JACKSON, Tenn. – Aug. 7, 2013 – Three Union University upperclassmen pedaled down South Street July 23 in Key West, Fla., speeding toward the rocky coastline of the Straits of Florida.
After cycling about 2,600 miles, the trio finally spotted their final destination – a large concrete monument in the shape of buoy signaling the southernmost city in the continental U.S.
The cyclists breezed toward the nautical landmark when pedestrians began to realize the sunburned students with bikes loaded with luggage had reached the end of a long journey. That’s when applause and cheers erupted from onlookers, said Peter Riggs, a Union senior philosophy major and one of the three cyclists. As the trio skidded to a halt in front of the buoy, pedestrians congratulated and took pictures with the cyclists, who had been traveling for seven weeks.
Riggs said he and his companions planned to celebrate before taking a rental car back to Tennessee. Once they reached the buoy, however, the cyclists decided that sleep was more appealing after traveling 150 miles on the final day of their trip down the East Coast.
“Everyone was so excited for us, but we were too tired to be excited,” Riggs said.. Riggs and Josh Bullis, a senior art and philosophy major and fellow cyclist, had been planning the 41-day “Brobreak” bike ride from Bar Harbor, Maine, to Key West for about a year. Bullis’ father once cycled from Oregon to Virginia Beach, and Bullis said he and his friends aspired to take a similar trip.
“I wanted to recognize the connectivity of things because I wanted to better experience my relationship with the rest of the world and the people in it,” Bullis said.
Bullis and Riggs received credit for a philosophy course for the trip and were required to complete reading and writing assignments along with their ride. William Burke, a senior music major, decided to join them for the adventure.
“Our biggest desire was to go on an adventure and have a memorable experience,” Riggs said. “The credit was an added bonus.”
Hitching a ride with friends to Maine, the cyclists began their trip June 3 in the rain. Storms continued to follow the cyclists down the coast, and the trio dealt with numerous flat tires and cell phone issues. Sunburns and exhaustion were also constant threats.
The trip almost ended June 28 when the cyclists took a detour to a hospital after Riggs lost control of his bicycle and crashed down a hill. In addition to scratches, Riggs had strained a disk in his back. But doctors told him that cycling would help repair the damage, and the group continued on its journey.
“The next day I biked 75 miles,” Riggs said. “I just really didn’t want my group to fall behind.”
Despite these obstacles, Bullis said he and his companions were amazed by the kindness strangers showed during the trip.
Each day, the trio planned how far they hoped to travel and decided on a town to stay that night, Bullis said. They would then call churches or approach families to ask for permission to camp in a yard for the night.
The cyclists were rarely turned away, Riggs said. Pastors and families often provided access to church facilities or homes, treated the cyclists to a meal and prayed for their safety.
“The most interesting thing I learned was about people and how generous they are,” Bullis said. “We met so many wonderful people eager to help us on this trip. It really renewed my faith in humanity.”
Riggs also said he gained a renewed trust in God. As the cyclists’ funds dwindled early in the trip, Riggs grew concerned that they would run out of money long before reaching Florida. But as funds decreased, strangers’ support increased.
“For the second half of the trip, we may have bought dinner twice,” said Riggs, noting that strangers provided many meals for them. “I think one of the greatest parts of the trip was people taking care of us. If people had not taken care of us, we wouldn’t have made it.”
For more information about the trip, visit brobreak.wordpress.com.
By Beth Byrd