists. “They become a family quickly.”

In order to participate, riders need to fundraise for the Fuller Center for Housing, described on the organization's website as a "non-profit, ecumenical Christian housing ministry dedicated to eliminating poverty housing worldwide."

Those who travel the full length of the trip must raise $3,600, one dollar for each mile they ride. They ask family and friends to donate to their cause by holding bake sales or other creative ways. The proceeds go to Fuller Center for Housing and to projects to be done in the future.

In addition to their epic two-wheeled road trip, the group has already completed three work days, with six more to go. So far, they've competed home improvement projects in Atlantic City and Cleveland. In the months to come, six more work days are planned, with future projects in Toledo, Gary, Ind., and South Dakota's Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

“Gary is one of the poorest cities in the United States, so there’ll be something good happening in the city,” Merrill said.

The routes change every year—last year, for instance, the route went southeast to northwest, while another past route went west to east.

 “We go through towns where you’d never stop at on vacation,” she said. “We went through a town with 100 people one year, so Sandusky is one of our bigger stops on the ride.”

From participating in the past, Merrill knows how the trip changes those who sign up.

“[This experience] sticks with people,” she said. “It brings together people who are adventurous and helping the poor. They bond quickly.”

The organization’s founder, Millard Fuller, envisioned a plan to fight against poverty housing and homelessness by building houses that are safe and affordable. Fuller died shortly after the first Bicycle Adventure in 2009. .

“He’d be excited to see the growth [of the ride]" and continued work toward the center's goals, she said. “His three goals for the organization were to raise money, have more people involved, and to start more Fuller Centers around the world.”

There have been some bumps along the road.  During last year's ride, when the group biked from Savannah, Ga., to Vancouver, Canada, torrential rain in Alabama forced the group to take refuge in a ditch. Unexpectedly, a thoughtful passer-by in a truck stopped for the group, loading up their bikes and taking them to a safe place in the nearest town.  

“We were told to not go through Uniontown because there were drugs and bad things there, and we found out that the guy who picked us up was from Uniontown,” she said, comparing the incident to the parable of the Good Samaritan. 

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