SYRACUSE – The quartet of James Blackwell, Ben Tuttle, Ryan Gustafson and Greg Johnson would easily pass for your “ordinary” recent college graduates.
What the four young men from Cedarville University in Ohio are doing right now though is anything but ordinary.
Extraordinary would be the right word for the current mission of the devoted group.
The four are biking across the country, some 4,200 miles from coast to coast, for a very meaningful and worthy cause.
Their trip, entitled “Riding For A New Day”, is to raise money and awareness for Safe Harbor House. Safe Harbor is a safe place for women who have endured conditions such as physical, sexual or emotional abuse, domestic violence, prostitution/sex trafficking and homelessness in Springfield, Ohio.
The four made a stop on Sunday and Monday at Dewart Lake at the summer cottage home of Cedarville professor and avid cyclist and wooden bike builder Jay Kinsinger. The group, along with Kinsinger and his son Benjamin (the youngest of Jay and Andrea’s four children), were scheduled to leave Syracuse today to head for a stop at Cedarville University on Wednesday. The four will then continue on their journey for the East Coast.
The trip began in Neah Bay, Washington on June 14 and is scheduled to end in Montauk, New York on Aug. 11. The group had pedaled some 3,200 miles upon their arrival at Dewart Lake to enjoy an “off” day of rest and relaxation on Monday.
“The ride has been very challenging, especially mentally, and vastly different from what I thought it would be, but good in all ways,” said Blackwell, the organizer of the ride. “The women at Safe Harbor are why we are doing this. We care about them. It’s about hope for them and that tomorrow is a new day.”
“I’m just a kid who had an idea. The way that people have supported and encouraged us along the way has been really humbling.”
The group, along with Greg’s brother Eric, began planning their journey about a year ago. All four of the cyclists were members of the track team at Cedarville, while Tuttle, Gustafson and Johnson also ran cross country.
“At first, it we talked about it as one last hurrah after college and then we brought the aspect of something greater than for ourselves into it,” explained Tuttle.
Tuttle is riding a wooden bike that he built as part of a class project with the help of Kinsinger. Blackwell is also on a wooden bike and Gustafson was at the start of the trip.
The group, which has been accompanied by a support van along the way, has grown closer throughout the incredible journey.
“I think our first day in Montana was really a watershed moment for us,” related Johnson. “We spent at least an hour just target shooting by trying to hit a log in the water by throwing rocks at it. It was just really simple and relaxing and all about we’re together and we’re in this together.”
For the record, Gustafson proved to have the best aim and arm of the group as he was the first to hit the log with a rock after a couple of hours of trying.
The group has impressed professor Kinsinger, who visits Dewart Lake about a half dozen times a year to spend time in the cottage his grandfather built there in 1961. Kinsinger and his brother rode across country on bikes back in the early 1980s.
“I have a lot of respect for these guys and really have been living through them by watching their blog during the ride,” Kinsinger said. “Their generation gives me hope. They see causes and the bigger picture and are willing to go for it and help others. They seem to be more tuned in.
“I just want to encourage them and share part of their adventure by riding part of the trip with them (Kinsinger joined the group this past weekend in Michigan). But the bottom line for me is that they are just fun young men to be around and to spend time with.”
The goal for the group is to raise $20,000 for Safe Harbor House to help as it protects and gives women hope and a chance to lead productive lives. Anyone wishing to donate to the trip can go to ridingforanewday.org for details.
The trip has been a real eye-opener in more ways than one for the quartet.
“There was this one Indian man at a hotel where my parents (who drove with the group for part of the trip) were staying when we were in Wisconsin and when they told him why we were doing this and about women we are trying to help his jaw just dropped,” said Gustafson. “He did not know about sex trafficking in the United States. It’s something that deserves a lot more attention.
“To see that one guy be impacted by us and what we are doing is humbling. To know that we are making a difference in the lives of the women at Safe Harbor is why we are doing this.”
Blackwell has been impressed with the reaction of people as they have shared their story with complete strangers across the country.
“The World is full of positives and you can find it everywhere and in everyone if you look for it,” said Blackwell. “We’ve met a lot of good people on this trip and it restores your faith in humanity.
“I’m just grateful that we can do something like this. The World is full of really good people.”
Including the four extraordinary young men on this trip.